Saturday, May 14, 2011

Harris Slot Canyon - 5/14/11

The full Around the Bend Friends contingent arrived at the Spring Mountain NRA today for the first Saturday hike in the higher elevations. Thirty- six hikers trudged through the rocks for a six mile out and back hike at the Harris Slot Canyon whose trailhead is located at the corner of Kyle Canyon Road and Harris Springs Road. We were hiking just above the 5000 foot elevation mark. It was a beautiful albeit slightly warm day with a cool wind sliding off of a snowy Mt. Charleston peak.

After circling the wagons in the parking lot, we headed out Harris Springs Road and turned right before the incline. This led us to the tall slot made of caliche as seen in the first and last photo. All of the canyon walls in this area are made of the composite rock and Wikipedia gives us these details:

Caliche is a sedimentary rock, a hardened deposit of calcium carbonate. This calcium carbonate cements together other materials, including gravel, sand, clay, and silt. It is found in aridisol and mollisol soil orders. Caliche occurs worldwide, generally in arid or semiarid regions, including in central and western Australia, in the Kalahari Desert, in the High Plains of the western USA, and in the Sonoran Desert. Caliche is also known as hardpan, calcrete, kankar (in India), or duricrust. The term caliche is Spanish and is originally from the Latin calx, meaning lime.

A small herd of healthy deer were spotted on the side of the canyon.

Caliche generally forms when minerals are leached from the upper layer of the soil (the A horizon) and accumulate in the next layer (the B horizon), at depths of approximately 3 to 10 feet under the surface. Caliche generally consists of carbonates in semiarid regions, while in arid regions, less soluble minerals will form caliche layers after all the carbonates have been leached from the soil. The calcium carbonate that is deposited accumulates, first forming grains, then small clumps, then a discernible layer, and finally a thicker, solid bed. As the caliche layer forms, the layer gradually becomes deeper, eventually moving into the parent material, which lies under the upper soil horizons.

However, caliche can also form in other ways. It can form when water rises through capillary action. In an arid region, rainwater will sink into the ground very quickly. Later, as the surface dries out, the water below the surface will rise, carrying dissolved minerals from lower layers upward with it. This water movement forms a caliche that tends to grow thinner and branch out as it nears the surface. Plants can contribute to the formation of caliche as well. The plant roots take up water through transpiration, leaving behind the dissolved calcium carbonate, which precipitates to form caliche. Caliche can also form on outcrops of porous rocks or in rock fissures where water is trapped and evaporates. In general, caliche deposition is a slow process, but if enough moisture is present in an otherwise arid site, it can accumulate fast enough to block a drain pipe.

We made our way through deep narrow washes up through the wide caliche canyon and stopped for our break at the "outdoor antique car museum" on the hillside suspitiously accumulated below an old dirt road on the cliff above. There were other things in the museum like a washing machine, hot water heater, cement mixer and, yes, a kitchen sink! What a find! At any rate, it was kind of fun looking at all the old stuff and starting to feel old ourselves ... okay, that part wasn't fun.

After our break, we left Mr. Spiny Back Lizard to his sunning on the warm old tire and returned through the canyon and slot to our cars. It was easier finding good routes through the washes on the way down than it was on the way up. Logically, many routes from a higher point converge to one route that goes through the slot. Great day! Great hike!

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