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Exploring Vegas with a Paper Map

Exploring Vegas with a Paper Map

Posted: May 3, 2016

This winter I had the opportunity to visit Las Vegas, Nevada as part of a professional association meeting. I'd checked out the Strip and Old Downtown on my last trip to Las Vegas. Good times, but on this visit I was looking for a different experience. 

I learned about the opportunity to mountain bike outside of Vegas from a friend—he told me about the desert trails near Blue Diamond and recommended renting a bike at McGhie’s, a small local shop located at the trailhead.

I used MTB Project to find the trails he described—the Cottonwood Valley Trail System. The MTB Project website makes it easy to find trails, see them displayed on the web map and identify specific options you’re interested in exploring.

To augment the info I collected online, I printed one of USGS’s latest US Topo maps of the area. The current batch of US Topo maps include trail data from a variety of sources, including user-supplied data from MTB Project. I decided to go old school and ride with only a paper map, disconnecting from both the Las Vegas Strip and my GPS. Many of us rely upon digital navigation devices, whether dashboard mounted GPS, GPS enabled smartphones or handlebar-mounted GPS mapping devices. While all of our devices are convenient it can be fun to get back to basics.

As a Geographic Information Systems professional and a lifelong map geek, it was an interesting experiment. Anyone who’s hiked or biked with me knows I like to use my GPS. It’s not unusual for me to have a couple mapping apps up and running on my phone simultaneously. That said, I was intrigued enough to put away the GPS enabled phone and print a map for my Las Vegas trip.  

It turns out that the USGS US Topo quad over Blue Diamond, NV perfectly covers the area. All of the trails were on the southern portion of the map, so folding it in half provided a perfect recreational map. One could argue that relying on a paper map requires a bit more preparation, but prior to any outdoor excursion where I’ll be using GPS and digital maps, I cache USGS map tiles and update my trail data on MTB Project ensuring I don’t have to rely upon data connectivity on the trail. 

Starting out from the bike shop, I headed up Landmine Loop to the Lawnmower Connect and to the west on Late Night Trail. The trails follow along some of the wadis, and are mainly hardpacked sand, smooth enough for those just starting out, and offering the more advanced rider a smooth, slalom-like experience. After exploring many of the trails, I cruised downhill through the Connector and finally to Molly’s Trail back to Blue Diamond. 

The trails were so much fun that I went back a second day, after the association meetings had concluded, just prior to my flight. It was on the second day of riding at Blue Diamond that I noticed I remembered more about where I had ridden, so much so that I didn’t need an app or map. I attributed this to being more cognizant of the land features the prior ride, having navigated by terrain association without a GPS. 

Vegas is loud, inebriated, and full of and full of faux architecture copied from around the world, allowing you to be passively entertained in any number of ways. In contrast, the Red Rock area outside of Blue Diamond is peaceful, serene, meditative, in a setting that’s unique and beautiful. Navigating by paper map, I was that much more disconnected from the civilized world, and felt more grounded in my location. I was more mindful of the experience, which is a big part of why I ride. 

— Brian Fox is an avid mountain biker map nerd. 



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