Saturday, November 15, 2014

Easter Cactus Garden Loop - 11/15/14

Red Barrel Guard at Cactus Garden Entrance

Overlook within the Cactus Garden

The First Climb
 Today's hike utilized a trailhead on Highway 160 that, so far, is only used for this hike, The Easter Cactus Garden Loop. (Unless you count the many bikers that use this parking area to ride the trails.) The gravel trailhead is located just over two miles west from the Highway 160 / Highway 159 intersection and grants access within the Red Rock Canyon NCA to many trails located behind the small community of Blue Diamond, Nevada. After twelve hikers exited theirs cars, we dropped down to the access gate in the burro fence and fumbled our way through. A zigzag gate would be preferred!

Trail Up Next to Wash
 At the trail hub, we chose the Spanish Trail that leads directly west and followed it for around a quarter mile. Then, turning away from the road noise, we took a right turn at the first opportunity.

Limestone Wash Climb
 This hike was premiered on Easter Day of 2014. Therefore, we previously dubbed this trail, Easter Trail. Waiting patiently for a turn to the left, we hiked another half mile. Finally, the cross trail appeared and we made our left turn. (A trail sign stands here.)

Plateau on First Hill

The First Descent
 As we neared the hill rising up to the right, we found the next turn. The right turn started us on the trail that would serve for our first climb. This climb led us up a wash over limestone flooring and zigzagging bike trails onto the South Blue Diamond Hills. The plateau at the top afforded our first full views of the escarpment. At the high point, the trail forked. The left fork led down to the Rubber Ducky Trail. The right fork (our choice) led down another wash ending at a trail intersection.

Crossing Black Velvet Wash
 We turned to the left then, quickly turned to the right. This next trail took us up and over a small hill and intersected with the Landmine Loop Trail, the bikers' mother trail in this area. It was here that we passed several bikers who were very nice to step off the trail while we hiked past.

Hiking the Landmine Loop Variation Trail

Ups and Downs of Landmine Loop Variation Trail
 We jogged right on the Landmine Loop then took the next left onto a trail that would take us parallel to the flat Landmine Loop yet hillier and higher in elevation. We worked our way around the hills above through large limestone boulders. Eons ago, the hills that we hiked today were made by landslides falling off of the escarpment which is, now, between 1.5 to 4 miles away. Our view from this trail showed the bikers on the Landmine Loop below and rock climbers' cars parked at the Black Velvet Canyon entrance 2 miles away. The Black Velvet Wall rose endlessly in its perpetual shade.

Diamond Shaped Boulder next to Trail
 At the next trail junction, we turned to our right to begin the biggest climb of the day. Having already hiked 4 of today's 8 miles, we struggled silently up the hill.

Climbing the Biggest Hill
 Truly a 5 stop hill, we finally came to and passed the first and second level. Before we surmounted the third and last level, we visited the limestone arch that stands in the rocks at the base of the cactus garden area above.

Limestone Arch near Cactus Garden

Rita Enjoys the Cactus Garden
 From there, we tackled the last bit of climbing up to the cactus garden itself. This area is known as the Blue Diamond Cactus Garden. It is an exquisite area where sharp and chunky silver colored limestone stands in its own design and is decorated by hundreds of red barrel cacti. The cacti protrude out from the rock as they had found cracks and crevices that catch and hold water long ago, to feed their roots. There is also a fantastic view from the upper section of the garden looking out toward the northern end of the escarpment. (Seen in the second photo.)

Peekaboo Red Barrel
 We stayed at the garden for a snack break and looked around for a few minutes. We exited the same way we entered then headed up to the ridge straight across from us.

Hillside Full of Red Barrels at Cactus Garden

Cresting onto the Ridge Trail
More climbing ensued until we reached the high point of the ridge. The ridge is narrow and we could see vast views on both our right and left. In front of us, we could see the Las Vegas Strip in the distance. Eventually, the town of Blue Diamond came into view, too. One person exclaimed that there's one thing this hike definitely has and that's great views!

Hiking the Ridge Trail
 There is almost one mile of trail on the ridge. At the end of this trail, we junctioned with what we refer to as the Blue Diamond Bike Trail. Yes, we know. They are all bike trails! But, this is part of the trail that we originally deemed as an official club hike.

Blue Diamond Below and Las Vegas in the Distance
 So, we turned right and headed down the trail for around a quarter mile before we found a telltale cairn on the left side of the trail and two small cairns about twenty feet from the trail on the right.

Descending a Steep Messed Up Trail

Landmine Loop Trail (Bikers in Distance)
 We found a small seldom used trail to descend the steep hill here. The trail has eroded into great disrepair in the previous six months. There were a couple of falls during the treacherous descent. Nevertheless, all were okay and we connected with the Landmine Loop at the bottom. Turning left, we simply headed out the Landmine Loop for 3/4 of a mile, crossed the Black Velvet Wash over the limestone trail, and returned to the cars via the Easter Trail. A great morning!

8 miles; 1250 feet elevation gain; 3.5 hours

Black Velvet Wash Limestone Crossing

Nearing the Trailhead

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