Saturday, December 4, 2010

Waterfall Canyon (also, Calico Basin) - 12/4/10

Thirty- two hikers set off for Waterfall Canyon this morning underneath the heavily overcast skies of Red Rock Canyon NCA. A later hike to Calico Basin occurred with an unknown number of attendees. The hike to Calico Basin promised to be a tour of the Calico Basin / Red Springs area for a distance of around three miles with minimal elevation gain.

The Waterfall Canyon hike began from Willow Springs Picnic Area which is located on a spur road leading off of the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Loop. The first 1.65 miles of the hike follows Rocky Gap Road which is an unmaintained dirt road that goes over the Red Rock Summit Pass and down to Lovell Canyon. It is also a dirt road that one does not want to tackle unless you have a 4WD vehicle with very high clearance. A jeep might do the trick.

The cloudy skies opened up to blue skies for only the first thirty minutes; just long enough for all of us to warm up and remove our outer layer of clothing. After that, the blue was not seen again. The dirt road section of the hike went quickly for some and a little slower for others. We re-gathered the group at the junction of the road and the canyon trail then turned to the right and headed up the small stream which was iced over for the first tenth of a mile.

Carefully negotiating the ice and snow frozen over the water, we crossed the stream several times while following the trail up the canyon. Soon, the ice and snow were only found in patches among the rocks and banks. This is when the beautiful waterfalls backed by orange and red rock made their appearance. Waterfall after waterfall made it clear why this canyon was so named.

Grass and thistle grew where there was no rock and the thistle was dried and prickly as we hiked through. This blogger learned quickly to avoid these buggers whenever possible! The grass covered the ground next to the water and it was often a guessing game as to whether a step into the grass would result in wet ankles.

Scrambling over sharp and smooth limestone began immediately upon entering Waterfall Canyon. However, part of the 500 foot climb in elevation inside the canyon included trails up the steep hillsides. The trails were necessary for the hiker to skirt areas of the stream where the rock banks were just too steep to negotiate through. Sometimes the trails and the scrambling were a combined and somewhat treacherous effort.

When we reached the largest waterfall of thirty feet (seen in last photo), the coordinator made a concerted effort to communi- cate that the scrambling would only get more challenging at that point. Twenty-eight hikers still took on the adventure and up we scrambled. The going got tough and the tough got going. Three more sets of waterfalls were achieved and we decided to take our break.

We sat on the cold rock at the top of a large waterfall and ate snacks or talked or talked and ate snacks. Eventually, we had to stand up again and begin our descent. "Slowly" was the key word for this part of the hike. "It's not a sin to sit and slide," the hike coordinator suggested. Are you kidding? "'Sit and slide' is my middle name," a few of us called out!

The hike down Waterfall Canyon is definitely half the fun of this hike into the La Madre Wilderness Area. First, none of the scrambles up were the same as the scrambles down. Things just seem very different in the other direction. Second, finding the trail which criss-crosses the stream many times is a challenge within itself. Most of the thirty hikers were spread almost from one end of Waterfall Canyon to another during this portion of the hike.

All too soon, we reached Rocky Gap Road and waited for the others to catch up. We counted the participants then were released to sail down the road and back to the cars. The 4.5 mile hike with almost 1000 feet of elevation gain on an overcast day in Las Vegas was a good workout with beautiful scenery and great company.

This map of the hike shows today's hike in red and alternate routes in blue.

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