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

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Yellow Spire - Valley of Fire State Park (Sensitive Area) - 2/12/19

The Purple Section of Yellow Spire Hike

The Yellow Spire

From Valley of Fire State Park to Virgin Peak at Gold Butte

Dropping down to Small Wash
It was finally a gorgeous day and eight hikers were not about to waste it! Rain and cold wind will be back tomorrow. So, Brian took us up to the Valley of Fire State Park to do a reprieve of a favorite hike of mine called Yellow Spire. This hike has so much color and so many rock formations in it that it could be called a photog's paradise! Created in 2014, the hike starts out from the Silica Dome Trailhead on Fire Canyon Road. This road turns off to the right after the Rainbow Vista turnout from the White Domes Road. It would be advisable for all visitors to be very mindful of the speed limits on these roads all the way in from the interstate. Just sayin'. So, we headed down the hill from the trailhead restrooms on the dirt road but quickly turned down off to our left to hike toward a group of white and pastel colored rocks.

Small Pastel Wash

Brian - The VoF Guy

Down the Pastel Wash

Entering the Hoodoo Area
This is where the "sensitive" area begins. On the way down the hill, we were careful not to crush the tortoise burrows. There are many of these on the sandy hillside. When we reached the large rock outcroppings, we found our way to a small pastel colored wash. This is just a fun way to travel down to the Yellow Spire and Colorful Canyons vicinity. After avoiding the telltale puddles and "quick sand" for a short while, we climbed up the hill to the road that parallels the wash and continues down to where the road ends at another wash. When hiking in this area of the park, please stay off of the cryptobiotic soil and stay in the washes. Also, particular to this area, there are all sizes of hoodoos. The smallest ones can easily be tromped on by careless hikers and would disappear forever.

Entering Tiny Hoodoo Area

Gathering at the Yellow Spire

Near Yellow Spire

View back to Yellow Spire
A hoodoo (also called a tent rock, fairy chimney or earth pyramid) is a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland. Hoodoos typically consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder, less easily eroded stone that protects each column from the elements. They generally form within sedimentary rock and volcanic rock formations.

Hoodoos are found mainly in the desert in dry, hot areas. In common usage, the difference between hoodoos and pinnacles (or spires) is that hoodoos have a variable thickness often described as having a "totem pole-shaped body". A spire, on the other hand, has a smoother profile or uniform thickness that tapers from the ground upward. ~ Wikipedia

After hiking this route three times in three years, I am happy to report that the area has thus far been preserved. So, we crossed the wash at the end of the road and hiked into the beautiful colors. The Yellow Spire was our first point of interest. The spire is a very tall spire that is completely yellow in color.

Small Hoodoo, Small Arch, Skinny Hoodoos, and White Formation

More Hoodoos

Golds, Hoodoos and Jim

Small Detour from GPS Track
We made our way down the wash and passed several other hoodoos. Don't touch these, please. I don't want to see one toppling on YouTube ... ever! Next, the pastels turned into reds, yellows and oranges! Brian led us on a fun scramble through the small canyons and washes always walking on either sand or rock. A couple of the scrambles were different from previous years, I noticed. We were a pretty strong group and we were just having fun. One of the new routes started with the ramp in the photo to the left. This took us on a tour through a very colorful canyon area as seen below. Notice the fat hoodoos to the left in the photo. Our route passed over the normal break area without stopping. And, next was the very narrow squeeze passage followed by the Diving Board formation. As we exited the reds and oranges, the terrain turned white, gray and purple. The hoodoos continued as did the yellow hues. Brian chose a beautiful area for our break among the whole spectrum.

Colorful Canyon

Winding through Color

Pack Removal Slot

Diving Board Hoodoo
From the break spot, we hiked down a very narrow wash that gets deeper every year! (It also seems to get narrower!) At the end, a left turn presented more of the purplish hue in landscaping. And, there was a lot of cryptobiotic soil and tiny hoodoos in this area. It is imperative that this soil remain preserved.

Biological soil crusts are communities of living organisms on the soil surface in arid and semi-arid ecosystems. They are found throughout the world with varying species composition and cover depending on topography, soil characteristics, climate, plant community, microhabitats, and disturbance regimes. Biological soil crusts perform important ecological roles including carbon fixation, nitrogen fixation and soil stabilization; they alter soil albedo and water relations and affect germination and nutrient levels in vascular plants. They can be damaged by fire, recreational activity, grazing and other disturbances and can require long time periods to recover composition and function. Biological soil crusts are also known as cryptogamic, microbiotic, microphytic, or cryptobiotic soils. ~ Wikipedia

Passing Cryptobiotic Soil

Gray Hoodoo

Bright Orange Rock

More Color, Hoodoos and Washes
The wash we followed here winded down to a wash junction with a few more scrambles. A waterhole at the bottom of one scramble almost prevented us from getting by. We stepped lightly and quick so we wouldn't be swallowed up by the deep wet sand. We turned right at the junction in anticipation of the rabbit hole. Last time, we ended up having to go up and around the hole because of a large water puddle. Well, today, there was no water ... good ... but, the rabbit hole has disappeared ... not good! Yep! It is completely filled in with sand, rocks and debris. It no longer exists! So, ... there is a climb out over the rock we used to crawl under! A strap is helpful for this. ... And, several very helpful hands! After we all made it to the top, we found a skinny log that we dumped over the drop. IDK but maybe the next hikers can use it somehow. Onward! Up through Wedgewood Canyon with narrow walls and another rabbit hole that still exists.

Up and Over

Break Area

Small Narrow Wash seemed Deeper

Purple Section
We turned left at a wide wash fork where an the old road in this area crosses. On up the wash, the sandstone turns into bright red-orange. Be cognizant here! There is another dry fall scramble at the end of the canyon but, if you would rather go up and around, that scramble starts about 100 feet before. You cannot see the dry fall at that point. Most of the hikers took on the scramble while two went around. After this, the wash becomes really wide. Soon, there is a cairn on the right side of the wash. We could have kept going up the wash but a right turn here leads to a magnificently colorful view. So, we headed for the view! Then, we were very close to the Yellow Spire junction.

Colorful Section coming to an End

Dennis deals with Scrambling through "Quick Sand"

The Rabbit Hole no longer Exists!

Narrow Wedgewood Canyon
We crossed that same wash and climbed up to the road to begin the long climb out. This climb is little more than a mile and all up hill; but, about fifty percent sand. Fun! Well, I knew it was coming! This is where you earn your soreness! Nevertheless, I almost kept up with the sympathetic pace that Brian took on. Tuesdays! Phew! Anyway, the hike was thoroughly enjoyable and everyone was so nice and accommodating. Until next year!

5.6 miles; 950 feet elevation gain; 3.5 hours; average moving speed 1.5 mph

One more Scramble

Into the Reds

One last view of All the Colors
We didn't see any wildlife on the hike but we did see a lot of mountain lion, bobcat, rabbit and coyote tracks. These washes must be very busy at night. However, when we drove back by the Visitor Center, there was a herd of female bighorns grazing near the Balanced Rock! Anne captured this photo of one of them below.

Anne captured a Bighorn near the Visitor Center