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Carole Lombard Crash Site Direct Route
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Spring Mountains NRA
Carole Lombard Crash Site
Carole Lombard Crash Site
Crash Site (view SW from Cottonwood Trailhead)

Overview

This tough hike is one of those quintessential Las Vegas routes. A playground for the rich and famous, Las Vegas attracts many celebrities; some never make it home. In 1942, a plane carrying Carole Lombard (famous movie star and wife of Clark Gable) crashed high on the east face of Mt. Potosi. The site is now a footnote in history, visited occasionally by plane crash buffs, Carole Lombard fans, and tough Las Vegas hikers. For more photos of crash site debris, click here.

The crash site has been picked over for decades, but much material remains, including small bits of human remains. Please respect the site and the memory of those who died here.

Link to wide area map, area map, hiking map, or elevation profile.

Lombard Crash Site
Middle Route (view SW from gentle slopes)

The traditional route to the crash site via Mt. Potosi Road is closed to private vehicles, but hikers may walk the road and drop into the site from above. However, hiking the the road is long, hot, and arduous, so do it during winter and bring plenty of water.

Direct hiking routes now start in Cottonwood Valley on the east side of Mt. Potosi. Cottonwood Valley Road, graded in the old days when land management agencies had money, now requires a high-clearance vehicle, and driving south over Cottonwood Pass nearly requires a 4WD vehicle. After leaving Cottonwood Valley Road, a 3.6-mile 4WD road leads west to the base of the steep east face of Mt. Potosi.

Check out the new book Fireball by Robert Matzen.

The lower slopes of Mt. Potosi burned in 2005, so much of the singleleaf pinyon pine forest is gone, but the shrubs are recovering.

Mt. Potosi, Carole Lombard Crash Site
Washes Route (view SW up the brushy wash)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a tough hike on a steep, rocky mountain, but other than falls and loose rocks, there are no unusual hazards and the route is only Class-2, even through the cliffs. Mt. Potosi was a mining district, and there are several mines along the access road, but remember: mines are never safe to enter. Some metal shards at the crash site have sharp, rusty edges.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. This is a tough hike, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials. Make sure this route of the appropriate difficulty for your skills. Cell phones work from some parts of the route.

Carole Lombard Crash Site
Route through the cliffs (view SW)

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located on the east side of Mt. Potosi, about 1-1/2 hours southwest of Las Vegas.

From Las Vegas, drive west on Highway 160 (Pahrump Highway) to the Cottonwood Valley Trailhead, which is about 200 yards down Cottonwood Valley Road. Continue south on Cottonwood Valley Road for 4.7 miles to Ninetynine Mine Road. Turn right onto Ninetynine Mine Road and drive west 2.6 miles to the end of the road. Both of these roads require a 4WD vehicle.

Shortly beyond Ninetynine Mine, the USFS blocked the road with boulders (near Site 0869), so this is the new trailhead. Park here; this is the trailhead. [Note: despite my phone conversations with the USFS in 2011, there was no evidence of a barrier here in October 2012.]

Mt. Potosi, Carole Lombard Crash Site
Make no mistake -- the cliffs are steep!

From the trailhead, hikers can look up, above the limestone cliffs (southwest), and see the gully that holds the aircraft wreckage. To get there, the easier route runs up the canyon to the north (right) of the crash site, crosses southeast over a ridge, and then runs up the gully to the crash site. It is only 2.2 miles from the trailhead to the crash site, but it is a tough 2 miles -- don't let the distance fool you into thinking this is a "short" hike.

steep route
Loose rocks and logs in the cliffs (view SE)

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 01), the route continues up the closed road for about 200 yards to a T-intersection (Wpt. 02). From there, routes run out both roads. The Direct Route turns left, while the alternate Wash Route takes turns right. The routes are almost the same length, but the Direct Route seems a bit easier.

Carole Lombard Crash Site
Hikers on very steep, loose slope (view northwest)

Direct Route: From the T-intersection (Wpt. 02), the old road runs up across the hillside. Around the corner, not visible from below, an old A-frame cabin sits beside the road. Passing the cabin, the old road stays in the wash.

Beyond the cabin, the old road gets narrow and steep as it winds among bushes and rocks to a fork (Wpt. 03). The Direct Route stays right (northwest) and drops steeply into a wash.

Crossing the wash, the old road climbs steeply, then runs west across relatively gentle terrain. The old road eventually intersects a major wash (Wpt. 04) that comes down the canyon to the left of the communications towers on the skyline. This route turns left into the over-grown wash and follows it upstream.

Crash site
Crash site (view SW from saddle)

Wash Route: From the T-intersection (Wpt. 02), the alternative route turns right and runs northwest on the road. The road eventually runs into and follows a gravel wash up the canyon to a side wash (Wpt. 02A; 0.72 miles from the T). The route turns left and follows the brushy side-wash to the south. This is the canyon that comes down to the left (east) of communications towers on the ridgeline.

The two routes rejoin where the old road crosses the wash (Wpt. 04).

Impact site
Impact site: cliff just above-left of hiker (view S)

Routes Converge: In the wash, the route runs up the canyon to near the limestone cliffs that cap the canyon (Wpt. 05). From the top of the canyon, the route runs up and left (left if facing the cliff) to a knob with dead trees (Wpt. 06). The route then climbs up and left into a steep scree chute. At the top of the scree slope, the route traverses left, then climbs another steep chute to a saddle above the cliffs (Wpt. 07).

It is better to hike up the canyon nearly as far as possible before cutting left into the cliffs. Cutting up too early, the route is blocked by cliffs. Staying high, there is a 2nd-class route from the wash all the way to the ridgeline. There is a faint use-trail, but it is easier to follow on the way down.

The route reaches the ridgeline at a saddle (Wpt. 07) behind a knob. Out on the knob, there are nice views of the valley below and the crash site above.

Carole Lombard Crash Site
Hillside at crash site is quite steep (view S)

From the saddle (Wpt. 07), the route crosses onto the south side of the ridge and continues uphill, staying near the crest of the ridge but avoiding the little crags until the bottom of the gully is close and the sidehill can be easily crossed into the gully (Wpt. 08). At this point, wreckage begins to appear in the gully. If hikers drop into the gully too soon, they will be caught in a small box-canyon.

The route continues up the steep gully to the cliffs. The amount of wreckage increases towards the base of the cliffs, which was the impact site (Wpt. 09). Some debris were thrown above the cliff, but it is hard to determine whether what remains above the cliff resulted from the force of the impact or was carried up, but discarded, by too-tired hikers.

wreckage
Resting by wreckage [more debris photos]

The largest pieces of wreckage include engine parts and landing gear, which are in the gully below the impact site. People already recovered the large aluminum parts (body and wings), so those are gone. However, thousands of small pieces of aluminum, lots of cabling, lots of fuel or hydraulic lines, bits of glass and ceramics, rubber hoses, and many other metallic parts litter the ground. People have been collecting the more interesting artifacts for decades, so what remains is too big to carry or not particularly interesting. There are also many interesting shell fossils in the rocks at the crash site.

Mt. Potosi, Carole Lombard Crash Site
Wreckage [more debris photos]

Family members of the dead mounted a bronze plaque on the cliff just left of the impact site to memorialize the event, but it was placed illegally and has been removed. Whether removed officially or by vandalism, I suspect it might come back someday (still missing in Fall, 2012)

Small bits of human remains remain at the crash site. Please respect those who died and rebury any remains found on the surface.

Return to the trailhead by following your route back down the mountain to the trailhead.

Carole Lombard Crash Site
Route through the cliffs (view SE from above)
Carole Lombard Crash Site
Ascending the scree gully (view down; you too will roll loose rocks)
Carole Lombard Crash Site
Hiker at crash site (view down)
Carole Lombard Crash Site
Descending the scree gully (view up; you too will fall on your butt)

Table 1. Hillside Route Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27, UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Trailhead 638269 3979615 5,694 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 Fork in Road 638043 3979634 5,727 0.15 0.15 GPS
02A Turn out of Wash 637239 3980242 6,117 . . GPS
03 Fork in Road 637508 3979745 5,949 0.39 0.54 GPS
04 Old Road at Wash 636899 3980150 6,307 0.62 1.16 GPS
05 Base of Cliffs 636213 3979641 7,140 0.63 1.79 GPS
06 Knob in Cliffs 636211 3979574 7,259 0.07 1.86 GPS
07 Saddle atop Cliffs 636343 3979510 7,501 0.14 2.00 GPS
08 First Wreckage 636269 3979433 7,710 0.07 2.07 GPS
09 Crash Site 636152 3979371 7,825 0.11 2.18 GPS
01 Trailhead 638269 3979615 5,694 2.18 4.36 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 140116

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