Monday, April 13, 2015

Gass Peak - 4/13/15

Gass Peak from Approach Ridge

Red Rock Canyon Escarpment from Ridge

New Trailhead Posts

 Eleven club hikers came out for a bit of a climb this morning. We piled in 3 high clearance vehicles and rode out to the Corn Creek Visitor Center in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. The DNWR is the largest wildlife refuge in the continental United States and once you get into the park and start driving on the bumpy dirt roads, the size becomes reality! We stopped at the VC and signed in at the kiosk, then drove to the right on Mormon Well Road. The first road junction, again to the right, is Gass Peak Road. After the right turn, there is still quite a long drive. Total drive time from the Santa Fe Casino to the Gass Peak trailhead is a little over 1 hour. The roads were in good condition today.

One of the Ridge's Intermittent Peaks
 The trailhead parking corral has been updated and is surrounded by posts connected with steel rope. Off roaders can no longer drive up the service road. We got out of our cars, shook off the bumps, and prepared for our climb to the top of the mountain up to our right.

View Back at the Trailhead
 Gass Peak (6950') is the highest peak in the Las Vegas Mountain Range which stretches across the northern boundary of the city. It is also known for its solar array and other equipment paraphernalia. The hike commonly used to reach the summit climbs up from the north along a long approach ridge then turns right (west) onto the main ridge of the range. The peak can be seen for most of the hike.

Spring Mountains from the Hike Up

As we began hiking up the service road, we could feel the desolation. There is nothing within sight here to remind us of civilization. Oh, except the new trailhead posts. At least half of today's hikers were "the BIG dogs!" And, about halfway up the approach ridge, the front and back of the group became more and more separated. BIG dogs have to stretch their legs now and then. Regardless, everyone waited when we reached the main ridge until we were all together again.

The Claret Cups were Blooming
There were several Claret Cup cacti in bloom on the main ridge. The globemallows were blooming everywhere with deep orange color. The hedgehog and beavertail cacti were also there with their deeply pink blooms.

Starting Up the Ridge
The main ridge had its own set of hills to climb and the first hill was the steepest as it took little zigzags up to the top.

One Mean Hill

From there, the trail stayed mostly on the north side of the ridge in an ascending lateral fashion. We came to 3 rocky saddles where the trail was very narrow but still well-worn. By the time the writer got to the third saddle, she was far behind the front group. It really didn't matter since the terrain is such that we could all see each other in the distance. A few more photos and the writer would have a decent blog to publish!

Gass Peak from the Ridge Trail
The trail hangs on the side of the very steep mountainside. The terrain is covered with scrub, cholla and ephedra (Mormon Tea). There is extremely little evidence of wildlife at this elevation.

Southeast View from Ridge
The main ridge curves around so that the first views are of the southeast direction of Nellis AFB. Next, comes a southwest view of the Red Rock Canyon area. The southern view of Las Vegas isn't seen until the hiker is closer to the summit.

The Trail

Perhaps the front group of hikers were racing. Not sure. But the latter group of hikers summited one by one, passing by the large solar panel array and reaching the narrow peak. Among the cell tower and the utility shed, there was a brand new wind sock! Much needed! We sat on whatever rocks we could find and took a break. Everyone was invigorated with the exercise.

Summit Approach
To the north was the vast Desert National Wildlife Refuge. To the south was the great little city of Las Vegas, Nevada. To the west were the Spring Mountains. Charleston and Mummy still have a small amount of snow. And, to the east, all we could see was the rest of the Las Vegas Mountain Range.

AtBF on Gass Peak Summit
Gass Peak was named for Octavius Decatur Gass, born in 1827. Usually a day late and a dollar short, this man struggled all over the southwest trying to find his fortune in some way. There is a humorous article that was written by K.J. EVANS in the Las Vegas Review-Journal (2/7/1999) that tells Gass' story.

Starting Down with Las Vegas in Background

After the break, we raced back down the mountain. Yep. It was a fast descent. It's okay. We still got a few good photos!

Notes on the roads: The Corn Creek Road is being paved so construction workers are hard at work. Be prepared to possibly wait a little. Mormon Well Road and Gass Peak Road seem to have just been graded and are good. Still, a little high clearance is advised. Happy hiking!

7 miles; 2200 feet elevation gain; 4 hours

Nearing the Bottom of the Approach Ridge

Really Old Joshua Tree

Gass Peak Road (Just Graded)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Zabriskie Point / Gower Gulch / Golden Canyon Badlands Loop - (Death Valley National Park for a Day) - 4/11/15

Manly Beacon & Red Cathedral from Old Road Trail

Red Cathedral from Trail Below

Telescope Peak from Badlands

 It was a long day. It was a warm day. BUT, it was an exotically gorgeous day! Eight club hikers drove to Death Valley National Park making good time and arrived at Zabriskie Point at the Furnace Creek badlands area just as the sunrise photogs were coming down off of the newly refurbished overlook. We hiked up to the overlook and got a few photos in ourselves. The morning was cool and a nice breeze blew over us intermittently.

The Team at the Refurbished Overlook
 Two hikers got to the trailhead as we were coming down from the overlook. They would do the overlook at the end of the hike. All together now, we prepared for our hike down into the badlands.

Close Up of Manly Beacon from Overlook
 The trail started to the right of the billboard trail signs and was marked by lined up rocks. It took us to a small saddle in which a square cut was made. This was obviously an old abandoned road, probably this end of the old Golden Canyon Road.

Old Road Saddle Trailhead

 The old road wiggled down the hill until it junctioned with the wide Gower Gulch wash. There is a trail sign here that points out the hiker's choice of turning right to continue on the trail or heading down Gower Gulch. We chose to go down the wash that stayed wide and coarsely cut with recent flood waters. The scenery around us consisted of badlands made with brown and white colors. The badlands were basically hardened sand of various rock and minerals.

Hiking Down Gower Gulch
 The wash was easy to hike. There was a trail running through it which was mostly void of loose rock.

Morning Shadows
 The morning sun still provided shade and we stayed cool. Maria set the pace and it was a fast one!

Gower Gulch Color

 We junctioned with the Golden / Gower Loop trail near one of the mines found to the left just off the wash. We were about halfway down to the bottom. Next, we passed a large white mountain of sand that was colored with "chocolate sprinkles." The scenery was very exotic and we couldn't help talking about what it reminded us of. As we neared the narrows, the canyon gulch became more narrow.

Gower Gulch & "Chocolate Covered Ice Cream Cone"
 At this point, we saw the second mine located up to the right. There is now a well-worn trail up to see it. We ventured up there and saw that it is gated. There is also another trail that leads up to the high ridge in this area. We did not explore this trail.

Gower Gulch Narrows
 Entering the narrows of the gulch, the walls became colorful in darker hues. The wash winded left and right.

Mild Scrambling in Gower Gulch

 Finally, we reached the mild to moderate scrambling portion as the gulch dropped down to its end. Being careful of the smooth worn side rocks, we planted our hands and dropped our legs to lower and lower levels. When the group wound around the last bend, oohs and ahhs ensued! The gulch ended with a 40' to 50' dry fall drop. The dry Manly Lake bed lay before us and the Panamint Mountain Range rose beyond that.

Nearing the Dry Fall
 The trail turned to the right where we were obliged to hike along the edge of the wash below. Thus, we began the trail across the foothills toward the Golden Canyon trailhead parking.

Mouth of Gower Gulch at Manly Lake
 Peering off down the valley (left), we saw Telescope Peak (11,043 ft) and the edge of Badwater. During our foothills crossing, we reached the low point of our hike at minus 177 feet in elevation. Therefore, the rise of the nearby peak was very impressive.

Crossing the Foothills between Gower Gulch and Golden Canyon

 We stopped at the Golden Canyon trailhead using the shade for a snack and the pit toilet for ... well, you know ... while hiking tourists passed by us. We were still very comfortable but the total ascent lay before us. The light breeze became more and more appreciated. Refreshed, we started up the gold colored canyon passing by the remnants of the old road's pavement. Golden Canyon appears different from Gower Gulch as the geology is more striking and the wash is less ... well, washed! The gentle climb led us by interesting rock formations. Some formations jutted out from the walls while others rose high above. Narrow shade remained on the east side. Soon, we could see the red wall of the Red Cathedral at the far end of the canyon coming into view.

Golden Canyon Ascent
Along the entire hike, there was very little vegetation. Two hikers wondered how one little scrub bush survived high up on the rock wall. Maybe mile long roots!

Golden Canyon with Red Cathedral Beyond
 The white veins in the walls interested us. Was it the borax that was and is still mined here? There were also veins of green and orange. And, all of this used to be under the sea!

Studying the Canyon Wall

  The group gathered at the next junction sign and we decided to continue up the spur trail to get a photo opportunity of the Red Cathedral. The spur trail was an increase in slope and the heat in the small canyon could be felt. Nevertheless, the views all around from this vantage were worth the effort. Up to our right rose Manly Beacon, a tall pointy mountain of sandstone. Ahead of us was the Red Catherdral wall. And, to our left, we saw ripples of gold and browns in the hills.

Red Cathedral from Spur Trail
 We got our photos then, on the return to the junction, we got fantastic views out to Telescope Peak as seen in the third photo of this entry.

Climbing Up to the Base of Manly Beacon
 We turned at the signed junction and began the most difficult climb of the morning up to the base of Manly Beacon. This part of the trail is very dramatic.

Panorama from Base of Manly Beacon

 We passed a few people going down here and saw that it was ill-advised. There is a little exposure and the sandy trail is slippery when descending. The climb made us aware of the increasing heat but, slowly, all 8 of us crested out at the contouring base trail then descended on the other side. The trail then leads across another ridge and down into a fork of Gower Gulch. Here is where there is another junction choice.

Descent from Manly Beacon Contour
 If you continue down the wash, you will flow into the same wash in which we descended earlier.

Manly Beacon from Gower Gulch Side
 We chose to turn left here. This is the continuance of the old road. It takes the hike up onto the ridge above.

Trail Well-Marked with Old Signs

 We zigzagged a little (as seen in the photo to the left) then made a steep climb up to the most beautiful view of the entire hike! To our left, we could see Manly Beacon and the top of the Red Cathedral with colorful ripples in the hills below (as seen in the first photo of this entry). This is definitely where the sunrise photos should be taken! ... Next time!

View Back Down Gower Gulch
 Looking back, we could see where Gower Gulch drops down to the valley. Up ahead, our hikers were going along the ridge.

Team on the Ridge Above
 The last hiker was dealing with heat issues but still made it up to the ridge in due time. The temperatures were probably in the mid-80's by now.

Fantastic View from Old Road Trail

 This last leg of the hike was probably the writer's favorite! Although the contour trail around Manly Beacon is very impressive, the ridge view from the old road is amazing ... eh, incredible ... um, fantastic? Where is the word? We hiked on down to the first junction we had come to that morning and turned left to climb the old road trail back up to the squared out saddle. All accounted for. Definitely worth the drive! Very good and different hike.

8 miles; 1750 feet elevation gain; 3.75 hours

Old Road Trail

Gower Gulch at Junction with Old Road

Returning to Old Road Saddle

 After the hike, four of the hikers drove down to the Furnace Creek restaurant for lunch where we parked next to Old Dinah. We did a "once through" in the souvenier shop then got back in the car for a drive up to Dante's View. Spring flowers were still blooming in these upper elevations. The undeniably impressive view from the top made us glad we took the time, then we headed on home. From Red Rock Casino to Red Rock Casino, it was about a 10 hour day.

"Dinah, won't you blow your horn?"

Dante's View (Hazy Skies)

Late Flowers on Dante's View Road

Hike Graph without initial Climb to Overlook

Hike Graph with Overlook Climb at End