Sunday, February 9, 2020

Cholla Forest via Seven Falls - 2/8/20

Teddy Bear Cholla

Bacon Canyon

First Sighting of Lamb this Year

Climbing the First Dry Fall
Cylindropuntia bigelovii, the teddy bear cholla (choy-ya), is a cholla cactus species native to Northwestern Mexico, and to the United States in California, Arizona, and Nevada. 
  Cylindropuntia bigelovii has a soft appearance due to its solid mass of very formidable spines that completely cover the stems, leading to its sardonic nickname of "teddy bear" or "jumping teddy bear".
  The teddy-bear cholla is an erect plant, 1 to 5 feet tall with a distinct trunk. The branches or lobes are at the top of the trunk and are nearly horizontal. Lower branches typically fall off, and the trunk darkens with age. The silvery-white spines, which are actually a form of leaf, almost completely obscure the stem with a fuzzy-looking, but impenetrable, defense. The spines are 1 inch long and are covered with a detachable, paper-like sheath.

First Dry Fall
 The yellow-green flowers emerge at the tips of the stems in May and June. Flowers are usually 1.4 inches in length. The fruit is 0.75 inch in diameter, tuberculate, and may or may not have spines. These fruits contain few if any viable seeds, as the plant usually reproduces through a dispersal strategy of dropped or carried stems.

Second Dry Fall with Rabbit Hole
 These stems are often carried for some distance by sticking to the fur or skin of animals, and are known to be especially painful to remove. When a piece of this cholla sticks to an unsuspecting person, a good method to remove the cactus is with a hair comb. The spines have microscopic barbs, and hold on tightly. Often small "stands" of these chollas form, most of which are largely clones of the same individual.

Bacon Vein in Seven Falls Canyon

Climbing small fall in Seven Falls Canyon
 Like its cousin the jumping cholla, the stems detach easily and the ground around a mature plant is often littered with scattered cholla balls and small plants starting where these balls have rooted. 
  Desert pack rats such as the desert woodrat gather these balls around their burrows, creating a defense against most predators like kit fox and coyote, however several species of snake feed on the rat keeping its population balanced.
  The cactus wren can be found perched on the cholla and other cacti. They also use a variety of cacti for nesting purposes.

Fourth Dry Fall
From SR-93, turn onto Lakeshore Road near Lake Mead's Alan Bible Visitor Center. Go 2 miles while passing the fee booth. Turn left onto a dirt road. This dirt road is 1/2 mile leading up toward the base of the mountains ending near a large water tank. This is the trailhead where seventeen hikers started out on an absolutely bee-utiful day!

Fifth Dry Fall Go Around
We hiked into the large wash to the north and started our westward trudge up the loose gravel while funneling into the mouth of a canyon. Right away, someone in the back of the long line spotted bighorns very high up on the top of the mountain next to us. When I got home and enlarged the photo, I noticed there was a lamb standing next to the ewe we could see from the wash. The first one I have seen this dropping season.

John finishes the Go Around

Sixth Dry Fall
Very quickly, the canyon forks into two canyons. Straight ahead is Bacon Canyon and, to the right, we turned into Seven Falls Canyon for our ascent. The first and second dry falls come immediately. We scrambled up the slippery rock on the right side then returned to the wash to reach the bottom of a rabbit hole climb. All the dry fall climbs are challenging but there is always one or two of our hikers that want to increase the difficulty levels by taking the "straight up" routes. The rabbit hole climb is difficult enough for most of us so we helped each other get up the initial step then each of us found our strength to emerge through the hole at the top. With seventeen hikers, some of them newbies, some of these climbs were time consuming. But, it was a beautiful day and patience was plentiful.

Reaching the Saddle - Lake Mead in Background
After some more hiking and scrambling up through the wash we came to the third and most formidable ascending dry fall of the day. Sometimes this one is too much for one or two hikers and they find an up and around to do the job. The remaining hikers are required to climb along a wall about 6 feet off the ground before solid ground at the top is reached. Fun!

Descent off Saddle
Numbers four, five and six are nice climbs up rock face. Number six has a fun up and around to the right. Number seven? Well, either it is part of a previous double dry fall or it is the one that you climb right after the left turn at a three-way canyon junction.

Healthy Cholla Forest

Taking our Break at Cholla Forest
The shallow canyon we turned into is a gentle climb up to the ridge saddle above. We waited for the rest of the line to arrive while enjoying the distant view of the lake and a welcomed gentle breeze. After the pause, we descended the other side of the hill on a trail and crossed the wide wash and power line valley to the entrance of the Cholla Forest Canyon. We took our break with a view of the "puffy" lime colored cacti getting plenty of photos. Afterwards, the hike continued by climbing up the canyon to a saddle. We dropped down the short hill on the other side and turned to the right to start down another canyon that contained the most formidable descent dry fall of the hike as seen in the photo below. One of our most experienced hikers commented that it seemed that this drop had changed over the years ... for the worse. I don't know but it is very awkward!

First Dry Fall on Descent
As we hiked down the gravel wash along the edge of the rock walls, someone in the back with binoculars for eyes spotted more bighorns way up on the edge of the mountain top. There were at least four with more traveling along the ridge below toward them. They were all ewes and I didn't see any lambs peeking out on the photo magnification.

Eight Eyes are Watching - Maybe More!
We continued down past several side canyons that flowed into the wide valley. The route continued up the side canyon with the large red rock outcropping high to the right of the wash. Usually, there is a small cairn here to indicate the leftward junction. We turned and climbed the gentle canyon, went straight at the top of the first hill then veered to the right to gain the next hill.

Following the Trail to Bacon Canyon

Top of Bacon Canyon
A game trail leads down, up and around from here until you come around a corner and have a nice view of the lake in the distance. (See photo to left.) You have arrived at the tip top of Bacon Canyon. Our favorite way to descend into this final canyon is to follow the trail to a nice gentle ridge that leads down to the left. You can see which ridge it is when you stand at this junction. Once down in the canyon, the fun continues! Even before you reach the "bacon vein" of colors, it is a pretty canyon with a lot of small and medium scrambles. Further down, the scrambles become larger. There are a couple of dry falls that require a circumvention unless you just want to show off your skills at ignoring exposure!

Descending Bacon Canyon
The last of the precarious dry falls isn't that high but it requires a side step to the right at the same time you are sliding down above a four foot drop. Fun! Our great group of hikers loved these challenges and we all enjoyed watching and helping.

Yes, Max! We're going down here!
This dry fall started us into the bacon color vein of rock. It was somewhere around here that we came across a two to three week fresh kill of a male bighorn sheep. Only the skull and the spine were still there and there was just a little bit of skin on its face. (Word is this kill was a lot more bloody 2.5 weeks ago!)

Seventeen Hikers in Bacon Canyon Descent

I think rigor mortis has set in. Just a guess.
Dropping down through the bacon vein is a lot of fun. Nothing too dangerous. We stayed on the left side of the canyon and the drops were moderate in nature. Finally, we hiked into the fork area where we had begun up Seven Falls Canyon. Counting to seventeen one more time, we started down the gravel wash and headed back to the cars. Always a great hike, this is a staple for many Las Vegas hiking clubs. Please leave historical artifacts where they lay for others to enjoy and ponder on for future generations. 

6.2 miles; 1350 feet elevation gain; 4.25 hours; average speed 1.4 mph

One of many Small Falls in Bacon Canyon

Down and to the Right!

Final Descent through the Bacon

Friday, February 7, 2020

La Madre Spring & Cabin - 2/6/20

A La Madre Spring Waterfall

Miner's Cabin Entrance

Springs Source Area

Starting up Rocky Gap Road
According to local lore, the La Madre Mine that sits up a steep hill above the La Madre Springs was dug in the late 1800's to mine silver. At that time, the cost of transporting the silver ore was more than the mine could pay for so it was closed in 1883. Then, in 1907, two entrepreneurs named W. E. Hawkins and J. R. Hunter reopened this mine and a few others in the area setting up a base in what is now Blue Diamond. A gentleman named Arthur J. Frye was commissioned to work the La Madre Mine starting in 1908 where he built the stone cabin just below the mine. He and his wife lived in the cabin off and on until 1912 when they moved away to California.

Junction onto La Madre Springs Road
The cabin has become a great destination hike for Las Vegas hikers and tourists alike. But, it should be noted that the roof of the cabin is an addition made later.

La Madre Springs Road
Not too long ago, volunteers have cleaned up the cabin, inside and out. At this time, it looks great! All the rusted cans have been swept to the corner (DO NOT REMOVE), and the fire place(s) are neatly rebuilt.

Old Summer Home Foundation

La Madre Springs former Pond
The mine is located straight up the mountainside from the cabin. There is a vague trail that starts up behind the cabin. Be aware that mines are dangerous places to explore. This one is no different. Also in the vicinity of the cabin is the ravine that emits the La Madre Spring. This spring provides a flowing stream down through the canyon beside which the trail leads. Several years ago, there was a dammed pond at the end of the La Madre Road and at the bottom of the La Madre Trail. It was a favorite place for early morning wildlife viewing until cattails took it over. The dam and strangling cattails were removed and two small waterfalls still lie in the former ponds location.

Starting up Cabin Trail
Ten hikers arrived at the Willow Springs Picnic Area Trailhead for a moderate hike up to the cabin. But, by the time we all made it up to the cabin, we decided that it was almost a moderately strenuous hike!

One of a Handful of Scrambles
We left the parking lot and hiked up Rocky Gap Road to the Rainbow Wilderness sign on the left side. On the right side of this junction, there is a La Madre Mountains Wilderness sign. Yes, Rocky Gap Road divides the two wilderness designations.

Crossing above the Waterfall

A Slushy Part of the Trail
We turned right onto what used to be a road. Now, a washout has prevented use by vehicles but the road is well graveled since horses were used to remove the dam and do maintenance. The hike follows the road on a gentle incline passing the junction for the White Rock Hills Loop Trail on the right. If you miss the official junction for this trail, there is another less used trail further up that will take you to it. Almost a mile from the beginning of La Madre Road, we turned to the right to visit an old home foundation. This home and another across the road were summer residences back in the 30s. Fresh water was piped in from the La Madre Spring. Another quarter mile up the road, we found the old pond site.

Last Hill to the Cabin
Frogs were another fun attraction when the pond was still there! This is where the cabin trail begins up the hill staying fairly close to the stream the whole way.

View from Hill above Cabin
The trail is well worn but there are a few places where the path forks into different routes. A totally unnecessary path has been made up the hill to the left. It comes right back down. A better alternate is to cross the small stream here and start up on the other side. (Old folks know the old route!)

The Group of Hikers at the La Madre Miner's Cabin

Inside the Miner's Cabin
The trail is and always has been slushy in a few places. Much care should be taken in these places because that limestone is very slippery when wet! At one point, the trail goes up and over to cross the top of a waterfall. All steps should be measured well here! Finally, the trail leaves the side of the water and climbs a hillside to arrive at the cabin. This is where we took our well deserved break - opting out of an extra climb to the mine entrance. Our hike was only half over! The trail descent would be just as slow. But, feeling happy to have a few minutes at "the cabin with a view," we summoned the patience to tackle the slippery downhill. Slowly but surely, we made our way down the difficult terrain.

Descent from Cabin
Our goal of no one falling was met. Again, what's not to love? Then, when we arrived back at the pond site, a sigh of relief was felt and we started down the road at a faster pace.

Descending through Slushy Area
We began seeing a lot of other hikers now. There was no telling whether they were going all the way up to the cabin. The Visitor Center sometimes only suggests going to the pond site. This is probably a good idea since the trail up to the cabin is such difficult terrain.

Back across the Waterfall

A Scramble
The stretch of rocky road/trail is almost 2 miles one way. Since this is easy to hike, the pace tends to speed up when you are descending. Keep in mind that this is a lot of pounding on feet. The rocks are very unforgiving. Measure your steps and don't get too rambunctious! Willow Springs had come alive when we walked into the parking lot. We were very happy to have visited the cabin after a long break from it! And, we are loving the new trail signs that are popping up everywhere!

5 miles; 1150 feet elevation gain; 3 hours; average moving speed 1.7 mph

Ladies crossing the Stream

Returning to the Old Pond Site

Down, down, down the Rocky Roads