Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Trail Canyon (In Snow) - 5/21/19

Fletcher Canyon below Trail Canyon Overlook

Charleston Peak from Trail Canyon Overlook

Cockscomb Peak and South Loop Ridge from Trail Canyon Trail

Climbing Trail Canyon
At an early hour this morning, two club members headed into the wilderness from the Trail Canyon Trailhead where we were the only car in a big parking lot. It was chilly so we layered our fleeces, scarves and coats. Knit hats and gloves finished our couture du froit. The first hike up Trail Canyon of the year is always a big deal. So, we started at a very slow and comfortable pace. Yesterday and the day before, more snow was added to the mountainside. How far could we go? It wasn't long before we noticed that there was at least one hiker and at least one really big dog that had placed their footprints in the snow before us. We started celebrating each landmark!

Trail Canyon Trail
The water tank, the wilderness sign, the wash crossing .... It didn't take long before the large snow patches became a solid hillside of snow.

Rita on Trail Canyon
As we hiked, we watched the hiker's footsteps and those huge paw prints. The wilderness engulfed us with shadows.

Small Bush and its Shadow

Trail to Right
The low morning sun created long tree shadows that decorated the snowy trail like a GOBO lens covering for stage lights. When we arrived at the "Halfway" point where the trail veers to the right and big rocks are spread on the left of the corner, the snow was a consistent covering of around one inch. This is also where the previous hiker's tracks stopped abruptly and turned around. Ahead of us was a clean trackless trail. By now, after so many years of hiking in this area, both of us could probably do Trail Canyon with our eyes closed! So following the snow-covered trail was no problem as we imagined every footstep on bare ground.

Snowy Landscape
The camera kept jumping into my hands for the incredibly beautiful winter wonderland landscape. The snow beneath our feet was on the crunchy side and very easy to navigate.

Trail Canyon Trail
Although the beginning of the hike was laboring in the higher altitude ... higher than Red Rock Canyon and Lake Mead areas ... once we got up past 8500' or so, the thinner air was not noticed.

Morning Sun on Trail Canyon Trail

Kay in Trail Canyon
Due to our slow pace, we were actually having fun, on Trail Canyon! Lots of photos. Investigating a lot of bunny tracks, bird tracks, ground squirrel tracks, and possibly a deer. Taking each other's pics, being silly ... and other girl stuff. Even though this was the longest it ever took either one of us to get up to the saddle, the hike up seemed very short. Next thing we knew, we were hiking into the saddle area. Still, there were no human tracks around. We laid our packs on the saddle resting log and hiked up to the overlook to the right for a few photos. (See the first two photos of this entry.) This was our target for today's hike and we were quite satisfied!

Saddle Approach
Charleston Peak and Griffith Peak were both snow capped; resting under their blanket before the onslaught of summer hikers make their assaults.

Fallen Tree just below Saddle
The sign on the saddle asking hikers to beware of undetonated snow bombs is still there.

Mummy's Toe from Saddle

Kay at Overlook pointing at Rainbow Canyon Saddle
We sat for just a couple of minutes before we lightened our couture a little and started down. Right away, we noticed that the snow had started to melt. We were so glad we had started up early and experienced the pristine white blanket on the trail. By the time we got down to the "Halfway" point, the trail was almost clear. We passed only two pairs of hikers on the way down. Great way to start your day!

4 miles; 1550 feet elevation gain

Rita at Overlook

Tree Shadow


Sunday, May 19, 2019

Fletcher Canyon (Lots of Water) - 5/18/19

Water Flowing from Chute at Obstacle Rock

Waterfall behind Obstacle Rock to Right of Rabbit Hole

Fletcher Peak Ridge above Fletcher Canyon

Water Flowing at first Trail Crossing
Fletcher Canyon, one of the official hikes in the Spring Mountains NRA begins about 1.7 miles past the Kyle Canyon traffic circle in front of the Spring Mountain Gateway Visitor Center. May is a good time to go up in the lower elevations of the Spring Mountains and view the snow melt gushing down the washes that are usually dry during the summer months. Fletcher Canyon is one of these washes but depending on the previous winter snowfall and the spring rainfall, the amount of water in the canyon differs greatly. Anxious to see what the crazy winter and spring Las Vegas weather has served up within these walls, two club members headed up into the mountains on a beautiful day.

Water Flowing along Trail Up
We got to the trailhead around 7:45am and had our choice of parking spaces. This was my first endeavor into the mountains this spring so, as soon as I began hiking up the trail, I felt the altitude!

Nice little Waterfall
The two of us are nursing foot injuries so our pace was slow and comfortable - good for altitude acclimating, we told each other!

Water flows alongside Trail

Water at Canyon Bend (Trail/Wash Junction)
Walking and talking, we hiked up the very familiar trail in anticipation of what we might find further up the canyon. However, at the first wash crossing ... maybe second ... there was water flowing. Hmm. This is special! Already, I started warming up the camera. We found rocks lying just below the surface of the water to use for crossing. Now, as we hiked, we heard the water flowing with small waterfalls not far from the trail. There was one more crossing before we reached the "trail hills." Then, it helped to know the trail well because the water was hindering a clear path in a couple of places. Staying to the left is a good mantra here.

The Trail inside the Narrows
At the canyon bend where the trail and wash become one and the side trails run out, the water covered our path. The first real obstacle was the log/rock jam. Yes, there is an up and around trail that is steep and slippery. But, we managed to go straight up the usual scramble ... in the running water.

Approach to Log/Rock Jam
I knew that the water was going to be in our way for the remaining of the hike up to Obstacle Rock so, why not use the waterproofness of our hiking shoes and step in the shallows. (It'll be kind of like the Zion Narrows! ... Sort of.)

Canyon, Water and Evergreens

Another Nice little Waterfall
During the whole hike, I think some water dripped over the rim of my shoes once or twice. We had to be creative in our choice of routes around the little waterfalls and deeper pools. However, TBH, avoiding the water was only secondary to the absolute beauty that said water was creating in this usually dry environment. The camera was well-warmed up by this time. I hope that these photos help you imagine the canyon as we saw it today. If not, go take a hike before the water runs out! When we entered the Lower Narrows (where the canyon walls are not far apart), the water was unavoidable. Shoes got wet.

Water flows along Canyon Wall
Then, we turned that last corner and saw the water was gushing down the chute into a big splash at the bottom! Above the chute is Obstacle Rock.

Chute at Obstacle Rock
We stood in awe at the sight then clambered up the slippery log on the right side of the chute. Quickly, we looked toward Obstacle Rock and saw the waterfall pouring down on its right side.

Down from top of Chute
This was an amazing scene. We took each other's photos, took a small break, then headed back. Definitely a scene that we will tell stories about for many more years. On the way back, we saw more hikers. Some were not wearing proper shoes and clothing for the hike. Probably didn't stop them from having fun!

4 miles; 850' gain; 2.25 hours

NOTE: The South Loop/Cathedral Rock Trailhead gate is open. But, word is that there has been a recent avalanche on the Cathedral Rock Trail.

Picking our way back through Narrows

A little wet, but it beats climbing up and around!

Charleston Peak not ready for Prime Time

Monday, May 13, 2019

First Creek Grotto v Oak Creek Trailhead - 5/12/19

First Creek Grotto 

First Creek Downstream from Grotto

North Cottonwood Valley

Indigo Bush at Burro Fence near Trailhead
Down in the valley, today, seven hikers spent Mother's Day morning in the beautiful desert loaded with flowers, nuts, bees and butterflies. The indigo blooms are out right now! The Joshua trees and other various yuccas are filled with nut clusters where the blooms used to be. There are still several hedgehog blooms around and the skies were blue! The rain we had last week is still flowing strongly down the washes and our quest was to take a look at the First Creek Grotto Waterfall. To add a little distance to our stroll, we started at the Oak Creek Trailhead on SR 159 and used the Valley Trail to connect over to the First Creek Trail.

Joshua Tree Nut Cluster
The official Oak Creek Trailhead is found approximately 1.4 miles south of the Scenic Loop Exit on SR 159. There is another one on the Scenic Loop and a couple more from SR 159 that are unsigned.

Painted Lady on Indigo
Years ago, this Oak Creek Trailhead had a campground. SR 159 was a simple dirt road. When Las Vegans would want to visit Red Rock Canyon, they would have to travel this dirt road that ultimately arrived at the White Rock Hills. Rocky Gap Road would take them over the ridge leading them to Pahrump.

Heading up the Oak Creek Trail

Hiking the Valley Trail
Times have changed. The dirt road is now partly a busy paved highway and partly the Grand Circle Trail. Rocky Gap Road is only travelled by the absolute toughest of cars. And, the park is now a conservation area. Who knows what the coming years will bring to the landscape. Anyway, we left the trailhead to follow the road through the abandoned campground area,  past the gate and across the Oak Creek Wash. About a third of a mile from the TH, the road/trail forks. A third option turns a sharp left up the hill to the top of a small ridge. This is part of the Valley Trail that leads from the Scenic Loop Exit TH to Spring Mountain Ranch State Park.

First Creek Trail Crossing
We turned left and followed the trail until it dropped down the ridge. Soon, it junctioned with a cross trail at the First Creek wash. We turned right to follow the trail down and across the wash.

First Creek and Wilson Peak
There was a lot of water in the wash but a few stepping stones helped us across. (See photos above.)

Indigo Bush with Rainbow Peak, Bridge Mountain, and Bridgepoint Peak

Hiking up First Creek Trail
The trail continued toward the First Creek Trail and soon, we were there. First Creek Trail is obvious, very large and usually has other hikers about. We turned right onto the large trail and chose the right fork at most opportunities so that we didn't get too far from the canyon wash. Today, we couldn't remember the correct landmarks for the Grotto trail. (In retrospect, John's first guess was the correct one!) So, some of us hiked up the trail until the trail met the wash. Nope. We passed it somewhere way back! Anyway, we added some healthy mileage and returned to the Grotto area that we had passed earlier.

Blooming Hedgehog Cactus
The maps and statistics below indicate the corrected route. (Someday, I'll remember the landmarks.) ... Or not.

Male and Female Side-blotched Lizards
Finally, we zeroed in on the Grotto by first finding the overlook above it. After a couple of photos, we climbed up to the beginning of the spur trail that heads down into the canyon.

First Creek Canyon

Top of Grotto Waterfall
Look for a tall tree to the south of the main trail, turn north and look for a bunch of embedded flat rocks. Follow the spur trail down to the left. Wow! Today, the waterfall was flowing very strong! And, the lagoon was filled almost to capacity. We were the only ones down there at the time and we enjoyed taking photos and eating a snack on the side of the pool. Very nice respite! As more hikers started intruding on our revery, we got up to leave taking the well-learned scramble up next to the wall. At the top, we placed a couple of cairns but, really, we don't expect the cairns to be there next year! ... Tall tree and flat rocks.

First Creek Waterfall from Top
Two of today's hikers scooted on down the trail without us. Probably had Mother's Day plans.

Start of Grotto Spur Trail into Canyon
The remaining five club members hiked at a decent pace down to the Valley Trail junction and turned left.

Small Waterfall in First Creek

Taking a Break at the Grotto
The Valley Trail was easy to follow on the return and then we turned right onto the Oak Creek Trail, again an easily recognizable large trail that forked in the immediate vicinity of the Valley Trail junction. On the way back from the Grotto, we enjoyed the beautiful desert landscape and the majesty of the Red Rock escarpment. We had started early and now it was getting hot. Time to go home. Great hike!

<4 miles; 325 feet elevation gain; 2 hours; average moving speed 1.5 mph

Gunsight to Waterfall

Enjoying a Prime Location

Returning the way we Came