Sunday, March 29, 2015

Champion Ridge Loop - 3/29/15

Lee Canyon from Champion Ridge

Starting Down into Lee Canyon from Trailhead

Large Cairn on Lee Canyon Trail
 It feels like summer is here! Looking for a cool place to hike, three hikers ventured into the Spring Mountains for an exploratory hike. When we got out of the car at the Lee Canyon trailhead (the solar panels), we felt a bit over-dressed in our pants and long-sleeved shirts! Yes, it was that warm! Luckily, there was a cool refreshing breeze throughout the hike and lots of shade to make the day very comfortable. We dropped down into Lee Canyon and followed the nice new trail over to the trail junction where we turned to our right heading up canyon. The trail was only completed last summer, but it has become a favorite of hikers and horse riders already.

Wash Junction for Lee Canyon Fork
 At around 0.65 miles, we crossed a small wash as seen in the photo above. In a few more short steps, we realized that this was the turn we were looking for. This gravel wash leads up to the left into a fork canyon off of the main Lee Canyon. Thus, our exploration began!

Gravel Wash in Lee Canyon Fork

Upper Reaches of Lee Canyon Fork
 Surprisingly, the gravel in the wash was somewhat deep causing our trudge up the gentle slope to be slow. The wash was free from brush for the most part and there was evidence that we were not the first hikers (or horse riders) that have explored this area. Keeping our eye on the slopes up to our right, we passed a few different "ramps" or "troughs" up to the ridge above. We were looking for a particular "ramp" that would take us up to Champion Ridge, a rimrocked ridge that hangs above the Champion Road primitive camping area below.

Red Survey Marker Landmark
 The wash becomes very wide at 2.2 miles into the hike. This is the ramp area. We, again, passed our queue by a few steps and found a very good landmark for the climb up. There was a red survey marker, as seen in the photo above, placed about 30 feet up from the wash on the right side.

Halfway Up the Ascent Ridge Looking Down Lee Canyon Fork
 Not yet realizing that we were so close to our "ramp," we decided to climb up to the ridge here since there was not too much brush in our way. When we reached the ridge, we saw the ramp on the other side and found that our "mistake" was probably a lucky break.

Conglomerate Cliff on Champion Ridge

Large Shelter
 The ramp wash was filled with brush and sometimes impassable. Our best bet was to follow the ascent ridge up to our left. A couple of times, we tried dropping down into the ramp wash when we leveled off with it, but each time, we had to return to the ridge due to brush. Finally, we reached the top ... the northeast end of Champion Ridge. From here, we weaved in and out of the trees and walked along the rimrock that overlooked Lee Canyon. We could see the Sisters and Mummy's Nose from the cliffs.

Taking a Break at the Large Shelter Area
 Near the southwest end of the half mile of Champion Ridge, we came to a large shelter built not far from Deer Creek Road. Here, we sat on the cliff and took our break.

Deer Creek Road Where the Ridge Comes Out
 After the break, we dropped down to the paved highway right at the 8000 foot elevation sign. This is where we saw our first patches of icy snow up close. Only patches.

Finding the Tiny Wash Trail to Champion Road

Champion Road
 We had been constantly looking for a trail down to Champion Road but the terrain is so steep that we were obliged to walk down the road for around a third of a mile. A tiny wash appeared and we followed it down to the dirt road. Turning right, we followed the dirt road all the way down to where it crossed the Lee Canyon wash. We had only seen one camper on the way ... and she wasn't talking .... We turned right to go down the wide wash and wound our way through the conglomerate sculptures.

Winding Through the Lee Canyon Wash
 At the antique car relics, we crossed over to the trail on the left side of the wash. This trail is the other end of the trail we began on three hours earlier.

Hudson Relic

Old Sign Below Narrows
 The trail led us up and around the Lee Canyon Narrows and we decided not to visit the interesting alcove since we had all seen it a few times. At the other end of the Narrows, we crossed the wash where the old sign still stands. Then, we followed the new trail easily. About half way down, we found the blue and orange trail signs as seen in the photo below. When we reached the wash junction where we turned earlier, we placed a very small cairn on a rock. Since large cairns are used for the Lee Canyon Trail, please don't confuse this small cairn for the main trail. If the cairn remains there, it is for the fork canyon only! From here, we made quick time back to the cars. Good hike. This was the first dry run of this area. With a few tweaks, the hike will be ready for prime time! (For instance, go down the ridge and fork canyon so that the deep gravel of the fork wash can be a descent.)

8 miles; 1700 feet elevation gain; 4.25 hours

Lee Canyon Trail Marked as Blue and Orange

Down Lee Canyon from Trailhead Climb

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Calico Gateway Loop - 3/26/15

Redbud Tree in Gateway Canyon

Calico Sandstone in Gateway Canyon

Southern Tip of the Calico Hills

Dropping Down at Calico I
 Fourteen hikers opted for a moderately strenuous hike around the Calico Hills and down through Gateway Canyon. The loop hike begins and ends at the Red Springs Park in Calico Basin of the Red Rock Canyon NCA. We started by climbing the hill above the boardwalk and our hearts and lungs screamed at the early morning effort. Once we were on the saddle, we dipped back down the other side then climbed up again. This time, we veered off to the right about half way up. By the time we finished climbing ... temporarily ... we were located across the canyon from the southern tip of the Calico Hills as seen in the photo above. As we hiked on up to the Calico I turnout, we began to notice that some of the spring flowers have sprung! First came a beautiful display of beavertail cactus blooms.

The Spring Collection
 Other flowers we saw along the trail were Utah penstemons, globemallow, paintbrush, desert marigolds and redbud trees.

Hiking Along the Calico Hills

Hiking the Grand Circle Trail
 We hiked from Calico I to Sandstone Quarry using the Grand Circle Trail with the exception of a small detour up to the Calico II turnout to offer a restroom stop. It was a beautiful day with a nice breeze to cool us off. There was still some water in the tinajas just south of the Sandstone Quarry parking lot. When we reached the sandstone quarry, we stopped for a short restroom break then continued down the Calico Tanks Trail.

Hiking Over to the Rattlesnake Trail
 Leaving the official trail, we made our way over to the Rattlesnake Trail through a maze of sandstone using the small slot canyon to gain entrance to the sandstone ledges where we took our break.

The Small Slot

 We sat under the gaze of Turtlehead Peak and took in the gorgeous view of the immediate sandstone and the escarpment sandstone beyond. We could see the peaks of the escarpment starting with Rainbow Peak all the way up to the Lost Creek Canyon. This is one of the most beautiful views in the northern Calico Hills because of the wide expanse of color. Here, we also had our choice of sun or shade in which to spend our time.

Rainbow Peak and Rainbow Wall
 After the break, we connected with the Rattlesnake Trail and hiked on out to the base of the Red Cap Peak above.

Hiking Past Ash Canyon Overlook

 Turning the corner there, we hiked down toward the Ash Canyon overlook and veered left to go down through the Rattlesnake wash. Gray Cap, a limestone peak on top of yellow sandstone, can be seen from this wash. At the bottom of the wash, we junctioned with Gateway Canyon. A turn to the left would take you into Upper Gateway Canyon. Today, we took the right turn to drop into Lower Gateway. We could tell immediately  that the gravel in the canyon was, again, rearranged!

Starting Down Lower Gateway Canyon
 Gateway Canyon is always interesting due to its dynamic nature. The canyon quite often gets a cleaning from rainwater. Sometimes hiking obstacles are deep and sometimes the canyon will be a "walk in the park."

Redbud Trees in Gateway Canyon

 We passed a grouping of redbud trees in full flower and marched down through the deep gravel. When we got to the obstacle areas, we slowed down and enjoyed the ride as we made sure that everyone got through safely. At the bottom of the canyon, we continued out the wash all the way to the high dry fall in the bright red stone. From there, we chose to return to the cars a new way that took us behind some of the houses in Calico Basin and back to the entrance road. Great hike.

8.5 miles; 1700 feet elevation gain; 4 hours

Pickle Rock

High Dry Fall in the Lower Gateway Wash

Calico Basin Wash

The blue line shows today's alternate route.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Brownstone Canyon O&B - 3/23/15

Water in Drainage from Sandstone Plateau above Brownstone Canyon

Some of the Pictographs in Brownstone Canyon

 There were ten of us on this beautiful and slightly cool morning. We started at the Sandstone Quarry trailhead parking lot and hiked up the wash to the Calico Tanks Trail. Turning off of the official trail, we headed over to the Rattlesnake Trail utilizing a recreational route up and over the sandstone. A look back at the escarpment showed clear air after a night of wind.

Making Our Way over to the Rattlesnake Trail

Morning Light on the Esarpment

 We connected with the Rattlesnake Trail and followed it to the base of Red Cap for a small break. Next, we descended down past Ash Canyon and into the Rattlesnake Wash. Finally, we junctioned with Gateway Canyon. To the right was Lower Gateway Canyon. Our route, today, led to the left into Upper Gateway Canyon, a canyon filled with limestone dry falls.

Starting Up Upper Gateway Canyon at the Base of Turtlehead Peak

Climbing Upper Gateway

 This canyon is a lot of fun to scramble up. There are a few choices along the way and everyone got a good challenge out of it. In the upper section of the canyon, there were a couple of places where water was still a factor after the rain and snow we had a two weeks ago. We made sure that everyone was getting up through the dry falls okay.

Another Dry Fall in Upper Gateway

Taking a Break in Upper Gateway Canyon

 We took another small break when we reached the sandstone junction at the top of the canyon. This is a very colorful area and we turned left to follow a trail that led us up the sandstone slab drainage. At the top of the drainage, we sat for a small break. In the quiet, we heard bleating up on the steep hillside to our right; on the slopes of Turtlehead Peak. There was a deep bleat then one that was higher pitched.

Climbing the Sandstone to the Plateau

View from the Sanstone Plateau Back

 We located a younger lamb up on the ridgeline. After watching and listening for a minute, we noticed that there were two more larger bighorns below the lamb that were slowly making their way up. They were all watching us warily even though we were very far away and had no inclination to climb that terrain!

Finding Our Way over the Plateau

Descending into Brownstone Canyon

 Next, we climbed across the sandstone plateau in the direction of the canyon on the other side. There were at least three different interpretations as to how to cross the area! At any rate, we all passed by the landmark large tinaja at one point to find the descent crack that we sought. We converged at the crack and made our descent down into Brownstone Canyon and had our snack break at the ancient native American pictographs painted on the wall here.

Returning to Upper Gateway from the Sandstone Plateau

Redbud Tree in Upper Gateway Canyon

 After the break, we climbed back up the somewhat difficult crack and proceeded to hike a different route back over the plateau. About half way across, we, again, separated into a couple of groups. One group took the obvious and easier route back to the top of the slab drainage and down. The other group went for an adventure that ended up in the small side canyon that took them down to the Upper Gateway junction. All were satisfied and we proceeded down Upper Gateway Canyon getting an upper body workout as we negotiated the boulders and dry falls. At the Rattlesnake Trail junction, we regathered then started up the last and most draining climb of the day up to the base of Red Cap. One final break here and we were on our way back to the cars using the small slot canyon on the way. Excellent morning!

6 miles; 1700 feet elevation gain; 4.5 hours

The Final Break at the Base of Red Cap

Dropping Through the Sandstone Maze