Sunday, June 8, 2014

Long Canyon (Long Valley) - 6/8/14

Down Long Canyon to Yucca Peak

Long Canyon Narrows

 Another one hour drive into the Desert National Wildlife Refuge brought nine hikers to a trailhead on Mormon Well Road 9 miles past the new visitor center. This new hike is called Long Canyon (aka Long Valley as it is written on the park's map). The hike requires fortitude because much of the approach to the beautiful canyon is done in a wide gravel wash. Today, the group of nine hikers displayed good humored determination through the wash and fortitude against the arriving summer heat. Ultimately, we enjoyed an exploratory adventure into the Sheep Mountain Range.

Agave Roasting Pits on Old Road
 We exited our two high clearance vehicles and began hiking up an old dirt road that is no longer in use. The heat was already upon us but a slight wind would brush by now and then. Our first point of interest was a horny toad sitting next to the trail without his tail. (He was somewhat embarrassed!)

Hiking Old Road near Drop to Wash Point

 The old road paralleled the wide wash that is created by Long Valley drainage. As we neared the 1.5 mile mark, we stepped across a handful of agave roasting pits. Only one pit seemed in pretty good shape. The road ran right over the others! It is just past this area that it is best to go ahead and drop down to the wash using one of the gulleys that flow from the road. Then, we crossed the wide wash that is filled with brush and trenches until we found the main gravel flow. There is one main flow that lies mostly on the southern side but the northern edge is also pretty clear.

Wide Wash near Small Forest up to the Left
 As we worked our way up through the wash, we noted that there are several trees growing on the slopes up to the left at one point. Our gravel trudge was made easier since we were quite enamored with our brand new surroundings. Finally, up ahead, we could make out a turn to the right into the canyon narrows.

Starting Up the Narrows of Long Canyon

 The gravel underfoot did not cease but the landscape around us changed as we turned into the narrowed canyon. Walls rose very high on either side of us. The pinnacled rocks of the Sheep Mountain Range decorated the canyon sides and large boulders sat next to the gravel wash. The canyon was lush with large pinyon pines and junipers. At one point, Jerry decided to explore a box canyon tributary. We continued up. Eventually, we thought we were at the top of the narrows. As it turned out, we were still not quite there.

Nearing the End of the Narrows
 Nevertheless, we stopped for our break among some shade trees and talked about wishing we had more time to explore. This should be a spring or fall hike when the air is fresher and spending time and energy exploring is not foolhardy.

Taking a Break in the Shade

 Our trip down canyon went quickly; not because we were in a hurry but because the gravel trail was very easy on our feet on the descent. We noted that the high peak in the near distance that we could see from between the walls must be Yucca Peak; difficult and foreboding. We enjoyed the trip down the narrows as much as the trip up and when we reached the wide wash, we stopped for a water break. (We tried very hard to remind each other to drink water throughout the hike on this warm day.)

Hiking Back Down through the Narrows Toward Yucca Peak
 With the high walls behind us, we began looking for the best parts of the wash to descend through.

Long Canyon Narrows

 Again, the descent was pretty easy in the small rocks. When we reached the old dirt road junction, it wasn't too difficult to find a way back out and up to the trail. Making sure everyone was together once again, we happily marched down the road to the cars. No snakes. No large wildlife. Barely any scat. But, definitely a new place to return to.

7.5 miles; 1600 feet elevation gain; 3.5 hours

Descending the Widening Wash

Descending the Old Road through Joshua Trees

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