Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Hidden Canyon - 2/18/19

Bighorn Spur Trail and Summerlin Peak

Hidden Canyon (from R to L)

Summerlin Peak from Cheyenne Mountain Base Loop Trail

Starting to see Snow near Trail
It is not well known by general public that the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area contains 197,349 acres. It is a very large strip of land set aside to conserve the treasures that are found from just southeast of Mt. Potosi up to just outside of the prison boundary southeast of Indian Springs, Nevada. Somewhere in the middle of this swath, the Red Rock Canyon NCA boundary sidles by the Cliff Shadows neighborhoods in northwest Las Vegas. There are two trailheads serving this part of the park. They are Gilmore Cliff Shadows Park and Buckskin Cliff Shadows Equestrian Park. The trails they serve are for hikers, bikers and horses. Within this section of the park where boundaries jut east, you can hike to Cheyenne Mountain, Summerlin Peak, The Whale (Orca), and Gottlieb Peak. Otherwise, there is a huge network of trails that cover the area.

Snow at Base of Summerlin Peak
Today, on a day when the unusual occurrence of widespread snow covered the elevations down to almost 3000 feet, eighteen hikers showed up at the Buckskin Cliff Shadows Park wearing their entire winter wardrobe!

Heading into the Deep Canyon below Summerlin Peak
It was very cold (30's & 40's) but the wind held mostly at around 10 mph with the occasional gust of 20 mph. And, the skies were blue!

Snow Flowers

Hiking at Base of Summerlin Peak
After the large group finished trickling into the trailhead, we started up the trail and circled around the south side of Cheyenne Mountain on the Toque Trail. On the far side, we already started seeing snow on the ground next to the trail. It was very exciting ... not to mention the beautiful snow views of Summerlin Peak in front of us. Following a trail across the wide wash and through the misery of construction trash and debris that had blown in from a nearby home construction site, we headed up the Bighorn Spur Connector Trail toward a canyon at the base of Summerlin Peak. This trail runs next to a deep wash that emanates from the canyon above. The snow under our feet and lying on top of the cacti spines slipped us into a winter wonderland fantasy ... in Las Vegas!

Trail along Base of Ridge
Snowballs sitting on top of the desert scrub appeared like white fluffy flowers! We passed the large cave on our way out of the canyon and waved at the lone man sitting in the shadows inside. He must be cold.

Snow on Mountains in Henderson in Distance
The Bighorn Trail continues around and along the foothills. In a few places, steep slab limestone served as a trail as it taught us to trust our shoe soles. In front of us, the canyon containing Hidden Canyon got closer and closer. Here, we picked up another club hiker who had been late for the party!

Narrowing into the Hidden Canyon Junction

Taking a Break at Narrows
We took our short break here at the apex of the trail with somewhat of a view of Hidden Canyon. We could only see that some bouldering and a left turn would put us in this rock climbing canyon. With a large group such as this, I made the decision to not try to get a first hand peek at the canyon's insides. Maybe next time when we all have shorts on! Onward up the two switchbacks! At the apex of the second switchback, we got a better look at the Hidden Canyon junction. And, we saw the red-tailed hawk's nest in the rocks above. Later, we saw the huge hawk circling for food. Beautiful!
Next, we came upon the old VW wreck. Someone has put a skeleton inside the car. Hilarious! That makes three cars, so far, that we have come upon at different places in Las Vegas' hiking areas with plastic skeletons placed inside.

Switchbacking up to Overlook (Second Photo)
The trail in this vicinity is precariously sliding off the side of the hill. Take care here. So, we headed on up to the high point of the hike by traversing in and out of wash corners.

Getting a Laugh out of Plastic Skeleton in Car
One of the first plants to bloom (besides the brittlebush) is the turpentinebroom plant. We found one with a lot of blooms on it ... also snow covered! There are also a lot of seabed fossils in the limestone all along this route.

Climbing up to the Overlook Knob

Trail Curve
Although we tried to keep close to the promised 2.0 mph moving pace, the entire hike was slow (no wind) then fast (cold wind) then slow (uphill & photos) then fast (cold wind) with several stops for catching up. Believe it or not folks, we averaged a moving pace of 1.9 mph. Great job! So continuing after the high point, we connected down a trail to a lower route, zigzagged a little more, tired of the ascents then crossed over on the land bridge to the base of Cheyenne Mountain on the other side of the valley. A right turn onto the No Dab Trail started us on a trip around the mountain on the base loop route. I have noticed that the base loop route is used by several trail runners and dog walkers. There are no men in caves on this side of the valley that I know of.

Snow on Red Barrel Cacti, Skeleton in Car, Turpentinebroom Blooming, and Petrified Tree Stump?
With the wind at our backs now, we stepped up the pace. There are several "bike hills" on this section. A running approach helps here!

View Northwest into La Madre Range
The snow was melting but not fast. We felt like we got the best virgin views of 2019's Snow Day! It was a free pass holiday at the Scenic Loop and even though I'm sure it was beautiful there, 500 of our closest friends would be filling up the views!

Descending on Connector Trail

Crossing Land Bridge
Finally, we curved around the south end of Cheyenne Mountain, again. This time going the other way. There were a few more cars in the parking lot but it wasn't crowded. We had not seen any other hikers on our route except for a dog walker down in the wash at the end. Yes, I ignored the fact that the houses right next to the Red Rock boundary were being worked on today as we hiked past. We all agreed that they were an eyesore but, if we had the money, we would buy one of them! What a view and a hike right out the back door every day! This route has never looked so beautiful! Great group and lots of fun!

6.5 miles; 1100 feet elevation gain; 3.25 hours; average moving pace 1.9 mph

Gass Peak Today!

Cheyenne Mountain Base Loop

Almost back to Trailhead

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Top of the World Arch (Long Loop) - Valley of Fire State Park - 2/16/19

Blackbush in Sand Dune near Top of the World Arch

Small Arch near Salmon Rock

One of the Slots

White Domes Descent
  Valley of Fire State Park is a public recreation and nature preservation area covering nearly 46,000 acres located 16 miles south of Overton, Nevada. The state park derives its name from red sandstone formations, the Aztec Sandstone, which formed from shifting sand dunes 150 million years ago. These features, which are the centerpiece of the park's attractions, often appear to be on fire when reflecting the sun's rays. It is Nevada's oldest state park. It was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1968.
  Valley of Fire is located 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas, at an elevation between 1,320–3,009 feet. It abuts the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on the east at the Virgin River confluence. It lies in a 4 by 6 mile basin.
  Complex uplifting and faulting of the region, followed by extensive erosion, have created the present landscape. The rough floor and jagged walls of the park contain brilliant formations of eroded sandstone and sand dunes more than 150 million years old. Other important rock formations include limestones, shales, and conglomerates. ~ Wikipedia

Dryish Tall Slot
 Nineteen fantastic club hikers joined a huge number of state park visitors and recreational hikers at the Valley of Fire State Park on a Saturday. This park is listed as one of the top ten state parks in the United States by Budget Travel.

Out the Other end of Tall Slot
 A slow start to getting to the trailhead set the pace for today's hike. Due to several different issues that were dealt with by patience, the day was long but worth it! Some of the main delaying issues were the flooded slots that we came upon throughout the hike.

Flooded Slots after Tall Slot

Starting up Main Alley
 Since this was not the first time that we have had to detour around ponds and pools at Valley of Fire, we knew the hacks of the up and around routes. Amazingly enough, we walked through the muddy but passable tall slot at the bottom of the White Domes Trailhead and past the movie set. However, there were a few puddles on the other side that required us to find alternatives. After this lengthy delay, we started up the trail to the left warning hikers ... again ... of the cryptobiotic soil next to the trail. About this time, the sun was already heating us up and we had to take a second wardrobe adjustment break! Comfortable, we continued down the "Main Alley" passing the Pointy Mountain, Chocolate Wall, Bulls Eye Rock, the Eye of the Iguana, Beautiful Wash and the Mushroom Monolith. After pointing out the Monolith as a meeting place in the near future, we continued up the wash to the Squeeze.

Some Points of Interest
 There was a lot of nibbled green grass in the Main Alley. We saw many many bighorn hoof prints and the hikers in the back half of the line saw four of the sheep up on the rocks. We all saw several from the road when we were driving in. Some of the babies have dropped! So cute!

Orange Section after Squeeze
 We climbed up to the little summit with a view then did a long switchback down to the canyon slot below. The cairns are gone from this section so I had to rely on memory. Hmm. Anyway, we took a slightly longer way to get over to Salmon Rock. (I missed the "over the hill" shortcut.)

Summit View of Virgin Peak

Winding through Washes
   Prehistoric users of the Valley of Fire included the Ancient Pueblo Peoples, also known as the Anasazi, who were farmers from the nearby fertile Moapa Valley. Their approximate span of occupation has been dated from 300 BC to 1150 AD. Their visits probably involved hunting, food gathering, and religious ceremonies, although scarcity of water would have limited their stay. Fine examples of rock art (petroglyphs) left by these ancient peoples can be found at several sites within the park.
   The creation of Valley of Fire State Park began with transfer of 8,760 acres of federal land to the state of Nevada in 1931. Work on the park was initiated by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. During the years of their employment, which continued into the early 1940s, the CCC workers built campgrounds, trails, stone visitor cabins, ramadas (shelters), and roads. The park opened in 1934; it achieved official designation by the state legislature in 1935. ~ Wikipedia

Kathy climbs the Slab Sandstone Wall
When we got to the Slab Sandstone Wall, some of the newbie faces were a little incredulous! I just started climbing and they followed. It's a daunting and steep climb but it's part of the hike. Everyone did very well here and soon we were all the way to the top and turning the corner to Sand Dune Hill.

Reaching the Top of the Slab
 As seen in the first photo, the sand dune is filled with small bushes (Blackbush, Creosote, Wild Rhubarb and Beaver Tail Cacti).
   Blackbush scrub, or blackbrush scrub, is a vegetation type of the Western United States deserts characterized by low growing, dark gray blackbush (Coleogyne ramosissima) as the dominant species. Blackbush often occurs in pure stands, giving a uniform dark gray appearance to the landscape. Blackbrush scrub occurs over a wide elevation range in the Mojave Desert. ~Wikipedia

Climbing the Ramp

Descending another Ramp
 Two times, we have seen bighorns in and around the dune but not today. They usually disappear behind the Burnt Toast Slices on the hill to the right! The sand was a little bit wet. This was helpful in climbing the dune hill up to the sandstone ramp ledging out from the wall on the left. Up the ramp (photo above), down the ramp (photo to left) and up one more ramp with an incredible view (photo below). The group arrived at the Top of the World Arch and made themselves at home. We were scattered about and even neglected to write in the log book. Regardless, it was an unusually non-windy day up there and the views from the top were stunning!

Climbing the Last Ramp to the Arch
 We saw Baseline Mesa, Virgin Peak, White Domes and the Back Lot. The Back Lot is the area between the red rock basin and the limestone mountains that divide it from the Moapa Reservation and I-15. All the tinajas up there were full with water. (Well, the Hot Tub had about 2 feet to go!)

Just a Few of the Scattered Hikers on the Top of the World Arch
 At the end of a leisurely break, the group divided in almost half. Half of the group took a chilling shortcut down the side of the dome on which the arch spans. Their wait at the bottom was extra long.

Lunch Break with a View

Return Down the Ramp
 The other half of the group took the long way down through the canyon. This required us to return down, up and down the three ramps then negotiate the precipitous rocky and slippery canyon. However, the canyon trail still might be considered the safer way to descend. Well, don't talk to hikers over 50 yo about knees! You might get an earful! The group at the bottom Monolith meeting place got restless and sent a search party! Slowly but surely, we made it to the bottom and headed over to the top of Beautiful Wash found across from the Eye of the Iguana. We hiked smoothly down through Beautiful Wash, a pastel extravaganza, to the paved scenic road and crossed at Road Wash #3. About 100 feet from the pavement, we headed up to our right to traverse in a ten o'clock direction. This is fin country so another warning was issued to not step on and/or break the fins that protrude up from the sandstone beneath our feet.

Starting down the Canyon (White Domes in Distance)
 The sandstone here is red and white striped as we carefully made our way across all the fins. Just before the slab meets a definitive wash, our route turned left to head straight for the landmark Rock of Gibraltar in the distance.

Rocky and Slippery
 As we came over a hill, an amazing display of colorful sandstone lay wide before our eyes. The tinaja that sometimes fills was like a blue reflecting pool in the middle of the scene.

Leaving the Main Alley for the Beautiful Wash

Beautiful Wash
 When we got there, we gathered around the reflecting tinaja for a photo. The light was not on our side so a more candid shot was taken as Mike encouraged everyone to clean their hiking sticks in the water. As we turned to continue down to the Kaolin Wash below, we commented on the number of park visitors surrounding the Fire Wave. That particular official park hike has attracted a large number of recreational hikers and Parking Lot #3 reflected that today. At any rate, we found our way over to the Fire Wave area and took our photos knowing that 100 of our best friends would be photobombing all day!
Approaching the Road at Wash #3
 We took our photos quickly and escaped the mad house that was the Fire Wave area! Straight over to the Wave Wall; an equally fascinating piece of colorful geologic architecture to which no one seemed to be paying any attention.

Traversing the Sandstone
 The route circles around the Wave Wall at its base then climbs up through the wash. At a convenient place, we climbed up to the left then descended down a colorful pink and yellow slab to the Kaolin Wash below.

Fantastic View in Valley of Fire toward the Fire Wave

Gathering at the Tinaja
 The Big Question! Will any of the Kaolin Slots not be flooded? Possible, since the Tall Slot wasn't bad? Well, our hopes were dashed half way through the first slot. Five of the group were up to the challenge! The rest of us climbed up and around to the left. Unfortunately, without expecting it, the two groups got separated here. When we returned to the wash at Road Wash #5, the others were not there. We assumed that they had continued on across the road and up the Kaolin Wash dealing with the flooded slots as they went. So, we did the same. The last slot was circumnavigated by climbing up the hill and connecting with the White Domes Steps. Up, we went on tired legs.

More Points of Interest
 We got to the cars ... and ... the other group was nowhere to be seen! "Where were they," I asked myself, dumbfounded and feeling guilty.

Circling the Wave Wall
 We waited about 5-10 minutes. Surely, they will show up soon. They are all very good hikers.

George sizes up the Pond Crossing

Most hikers going Up and Around
 Then, I realized that there was a missing hiker from my team that was right behind me when we started up the White Domes Steps. I began walking back to the top of the steps and there they all were cresting the sand dune. Rescue complete. GPS takes the credit for the errant hikers and a nearby young and pretty doctor takes the credit for the hiker that just couldn't quite make it up those last steps. All were accounted for and everyone had a happy ending. Never a dull moment! Fantastic day at Valley of Fire! We're all sore now!

7 miles; 1400 feet elevation gain; 5 hours; average moving speed 1.4 mph

The Kaolin Wash with Three Slots

Scrambling Up and Around

Crossing over Top to White Domes Steps