Saturday, October 4, 2014

Yucca Peak Fossil Beds (Desert National Wildlife Refuge) - 10/4/14

Cliff Overlooking Yucca Wash

Yucca Wash Canyon

 Gotta be ready for unexpected variables! That was today's lesson. Our exploratory hike to the Yucca Peak Fossil Beds was carefully planned for the six hikers that emailed the coordinator. Our total count for the hike was thirteen. Luckily, another high clearance vehicle was among the new arrivals and we were good to go. A one hour drive from our northwest meeting place got us up I-95 to Corn Creek Road, a stop at the visitor center, and 9 miles out Mormon Well Road. The trailhead was located where the dirt road makes a 90 degree turn to the right. There is a fenced parking corral here above the junction of Long Valley Wash and Yucca Peak Wash. Yucca Peak can be seen as the highest peak across the washes.

Size of Most Fossils in this Area
 We immediately dropped down on a steep cairned trail into the wash. A short expedition was made to see if there was a better trail up the wash but there wasn't. This was it.

Pack Rat Nest in Cave Area

 We crossed the Long Valley Wash and climbed over the intermediate hill to begin our hike up the Yucca Peak wash. We easily dodged desert plants that would scratch the legs. Entering the wide walls, we saw a small cliff to our left with small caves. A couple of these small indentations held pack rat nests. As we turned around the corner after the cliff, we began finding many many small fossils. According to Jim Boone of the Bird and Hike website, the fossils found in this area are corals, sponges, horn corals, and crinoids.

Variety of Small Fossils
 Above this area is a rock buttress with a cave at its base. The gulley that runs up the hillside under it is where most of the fossils that we found were located. They are all over the bedrock as we carefully climbed up the broken limestone "steps."

Variety of Small Fossils

 Everyone was calling out when they found a good fossil specimen and many of today's hikers had cameras for fossil photos. We reached the top of this ridge and worked our way out to the end of the peninsula that the buttress made. The first photo of this entry shows the view at the point of the peninsula where someone had previously built a rock cairn. We saw a small non-poisonous snake among the rocks who hid effectively under a rock as we all gathered around it.

View Toward Fossil Ridge and Las Vegas
 We took our break in the shade above the cliffs of the buttress. It was a warm day but there was an intermittent cool breeze that flew by as we shooed away the flying insects.

Snacking in the Shade above the Cliffs

 After our break, we headed on up the ridge. This is actually a gentle part of the Yucca Peak Trail. We could see the entire route up to the peak from where we climbed. It got steeper but really didn't look that bad. Jerry informed us that this peak is an official peak for peakbaggers. We'll be sure to put it on the schedule soon.

There were a few more fossils but they petered out quickly. Nevertheless, we continued our climb up the slope to a saddle. Jerry had scouted ahead to find out if the neighboring wash was navigable. He returned with the affirmative. However, he said, there was one 4 to 5 foot drop that would require help with some of the hikers. Okay! Let's do this!

Climbing Up the Gentle Ridge
 We gathered at the saddle and began dropping into the first wash. Easy enough.

From Ridge to Fossil Ridge and Gass Peak

 Following Jerry, we found our way down the drop using several nice foot holds. Then, a 30 foot scree slope had to be descended. Next, a very narrow canyon presented itself and we wondered if we were going to have to go back up what we just went down. Inside the canyon slot, there was a lot of brush and two dry falls that we had to descend. They were both around 6 feet in height. Jerry and Bernard easily jumped down to the bottoms and were extremely helpful in getting the rest of us down without injury.

Jerry and Bernard Help Us Down the Dry Falls
 With the exception of one hiker, everyone was having a wonderful exciting time figuring out this scramble thing. And, he did just fine, too!

Eleven Hikers Survived Yucca Wash Canyon

After the dry falls, there was still a lot of scrambling and, finally, we junctioned with the gulley that we had gone up before. From there, we could see the cars and we all took our own route back to the trail out of the wash.

There was one more thing on the agenda. On our way back down the Mormon Well Road, we stopped at the base of Fossil Ridge and found the snail shell fossils near the parking turnout where the ridge meets the road. The best fossils of the day!

3.5 miles; 1000 feet elevation gain; 4 hours

Chuck and Vivian look for Snail Shell Fossils

A Few of Many

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