By Wayne Cottrell
As a winter escape for Utahns, Mesquite, Nevada is perhaps the first destination choice south of St. George. And, although it is located in Nevada, Mesquite was founded by Mormon pioneers in 1880. After several false starts to establish a settlement – because of periodic flooding of the Virgin River – a town dependent on agriculture finally took root. It took over 100 years for Mesquite to incorporate as a city, which occurred in 1984. By then, the city’s economy had diversified, with tourism, casinos, and retirement community prospects set to bring a thriving Mesquite into the 21st century. Although a couple of casinos have closed with the recent downturn in the U.S. economy, well-established resorts such as the Casablanca and Virgin River continue to welcome guests.
The Mesquite-Virgin Valley Cruise is a 55.6-mile out-and-back ride through Virgin Valley, with a detour loop as the route passes through the city of Mesquite, in Nevada’s southeastern corner. The ride takes advantage of the city’s bike paths where available, but most of the route is on local roads and highways. The I-15 freeway, parallel to this route, absorbs most of the through vehicular traffic, thereby keeping the roads comparatively low-volume. There are no serious climbs in this ride; there are a number of hills, though, with the steepest uphill grade being 6.4%. Elevations range from 1,437 feet at the Virgin River crossing in Riverside, to 1,962 feet a little over one mile west of Littlefield.
The city of Mesquite had a growing population of just under 16,400 in 2013. The city’s population grew by a whopping 62% between 2000 and 2010; for a while, this was the fastest-growing city in America. The pace of growth has slowed substantially since then. On the plus side, the rapid growth extended the city’s infrastructure; for example, there are now three I-15 freeway overpasses in town, whereas before the boom there was just one. And, neither of the two new overpasses connects to I-15, meaning that a cyclist need not fret about motor vehicles turning and hastening to access the freeway. This ride takes advantage of some of the new roads, and a few of the old ones, to cover the entire city, along with points east and west. The ride extends northeastward into neighboring Arizona, turning around in Littlefield, and southwestward, into Bunkerville and Riverside.
Start the ride at Hunter Sports Park (elevation 1,597 feet), located at 500 East Mesquite Boulevard (east of Sand Hill Boulevard). Be sure to fill up on water here, especially if you are doing this ride during any season other than winter or late autumn. (The average daytime temperature in Mesquite exceeds 80oF from April through October, and 100oF from June through September). Exit the park and head north on Mimosa Way. Turn left onto Old Mill Road, and then turn right onto the back road behind Bowler Plaza (retail center). Exit and turn right onto Hillside Drive. You are now one-half mile into the ride, and the Arizona state line is just 0.8 miles up the road. Once across the border, you are riding on Old U.S. Highway 91, which was formerly the main road through here, long before I-15 was built. On your right is Palms Golf Club, one of the Mesquite area’s seven (!) courses (making the city a highly-regarded golf destination). Yell “fore!” as you ride past. The highway continues to climb gradually. After reaching a crest (1,873 feet) at mile 3.75, the highway curves to the right, veering away from the I-15 corridor, and into a rugged desert landscape. Cross the Virgin River at mile 4.25; the river flow ranges from essentially dry all the way to flood stage, after a major rainstorm. Old Highway 91 rolls through here, with the elevation ranging from 1,700 to about 1,850 feet. After a three-quarter mile climb at a 3.3% grade, the highway leaves the scenic environs of the many gorges carved out by the Virgin River, and enters a wide-open desert plain. The high elevation of the ride, 1,962 feet, is reached at mile 8.4.
Enter the tiny community of Littlefield (population 300) at mile 9.75. For Arizonans, Littlefield and its adjacent, “sister” community of Beaver Dam are completely isolated, as access to both requires travel through either Nevada or Utah! The highway descends through town, passing under I-15 at mile 10.5. Beaver Dam (population 1,000) is located just on the other side of I-15. Turn around at the Dam Store & Deli on your left (mile 11.0), or at the Beaver Dam Lodge, which is just up the road on your right. Replenish your fluids while in town. (If you are interested in knowing what lies beyond Beaver Dam, then please try the “Beaver Dam Mountains Classic” in Road Biking Utah). Return to Mesquite via the reverse route.
Back in Mesquite, now 21.5 miles into the ride, continue on Hillside Drive to Sand Hill Boulevard. Turn right here, and pass under I-15. You are now on Pioneer Boulevard. The road climbs gradually, past the Virgin River and Eureka Casinos, and into the comparatively new, northern section of Mesquite. Turn right onto Turtleback Road; the road climbs to 1,831 feet (3.3% grade), and then descends rapidly (8.7%), becoming Hardy Way. You will be on the undulating Hardy Way for the next 2.8 miles. At mile 26.1, an access road to the Mesquite Sports & Events Complex is on the right. A path suitable for bicycles circles the complex; there are facilities here for refreshing your water supply. So, a diversion into the complex may be worthwhile. Hardy Way becomes Lower Flat Top Drive at mile 26.5, as the undulations continue. The road finally descends steadily from a crest of 1,881 feet at mile 27.5. The descent continues for just under two miles; at the bottom (1,600 feet), Lower Flat Top bends sharply to the left, becoming Pioneer Boulevard. You are now heading east, toward central Mesquite. You will be on Pioneer for the next 3.2 miles (I-15 runs parallel, to your right). At mile 32.7, turn right onto Grapevine Road, and cross over I-15 on one of Mesquite’s newer bridges. Turn right onto Mesquite Boulevard, and then look for the access ramp to the Roadrunner Trail (paved bike path), on your right. Head south on the path. Leave the path after just one-quarter mile, exiting onto Hafen Lane. Turn right here, and then turn left onto Riverside Road (State Route 170). Say goodbye to Mesquite once again, as you head southwest. After another one-quarter mile, at Jensen Drive (mile 34.5), transfer to the parallel Bunkerville Bicycle & Pedestrian Trail, which is a paved path on your right. Cross the Virgin River once again; enter Bunkerville at mile 36.1. Bunkerville (population 1,300) was established by Mormon pioneers in 1877. The unincorporated town is named for Edward Bunker, a polygamous Mormon pioneer. Today, the town is a quiet suburb of Mesquite.
After about 2.5 miles, the Bunkerville path ends, as you leave town (mile 37.3). Continue, and ride along the shoulder of Riverside Road. The road rolls through the desert landscape, occasionally rugged, with plenty of scrub, and periodic wash crossings. The elevation varies between 1,500 and 1,600 feet, before starting a long, gradual descent to yet another, dramatic crossing of the Virgin River. This is the low elevation of the ride (1,437 feet). Turn around just beyond the bridge, adjacent Foster Road (mile 43.2). This seemingly non-descript location became famous as the launching point for the “Bundy Standoff,” in reference to ranch-owner Cliven Bundy’s feud with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over land ownership and grazing rights. For a while, starting in April 2014, a small, armed militia of Bundy supporters set up at various points in this area, perhaps waiting for federal officials to show up. I traveled through this area during this time, somewhat unknowingly, and noticed the armed men, none of whom seemed to take much note of me. The protest diffused following a round of reasonably successful negotiations between a local sheriff, and the BLM director. Bundy also lost some of his supporters when some of his racist comments leaked. Thankfully, no shots were fired, and no one was hurt. While pondering this “new” history, return to Mesquite via the reverse route. Please note that Riverside Road continues for a couple of miles from here, and then empties out onto I-15. There are no facilities at the interchange.
Once you are back in Mesquite, and are riding along Hafen Lane (mile 53.2), turn right onto Roadrunner Trail. Head south on this paved path, and then northeastward as it makes a sharp left-hand bend, to parallel the Virgin River, and Bunkerville Ditch, which is a man-made canal. The Virgin River meanders along the southern extremities of Mesquite. In an otherwise barren area, the river supports a diverse array of wildlife, including some endangered species of fish, and vegetation. There are a couple of at-grade crossings along the path, as you head through Mesquite. Leave the path at Mesquite Boulevard; turn right and head east. Keep straight at Sand Hill Boulevard. The ride ends at Hunter Sports Park, 0.2 miles past Sand Hill, on the right.
Start/finish coordinates: 36.804003oN 114.060892oW
For more rides, see Road Biking Utah (Falcon Guides), written by avid cyclist Wayne Cottrell. Road Biking Utah features descriptions of 40 road bike rides in Utah. The ride lengths range from 14 to 106 miles, and the book’s coverage is statewide: from Wendover to Vernal, and from Bear Lake to St. George to Bluff. Each ride description features information about the suggested start-finish location, length, mileposts, terrain, traffic conditions and, most importantly, sights. The text is rich in detail about each route, including history, folklore, flora, fauna and, of course, scenery.
Wayne Cottrell is a former Utah resident who conducted extensive research while living here – and even after moving – to develop the content for the book.