Saturday, April 19, 2014

Corn Creek Visitor Center & Trails - Desert National Wildlife Refuge - 4/19/14

New Corn Creek Visitor Center

Desert National Wildlife Refuge

Rosie Channeling her Inner Bighorn
 Twenty-two and a half hikers gathered to visit the new Corn Creek Visitor Center out at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge today. We drove north on I-95 for sixteen miles from our meeting location and turned a sharp right onto Corn Creek Road. This is a 3.5 mile graded dirt road that is in very good condition and leads to the visitor center that has shaded parking spaces. When we arrived, we saw that there was a native plant volunteer effort underway. They were planting various seedlings off of one of the nature trails behind the visitor center. We also shared the complex with a large group of children and adults who were doing the same things that we were doing but we easily stayed well out of each other's way! Our first order of business was to explore the interior displays. They were very informative. One of the favorites was the one Rosie is standing in in the photo to the left. When we stood on the prints, we could feel the padded softness that the bighorns feel from their hooves. It really was quite enlightening! The display read that the outer layer of the hoof is hard and protective. However, the inner organic substance is soft and cushy.

A Few of the Visitor Center Displays
 We spent thirty minutes inside the building. There was also a ranger's desk and gift shop inside.

View from Corn Creek Springs

Exterior Display
 Armed with a small map of the 1.5 miles of nature trail behind the building, we started our walk. The plan was to just keep turning right. That way, we would cover everything there was to cover. The exterior displays were very nice as well. There were signs and sun shelters along the way. It was also impressive to see the mountains on either side of us; the Sheep Range to the north and the Spring Mountains to our south.

Hikers Studying the Grinding Stone
 A short spur trail called Whispering Ben led us out to a large rock that was used as a grinding stone by the ancients.

Grinding Stone

Approaching the Mormon Cabin Display
 A Mormon cabin display came next. We peered into the windows where there were objects set up to look like someone would be home from the fields any minute. After this, we went back up the little hill to a grouping of picnic tables. A woman was standing there with a telescope pointed at a horned owl, her nest and two baby furry owls who the woman said were only 3 days old. We each took our turn at the telescope and those babies were soooo cute!

Mummy Mountain from the Birdsong Loop
 Next, we connected with the Birdsong Loop. This is the longest section of the nature trails. It is also the most exposed to the sun.

Hiking the Birdsong Loop

Sherry Passes Through an Old Gate
 We enjoyed the loop through the desert noting many different kinds of birds flitting about. Then, we came to the spring and pond section. There really is quite a lot of water flowing from the spring here. We commented that the sound of the stream was akin to a "bubbling brook." Just before we finished our short hike, we saw two snowy egrets bathing in the stream. We all decided that this was definitely worth the small drive out for a visit!

2 miles; 150 feet elevation gain; 2 hours

Trail Signs & Statue of Coyote

Snowy Egret Enjoying the Refuge

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Krafft Traverse / Gateway Loop via Calico Basin Road - 4/17/14

Krafft Mountain Peak View

Turtlehead Peak from Gateway Canyon

Starting Up the Trail from the Cars
 Twelve hikers attended this Tuesday Super Scramble disguised as a Thursday hike. Today's route was new for the club, in that, we began the adventure at the big wash parking area on Calico Basin Road. This is the trailhead for many trails that undulate up and around the hills in this area. Our route followed trails that led straight over to the Krafft Mountain and Gateway Canyon junction.

Hiking the Trails to the East Side of Krafft Mountain
 The early hour at the start of the hike afforded us colorful views of the sandstone as we made our approach.

Approach to Krafft Mountain & Gateway Canyon

Last View Before Start of Climb
 Unfortunately, our appreciation of the sandstone in the sunrise light was interrupted by our arrival at the base of Krafft Mountain. The trail in front of us sloped steeply up 800 feet in elevation over the next 0.4 mile. Strong hikers tackled the climb at their own speed. We followed a trail of cairns for the most part but it was usually clear which way to go if we kept in mind that we were headed in the direction of a huge rounded boulder.

Climbing the East Side of Krafft
 There were a couple of places that could be labelled "the crux" of the climb. One of them is seen in the photo above. The view below shows how quickly we gained those 800 feet!

Las Vegas View from Krafft Climb

Resting at the Lower Peak
As we neared the secondary peak, the terrain started leveling out. When the writer arrived on the slanted boulders, the others were speculating on the ease at which one could climb the high point boulder here. It was decided that "ease" was not involved so we started the traverse after a short rest. We could see the official Krafft Mountain peak rising up in the distance.

Traversing Krafft East to West
 Traversing Krafft Mountain sounds easier than it is! The mountain seems to be made up of a jumbled mass of large boulders and traversing it requires route finding and lots of scrambling.

Colorful Saddle Area

Starting Climb from Ridge Saddle Area
 Finally, we arrived at the ridge saddle between the lower peak and higher peak. The climb would be easier at this point if we stayed on the trail. ... The front of the line missed the trail and began an adventure from the north side to the peak. The back of the line prudently climbed a short distance to the ridge, found the trail and strolled up to the peak without breaking a sweat!

Taking a Break on the Peak
 While at the peak, a bandage was wrapped on a large bruise (try to avoid using the reverse gear while climbing on big loose rocks!) and we all signed into the log book. Today's view was fantastic! The weather was a bit warm.

Turtlehead Peak from Krafft Mountain Peak

Descending Krafft Mountain
 We descended on the west side of Krafft that brought us through the sandy "beach" area. The photo to the left shows another interesting place in the descent. This crack is definitely easier when you are going up! Anyway, we dropped into the wash that runs on the west side of the mountain and began our descent to Gateway Canyon. There is a trail in the wash but hikers still have to contend with a lot of brush.

Descending the Wash on West Side of Krafft
 The wash also requires scrambling under and over large boulders. Fun! Eventually, we dropped into Gateway Canyon via the Candy Cane Chute in a very colorfully striped sandstone area.

Funneling Down to Candy Cane Chute

Hiking Down Gateway Canyon
 Our hike through the familiar Gateway Canyon went quickly. The canyon was beautiful today ... as usual. The gravel, at this time, is very high and many of the obstacles are conquered quite easily. At last, the canyon dumped us out into a wide wash where we junctioned with the trail we came in on. Mike OC led us back to the cars on a slightly different trail route than the one we came in on. We will be sore tonight!

5.5 miles; 1600 feet elevation gain; 4 hours

At Least 4 Feet of Gravel Fills in this Obstacle Near the End

Nearing the End of Gateway Canyon

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tank Discovery Scramble - 4/15/14

Sunrise at Red Rock Canyon NCA

"Back Alley" of the Calico Tanks Trail

John Sits Under the Arch Looking at the Redbuds
Eleven hikers chose a Super Scramble for Tax Day's adventure in exercise. We set out very early in the cool morning air at the Sandstone Quarry parking area on the scenic loop of Red Rock Canyon NCA. Our first stop would be the arch in the Sandstone Quarry area. Yes, the redbuds were in bloom in the canyon on the back side of the arch.

Morning Exercise

Daybreak on the Calico Hills
We began our climb up to the Phase I Peak on the ramp next to the arch. The ramp turns into a beehive traverse and a climb up through a slanted crack. At the top, we turned right to drop and go around the small peak in our way. From there, we continued going up until there was no more "up!" At the top, we had beautiful views of the sunrise light on the escarpment.

On the Top of Phase I Peak

Descending from Phase I Peak
There are small tanks on the peak but they were all dry. We descended half way down the way we came up then turned toward the Calico Tanks Trail and descended the rest of the way. We followed the Tanks Trail until just past Mass Production Wall. From here, we headed up the side of the hill to the right where a rocky crack took us up behind Rooster Rock. Following the ridge, we arrived at the major climb of Phase II.

Major Climb in Phase II

Pretty Tank
At the top, there is a large tank with water on the left side of the hardened dune. We also checked out the Pretty Tank further up. Next, we crossed over the sandstone, found another couple of dry tanks then dropped into the brushy traverse on the other side of the hill. Still brushy! The sunken tank appeared ready for swimming ... but, how would you get out? Next, we bypassed the rock fall by circling around to the Long Pool (also dry) area.

Crossing Over to the Long Pool

Emerging from the Long Pool Area
From the Long Pool, we surmounted the Lower Calico II Overlook for our morning break. The conversation was flowing today. So much to talk about! (How about old Cliven Bundy? Etc.) We enjoyed our break then needed to move on.

The cloud cover was holding out for the most part. Once in a while, the sun would peek through and we would realize that we preferred the clouds!

View from Lower Calico II Overlook

Coffee Break on Lower Calico II Overlook
This new part of the route, that began at the rock fall detour, then began completing the circling of the Calico II Peak above us by climbing the rock wash on the other side of the peak. This was a major climb but very enjoyable as it peaked out on a steep beehive hill to the right. Way below us to the right was the main Calico Tank. We were careful with our foot work! Danger! Danger!

Another Major Climb in Route to Calico II Peak

Arriving on Calico II Peak
Next, we dropped down to the familiar approach to Calico II Peak. There is a new log book on the peak and we signed all our names. No time to hang. The Crack Descent was coming up! The Crack Descent was first shown to us by Neil. It is a very exciting way to descend off of this peak. Much care and skill is needed but it does not require ropes or anything. So, this is the way we got down today.

Descent from Calico II Peak via the Crack (Use instructions at your own risk!)

Tank Below Calico Peak
We finally ended up very near the main Calico Tank. Just a little ways down and to the right, we climbed up the white sandstone to take a "look see" at the tank that resides just below Calico Peak. We continued past the tank and dropped down to a back alley where only locals go. The red sandstone took us down to the wash then out to the main trail. Steps took us down to the Mass Production Wall area then we left the trail again. We took a steep short cut down to the next flat area of the main trail then began hiking around through the Red Cap Trail byway.

Hiking Out the Calico Tanks Back Alley

Climbing Out of Turtlehead Canyon
We turned to the right to hike up a little used gravel wash. The wash ends at a slot we call Turtlehead Canyon because a view of Turtlehead Peak is centered through the canyon. The climb out of the canyon is somewhat difficult but the hikers today live for a challenge! From the exit, we climbed straight up to Rattlesnake Trail and turned left. This old and little used trail took us up to a cove within some white sandstone peaks.

Rattlesnake Trail Connector

The Last Major Climb
The peak on the left as you enter the cove was our last (Phase III) climb of the morning. At the top, there is a very pretty tank that we might as well call Turtlehead Tank due to the view as seen in the photo below. We descended the same way we went up then hiked around to check out the petroglyphs at the old shelter area. Afterwards, we dropped to the Turtlehead Trail and followed it back to the cars. A fine morning of working out!

5 miles; 1600 feet elevation gain; 4 hours

Turtlehead Tank Atop Phase III Peak
In memory of Mrs. Thomas.

Shelter Petroglyphs