Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tank Discovery Scramble - 3/29/12

            View down from climb up Peak I on Tank Discovery Scramble.

                                Hikers pass Sandstone Quarry Arch.

 The idea for the Tank Discovery Scramble was conceived while perusing the Calico Hills on Google Earth and discovering quite a few dark areas that were assumed to be water tanks or tenajas. These tanks fill with water when there is sufficient rain. The water only escapes the tank through animal consumption or evaporation. Reflections in these tanks can produce very nice photos of the surrounding landscapes so a small group of us got together to find the tanks. Henceforth, the Tank Discovery Scramble was born.

 Unfortunately, today's hike into the Calico Hills showed dry tank after dry tank. There were only three tanks with any water at all. Therefore, the hike was deemed one grand scramble. Eighteen scramblers set off from the Sandstone Quarry parking lot found on the Red Rock Canyon NCA scenic loop. Hiking past the remnants of the old sandstone quarry from sixty or so years back, we turned right into the sandstone to pass by a large arch that is off the beaten path. Phase I of the hike continues up past the arch to the peak where we got our first view of the canyon floor. Two hikers broke off to find another route to the second peak and we continued the hike backtracking a little ways to find the Calico Tanks Trail below. Phase I was completed and we were warmed up ... ready for Phase II.

                             Touching base with the Calico Tanks Trail.

 We hiked up the Calico Tanks Trail until we were past the red sandstone and Rooster Rock. A spur trail to the right took us up to a plateau where we found a way to climb the west end of the sandstone hill in front of us. The formidable climb brought us to the first large tank. It had very little water in it so we enjoyed the views around us while we waited for everyone to recover from the effort.

                                Hiker arrives at the first large tank.

 Next, we continued up the north side of the neighboring plateau, dropped down to the left and found the next tank. This tank, seen to the left, is a pretty little tank that provides nice reflections when it is full and the skies are blue. Today, it was a mere puddle! Interestingly, there were smaller tanks (or puddles) along the way that did have water. Not sure why the larger tanks were dry-ish.

After playing in the puddle, we climbed back up to the plateau and crossed over to the south side of the hill.  It is necessary to make a traverse through a very brushy area to get to the east end of the hill. So, down and over we went through brush and boulders, balancing on tree logs, and finally arriving on sandstone again.

                The brushy traverse portion of Tank Discovery Scramble Phase II.

 Climbing a crack up about twenty elevation feet, we found another large sunken tank ... dry. We climbed back down, climbed up a rock fall, crossed a wash and climbed one more sandstone hill. We had arrived at our snack break destination, Calico II Overlook Peak. The going had been slow and we were ready for refreshment after only two miles!

As we summited, we met the two hikers that had found another way from the first peak.

 The view from this peak is tremendous! There is a 360 degree view of the surrounding sandstone and limestone landscape. The temperatures were mild with very little wind and the clouds kept the sun at bay. Conversations were interesting, to say the least, but, what happens in Vegas ... etc.

It was decided that four hikers would descend from the peak on the usual route. The remaining hikers took fate into their hands and took the route with "mucho exposure." Interestingly, it was the crack (or "Yikes moment!) at the bottom that was talked about the most. What exposure?

                             The "YIKES" moment during Phase II!

 We connected with the Calico Tanks Trail for a few feet then turned right to climb up the sandstone ... again. Passing another dry tank, we dropped down into a wash and continued until we met the trail again for a short way. The scrambling didn't stop as we found alternate ways to do the "tourist" trail that we paralleled. Phase III was underway.

                Turtlehead Wash & Slot Canyon in the beginning of Phase III.

 Turtlehead Wash was next on the agenda. It is a gravel wash that leads into a small slot canyon that we have dubbed Turtlehead Canyon. At the end of the slot, there is a dry fall that is a little tricky to get up then the hike goes forward to the seldom used trail at the foot of Turtlehead Peak. This trail takes the hikers back toward the Turtlehead Trail and turns into a sandstone cove where the last climb begins.

 The climb to Peak III is steep and a little scary. But, it is well worth the effort as it leads to the most beautiful tank on the scramble of all. The tank was filled about eight inches with green water. However, the setting of this tank is between two sloping walls with Turtlehead Peak reigning over one end and the escarpment back- dropping the other side. Oh, and by the way, the acoustics here are great!

                            Phase III Descent

 We carefully climbed down from the peak and circled around more sandstone to find petroglyphs. We stared across the large wash for a moment then someone asked if we could visit the Mormon Arch which also contains pictographs from the Mormon travellers. "Sure. Someone lead the way!"

At this point, five hikers had left the hike for various reasons, so thirteen hikers climbed the nearby sandstone hill to inspect the closed arch. Another exciting climb down sandstone, as seen in the photo below, topped off the day's hike and, finally, it was time to return to the cars.

We found the Turtlehead Trail and followed it all the way back to Sandstone Quarry. After five hours of scrambling 4.5 miles, most of us were ready for a nap!

                            Visiting the Mormon Arch.

                                Hiking out on the Turtlehead Peak Trail.


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