The Muddy Mountains are located northeast of Las Vegas and include Valley of Fire State Park, well known for its colorful vistas. But the Muddies continue south of the park to the lesser known Buffington Pockets, which feature many of the same sandstone formations. The colorful layers and surprising textures and forms are found in the outcroppings of Aztec Sandstone, some of which have been quarried for decorative rock. This slick-rock country includes white domes, and red, orange and white “rainbow”-layered rock that are in sharp contrast to the towering dark gray cliffs to the east.
From the west, the Bitter Spring Road cuts off of the road to Valley of Fire and provides access to the Buffington Pockets area, as indicated by a roadside sign. The road is unpaved, but doesn’t require four-wheel drive or high clearance until reaching the quarry, after which four-wheel drive is strongly recommended.
Daily temperatures typically reach over 100 degrees from May through September. Summer visitors will want substantial protection from the sun, such as a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, loose-fitting clothing and plenty of water. Although the area averages only four inches of rain annually, it may come all at once during a July or August monsoon, creating flash-flood dangers in usually dry washes. During winter, you’ll find fewer crowds and may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of snow on the slick rock.
The typically cloudless days in the Mojave Desert usually mean that the best photographic opportunities are at dawn and dusk. Because of the high cliffs to the east, the Buffington Pockets area is best photographed in the late afternoon. The open shade of the midday desert sun brings out interesting sandstone layering and color. Late-afternoon thunderstorms create dramatic storm light. Soft lighting in cloudy conditions provides the right light for beaver tail and barrel cactus blooms in spring. The early or late glow on the landscape from colorful western sunrises and sunsets also can be striking in this red-rock country. There’s little water in the area, which limits the wildlife viewing.
The most comfortable temperatures are found in spring and fall. Wildflowers peak in March and April while cacti typically bloom in May. Late light warms the slick rock year-round on the usually cloudless days and always provides optimum lighting somewhere in the area.
Contact: Bureau of Land Management, (702) 647-5000, www.blm.gov; Recommended Map: United States Geological Survey 30×60-minute quadrangle, Lake Mead, Nevada-Arizona; Nevada Tourism, www.travelnevada.com.