Thursday, May 7, 2015

Echo Canyon / Cairn Overlook / The Muffins - 5/7/15

Cairn Overlook

Heart Rock in Echo Canyon

One of the Muffins

Echo Canyon
 North Blue Diamond Hill is a great place to hike and bike at Red Rock Canyon NCA. Located across Highway 159 from the Visitors Center and Scenic Loop drive, the Cowboy Trails trailhead parking is the gateway to a huge system of trails that climb canyons and ridges and everything in between. And, of course, there are the horse rides available here. Sixteen hikers converged on the small dirt parking area and began hiking up toward the upper horse stables where the wranglers prepare groups of horses for a day out.

Dropping into Echo Canyon
 We dropped then climbed then dropped again into Echo Canyon, the right fork canyon found behind the upper stables area.

Climbing Up through Echo Canyon

Nearing the Fossil Ridge/Echo Canyon Trail Junction
 Echo Canyon requires some moderate level scrambling but the "gardens" of desert flora is impressive. There are also many fossils of Precambrian age to be found underfoot as you climb. We climbed and scrambled steadily with few long stops. The occasional photo op' or fossil discovery provided enough rest. As we neared the top of the canyon, we T-boned into the Fossil Ridge Trail and turned left. This led us up to the top where we turned left onto an old mining road.

Blooming Winterfat in the Morning Sun
 One quarter mile up the road, we turned left again onto the Connecting Trail. This is a trail that runs across the top from one end of the North Blue Diamond Hill to the other.

Using the Connecting Trail above Right Fork of Cave Canyon

Climbing Up to the Ridge from Cave Canyon
 We passed the First Finger and Second Finger junctions and dipped down to cross the right fork of Cave Canyon. Then, the trail climbed along the side of the canyon until we zigged up and over the ridge. Here, we were at the top of the left fork of Cave Canyon ... where we previously found an ugly rattlesnake. Oh yes, we were watching for snakes all morning! All we saw were lizards, rabbits and two kangaroo rats as they scrambled quickly into their holes.

Newly Painted Boneshaker Trail Sign
 When we arrived at the Boneshaker Hill trail junction, we were very pleased to see that someone has repainted the sign. When the writer started hiking this area eight years ago, there was a clearly painted sign. Since then, the sign became so faded and in disrepair that it was unreadable. It's ba-ack!

Three Amigos Trail

Paperbag Plant
 From the sign junction, we bushwhacked a little straight ahead over the side of the canyon and found a small trail called the Three Amigos Trail. Turning to our right, we began hiking along the rim of Mystery Woman Canyon. This is a trail filled with desert plants and hangs on the side of the canyon wall in a few places. We wiggled our way up the slope and finally found ourselves at the Cairn Overlook where we took our break at five miles into the hike!

Las Vegas from the Cairn Overlook
 Theatre seating at the overlook provided everyone a view of Las Vegas, the Calico Hills and the Red Rock Fire Station and Campground. It wasn't the clearest day but we enjoyed a nice breeze while we sat.

Taking a Break at the Cairn Overlook

Red Rock Fire Station and Campground
 With 3.5 miles left to go, we made our way down to the trail we could see just below us and turned left. This is a trail that follows the rim of the hill above the cliffs. The trail descended steeply just before we reached the "Old Las Vegas Overlook." This is the original overlook used before the trail system on North Blue Diamond Hill was completed. We noted here that the horses' hitching rail has been removed.

Dropping Down to the Rim Trail
 Another drop and climb took us to the ridge above the top of Skull Canyon. There is a cross trail here.

View from Rim Trail

Sea of Agave Spears on the Muffins Trail
 Turning left puts the hiker back onto the Three Amigos Trail. We turned to the right, the Muffins Trail. Some hikers prefer to climb straight up and down the ridge above to get to the Muffins but the trail there is spotty at best. The official "Muffins Trail" is what we hiked today. It circles around the high point of the ridge and meets the other trail at the cliff rim. From there, another descent brings you down to the Muffin Rocks; very large conglomerate boulders that sit on the edge of the hill.

Water Break at the Muffins
 We took a water break here before making our final long descent back to civilization.

Descending on the Muffins Trail

Descending the Muffins Trail
 Descending the Muffins Trail can be a little dicey. There are several places where the very steep terrain is littered with small pebbles, or scree. A slow pace, concentration, determination and a bit of luck will keep you off your behind. All sixteen hikers made it down without a fall and we hiked back across the desert to the horse corral and then to the cars. Perfect weather accompanied the hike from beginning to end.

8.5 miles; 1600 feet elevation gain; 4 hours

Red Barrel Cactus in Front of Skull Canyon Wall

Reaching the Base Meadow

Has Red Rock acquired a beautiful Clydesdale?

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