Thursday, April 9, 2015

Easter Cactus Garden Loop - 4/9/15

Cactus Garden Among Limestone

Trail Up to Garden with Escarpment Beyond

Early Morning Light
 After being delayed by a few days due to the windy dusty weather, the Easter Cactus Garden Loop hike finally got underway this morning. Six hikers looking for a lowland distance hike arrived at the Red Rock Canyon NCA Hwy 160 bikers' trailhead located 2.25 miles west of the intersection of Highway 159. Parking in the large gravel pullout, we adjusted our hiking sticks and introduced ourselves to each other.

Climbing Small Hill next to Drainage
 The morning was cool but the wind had died down quite a bit from the last few days. The high temperature was expected to be in the 60's.

Mt. Potosi beyond Cottonwood Valley

Gentle Climb up Small Hill
 We found our way through the access point of the burro fence and began hiking to our left on the old Spanish Trail. A right turn, then a left turn, then a right turn brought us to the first gentle climb of the day. The trail ascends along a limestone wash to the top of a small hill. Rubber Ducky Yucca would be found on the other side of the hill but we made a right turn on the top and dropped down along a different drainage.

Desert Marigolds & Dogweed next to Trail
 Wildflowers had become the group subject of the morning. They were covering the terrain all around us.

Birdspring Range from Trail

Climbing Up "Hike a Bike" Hill
 At the bottom of the hill, we hit one of the "main drags." A jog to the left brought us to our next right turn. Up and over another small hill we hiked. Our pace was swift as we made our turns on queue. From this hill, we could see most of the Red Rock escarpment. We named the peaks then strained our eyes to see our cohorts up on Windy Peak. (Our eyes are just not that good.) Anyway, we hit the Landmine Loop and took a jog to the right this time. A left turn put us on a trail that took us along the foothills of the ridges above.

A Few of Today's Many Flowers

The Arch below the Cactus Garden
 After last week's spring breakers flooded the park, we were relieved to see not a soul around. We had this huge valley to ourselves. At the next junction, we saw a new small wooden bikers' sign. According to this sign, we had just finished "Dave's Driveway" and were about to climb the "Hike a Bike" hill. Fun. So, we turned to our right and began the steep but short climb. When we plateaued out, we crossed over to the limestone arch area and took a few photos.

A Shy Horned Toad

Arriving at the Cactus Garden
 Afterwards, we finished the climb up to the cactus garden area and ran across the little fella in the photo above. Wow! He really was camouflaged! And, shy. This was the best photo we got of the horned toad ... which is really a lizard. Amazingly, ... because we had not seen one of these guys at Red Rock before, ... we saw yet another one up on the ridge later. A good day for reptiles!

Enjoying the Cactus Garden during the Break
 We climbed up and into the cactus garden and took our break while we enjoyed the views.

From the Cactus Garden to the Escarpment

Dropping Down from the Garden
 Our break was leisurely but we soon packed up and hiked out. We dropped back down to the trail and followed it out along the ridge. As we neared the end of the ridge, we pondered over a large natural limestone hole. None of us wanted to find out first hand how deep it was so we continued on. A startling blast got our attention. The next minute, we could see a large dust cloud on the hill where the gypsum mine operates. "Yes, there it is!"

The End of the Ridge Hike
 Another two rights brought us to a very faint trail that is not maintained by regular traffic. This was our big down climb of the morning. Careful as we go! This time, there were no falls. (Well, last time there were 3!)

Blue Diamond & Las Vegas from the Ridge

Blast Aftermath
 Safely at the bottom, we turned left onto the Landmine Loop and followed it until we came to the Black Velvet wash crossing. Here, we turned right onto one of the trails we had used in the beginning and, eventually, we completed the loop. Remaining was the "string" of the balloon that brought us back to the cars. Fantastic hike and fantastic conversations!

8 miles; 1400 feet elevation; 4 hours

The Landmine Loop Trail

Crossing the Black Velvet Wash

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