Sunday, October 23, 2016

White Rock Hills Loop - 10/23/16

White Rock Hills (L), La Madre Mountain Range (R)

Hiking along Red Rock Canyon NCA Escarpment

Rain Clouds above North Blue Diamond Hills

Getting Ready at the Willow Springs Picnic Area
 There was a pleasant bit of rain at the Red Rock Canyon NCA this morning. Eleven hikers relished the idea and arrived at the Willow Springs Picnic Area at mile marker 7 on the Scenic Loop for a quick jaunt around the White Rock Hills. As we pulled into the trailhead, rain doused our cars enough that we needed windshield wipers! Then, just as quickly, it stopped. Throughout our upcoming hike, rain sprinkled us off and on. It was not unwelcomed. Ready, we started out on a counter-clockwise track immediately passing the hand prints placed on a nearby boulder by Early Paiute Native Americans.

Early Paiute Hand Prints
 During our first half mile, three trail runners passed us. This trail (along with the Grand Circle Trail) is very popular with the trail runners in Las Vegas.

Climbing Out of Willow Springs
 We climbed out of the Willow Springs notch and soon junctioned with the Grand Circle. Part of today's loop shared trail with the Grand Circle Trail, the longest trail located within the scenic loop area.

Circling around to Desert Floor

Almost to bottom of Long Hill Climb
 We circled around the corner, dipped through a beautiful desert wash, hiked through a rocky area with larger bushes then made our way over to an old road now used as a trail. This dirt road climbed a long hill parallel to the White Rock Hills to our left. Two hikers decided to hike the hill at a fast pace just for the workout. Near the top of the hill, they veered to the left on a small unmarked trail that led them over to White Rock Spring. This spring is extremely fragile to the Red Rock Canyon environment.

White Rock Springs (Very Fragile)
 Nearby, a sign pleads hikers to not dip their hands in the water since soaps, lotions, creams and trash can upset the eco system on which the wildlife depends. ... And, don't even think about putting your goldfish there.

Climbing Up from White Rock Trailhead
 By the time the two hikers made it up to the White Rock Trailhead above, the rest of the group were there taking a short water break. Next, we had another long climb up to the saddle between the White Rock Hills and the La Madre Mountains.

Colorful Hills

Snack Rock
 Just before we reached the saddle, we stopped at the snack rock on the left side of the trail for our break. The views from this rock are beautiful. Behind us, we could see all the way to Red Cap. In front of us, we saw Harris Peak with its burned landscape peeking over a La Madre Mountain saddle. We studied the White Rock Hills for ways to navigate the tough terrain for future reference. Afterwards, we climbed on up to the trail high point then started our descent into desert woods. The climate change on this side of the hills produces a very different type of foliage landscape. This is where most of the sprinkling occurred.

View from High Point Saddle of Back Side
  The descent through the trees felt great after our fast-paced climb previously. We could see that it was raining over Rocky Gap Road but most of that stopped before we got there.

Rain as we Descend
 We passed the dark rock fins that Tony uses as a snack break landmark on some of his hikes. Zigzagged through the trees enjoying the colors of the hills to our left.

Passing the Rock Wall Area

Yellow Leaves, Red Rocks & Rain on Lens
 The White Rock Hills Loop is officially 6.25 miles long. As a group, we voted to make the hike slightly longer by taking the first trail that turns to the right and goes up to the La Madre Springs Road. At the road, we turned left and descended down to Rocky Gap Road where we turned left again at the big wilderness sign. We hiked into the Willow Springs Picnic Area feeling great with 6.6 miles under our belt. Fun, friendship and exercise!

6.6 miles; 1200 feet elevation gain; 3.25 hours

La Madre Springs Road

Junction with Rocky Gap Road

Return to Trailhead

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Grand Circle Mid-Section - 10/22/16

Turtlehead & Northern Calico Hills from Grand Circle Trail

Old Sandstone Quarry

Turtlehead Peak behind Sandstone Hills

Starting down the Grand Circle
 The Grand Circle Trail loops around the canyon floor/valley of Red Rock Canyon NCA. Some of the trail enters into the La Madre Wilderness. The trail is a total of 12 miles in length, however, it can be divided into 3 or 4 smaller lengths quite easily. Today, seventeen leisurely hikers hiked the top (or middle) section of the trail starting at the bottom of White Rock Springs/Mountain Road found at around the 6 mile marker of the Red Rock Scenic Loop. It is the next right turn after the High Point Overlook.

Wash Crossing
 We crossed the scenic loop from the parking lot and found the trail heading into the desert scrub. The wide view of the escarpment was beautiful in the morning sun.

Red Rock Canyon Escarpment
 We crossed a wash then came to the juniper tree landmark where the trail continues down a gravel wash for a short way. The trail is marked with cairns. Next, we hiked a series of ridges and washes. About a mile into the hike, the longest hill had to be climbed.

Hiking with White Rock Hills Backdrop

The Grand Circle Trail
 The next landmark was where the Grand Circle Trail crossed the scenic loop. This is one of four times that the trail crosses the road but only two on today's hike. Red Rock was very busy today but we managed to hit the road at a quiet time. After this, the trail descends a long hill down to another gravel wash. A large rock marks the entrance into the wash. It is affectionately referred to the Cracked Dinosaur Egg! We walked down the gravel until the trail exited off to the left.

Crossing the Scenic Loop
 There was some more hiking down and around until we reached the area of the Sandstone Quarry turnout parking area.

Nearing the Half Way Point
 Wishing not to enter into the hubbub of the trailhead below, we stayed up on the rocks and took our snack break. No shade but very nice views. It was getting warm but a cool breeze came by occasionally.

Snacking on the Rocks

Turtlehead View from Rocks
 After the break, we dropped down the hill behind us and turned onto a small trail that led up to part of the old sandstone quarry. It is tucked back into the sandstone and few people are aware that it is here. There is a pile of rocks that were not used and there are shelves where the huge blocks were cut out. To reach the quarry, we had to climb almost all the way up the hill. So, the group decided to continue up the hill so as not to lose the hard earned elevation. There is no trail here. So, the leisurely folks were bushwhacking!

Sandstone Quarry TH from Rocks
 On the top of the hill, we could see the Cracked Dino Egg in the wash just below us. Everyone took their own path down and met there at the rock. This served to also eliminate the unpleasant climb up through that loose gravel in the wash.

Old Sandstone Quarry Visit
 Now, the group was getting a little tired and hot. The pace slowed understandably.

Climbing Up from Quarry

Dropping down to Cracked Dino Egg
 Heading toward the La Madre Mountains, the escarpment and the White Rock Hills, we returned to the trailhead on the same trail that we came over on. Every time we crested a ridge, the cool breeze would pass by. By not traveling all the way to Sandstone Quarry parking lot and by bushwhacking over that hill, the almost 5 mile hike ended up being 4.25 miles. Very good morning.

4 miles; 740 feet elevation gain; 2.75 hours

Cracked Dino Egg Landmark

La Madre Wilderness behind Grand Circle Trail

Nearing the Cars

Friday, October 21, 2016

Mountains Springs Peak Loop - 10/20/16

Mt. Potosi View from Mountain Springs Trail

Escarpment Rim View

Mt. Potosi from Heartbreak Hill

Starting Up Heartbreak Hill
Mountain Springs Peak rises among the limestone that creeps up behind the sandstone peaks of the Red Rock Canyon NCA escarpment. It is the highest point behind the Black Velvet Peak bench. There is a good trail that leads from the Heartbreak Hill saddle all the way to the peak and thirteen hikers set out from the Mountain Springs Summit Pass Trailhead to hike this trail and make a 7 mile loop back to the cars. We started up that middle dirt road that leads up to the radio relay tower, also known as Heartbreak Hill.

Leaving the Saddle
It was a strong group of hikers and there was no dilly dallying up the hill. It felt great to just go for the workout while grabbing a couple of quick photos of the beautiful day.

Trail View of Mt. Potosi
Mt. Potosi loomed across Highway 160 as we climbed up our ridge running parallel to the burnt ridge that we sometimes use in various descents. A quick perusal showed no bighorn herds grazing on that ridge where they can sometimes be seen.

Black Velvet Peak & Las Vegas Beyond

Climbing on the Mountain Springs Peak Trail
At the saddle, there is a three-way junction of trails. The right trail goes to Hollow Rock Peak. There was the trail we came from and then, the left trail goes to both Windy Peak and Mountain Springs Peak. We turned left. After a couple of short climbs and a quick search for a geocache, we came to a fork. The right fork is Windy Peak's. We took the left fork and got an immediate reprieve from climbing as we traversed over to the escarpment rim. Soon, we could see both Windy Peak and Black Velvet Peak ... and the Las Vegas Strip.

Mountain Springs, NV from Trail
After passing a narrowish ridge section of the trail, another fork appears. The best way to go is the left fork that takes you up the hill. It's better to climb here than wait until later.

Laszlo's View from the Sweep Position
After passing the top of this hill, several hikers in the back half of the line saw a large male bighorn on the trail ahead of us. By the time we got to where he had been seen, he was nowhere around. We have seen bighorns in this area often in the past.

Approach to the Escarpment Rim

Arriving on Mountain Springs Peak
So, only 2.4 miles into the hike, we arrived on top of Mountain Springs Peak and signed into the log book stuffed inside plastic under rocks of a large cairn built next to the survey benchmark. A few minutes later, we started down the trail that runs along the rim of the escarpment where the views are colorful and precipitous. This was a descent down to the cliff area where we enjoyed a snack while dangling our legs. Well, it was windy here today so we mostly opted for a lower and warmer place. Except for Laszlo!

Signing the Log Book on Mountain Springs Peak
Laszlo climbed out on the ledge bench above to dangle his legs! Kind of scary to watch!

Calico Hills from the Escarpment Rim
There is a small window in the rock below the snack cliff where a photo can be taken as seen two photos below. (It was a bit windy today!)

Snack Cliff on the Escarpment Rim

Laszlo chooses the Higher Snack Cliff
After our break, we continued on the trail up to the next little ridge (not far). We turned to our left and began a descent on this ridge while zigzagging around scrub and rocks. Staying on the ridge, we dipped through one saddle, then at the next saddle, turned left to descend into the small wash on the left side of the ridge. This wash is small and offers interesting small obstacles and scenery but, it is totally navigable. The wash section of the hike is somewhat long so it is good to have an interesting wash at your feet!

Stratosphere through Small Window
For future reference, there is a somewhat wider wash on the other side of the descent ridge and it is also navigable. We did that one for many years and still do on occasion.

Starting down the Descent Ridge
By the way, September and October are mating season months for tarantulas! So, we were on the lookout.

Junctioning with the Descent Wash

Small Descent Wash
How do male and female tarantulas find a mate, you asked? Well, the female puts off her pheromone scent and the male follows the scent. ... You know how that goes .... Then, when the male arrives, he taps his feet to let her know he's there. He does his thing then gets the helloutathere before she eats him. Violins, please. And, sure enough, we found a taratula in the wash. Almost stepped on it! Lots of photos were taken and discussion about this or that.

Nice Little Descent Wash Photos
It didn't faze the little critter. It just kept walking down the wash on its way to find love. Procreation is a very very very strong instinct. We also found the backbone connected to hips of someone's cleaned skeleton. Maybe a coyote.

Looking for Love
The wash became a trench when we neared the bottom. It was time to leave the wash to descend the ridge on the left side. Zigzagging around scrub, we headed straight down the ridge until we ran perpendicular into the Mountain Springs Trail. We turned onto the trail to the left.

Junctioning with the Mountain Springs Trail

Hikers on the Trail
This is a great trail to follow as it undulates through the arroyos. Used by horse and riders of the community below, it becomes rugged at points but it takes hikers directly over to the springs. Taking a slightly different route at the springs, we continued across on the trail to the agave roasting pit area then headed straight down to the miniature horses and big white horse corral. Great day on the trails!

7 miles; 1600 feet elevation gain; 3.5 hours

Several Little Ups and Downs

Arriving above Mountain Springs, NV

Bad Hair Day