Sunday, March 20, 2016

Echo Canyon / Overlook / Skull Canyon - 3/20/16

Echo Canyon

Red Barrel Cactus

Getting Ready for a Ride

Dropping into Echo Canyon
 Eleven moderately strenuous hikers arrived at the Cowboy Trails trailhead  in the Red Rock Canyon NCA this morning. As we watched two wranglers with fifteen horses and mules get ready for the morning trail rides, we headed into the shade of Echo Canyon. Most of us were very familiar with the canyon's moderate level scrambling and we made our way up smoothly with a rapid pace. Echo Canyon is very pretty and has a character separate from the other canyons of the North Blue Diamond Hills.

Echo Canyon Scramble
 The group must have had a hard time waking up this morning as there were at least 5 falls throughout the hike! (It's all good.)

Another Echo Canyon Scramble
 At the top of Echo Canyon, we turned left onto the old mining road and climbed until the SARS Trail turned to the left.

Nearing the Top of Echo Canyon

Crossing above Second Finger
 As we followed the SARS Trail that connected the upper trails of the North Blue Diamond Hills, we had three separate sightings of large raptors. The first (largest) was unfamiliar to any of us. The best identification we could make was a Ferruginous Hawk. These birds have a light colored breast under a dark body with a 4' to 5' wingspan. The raptor flew onto a rock across the canyon and just sat there while we marveled.

Ferruginous Hawk
Further down the trail, we spotted two other raptors in succession. The first appeared to be something looking like an osprey but there are no fish where we hiked! So, ....

Osprey (?) Left & Red Tailed Hawk on Right
 The second, we knew, was a red-tailed hawk. Wingspans for these raptors ranges between 3.5' and 5'. If, in fact, the previous bird was an osprey, its wingspan could have reached up to 6'.

Hiking Past Radio Tower

Posing on the Las Vegas Overlook
We hiked the trail up past the radio relay tower and on to the overlook beyond. The city was layered with haze but the temperatures today were perfect with a slight breeze. We took our break here enjoying the view and a little conversation. We were 4.6 miles into a 7.8 mile hike. After the break, we started our descent on the Overlook Ridge Trail. This trail circles around the rim of the hills heading back into the direction of the Calico Hills. When the trail began to leave the rim, we cut across to another trail called the Three Amigos Trail.

Three Amigos Trail with Calico Hills in Background
 This trail circled around and went straight down to the Muffins / SARS junction. Then, the SARS Trail took us down to the top of Skull Canyon.

Joshua Tree Bloom
 Skull Canyon was named by past hikers for the horse's skull that was found there at one time. Bikers now call the canyon by another name.

Starting Down Skull Canyon

Skull Canyon
 Skull Canyon is a beautiful canyon, too. Its trail undulates along the side of the limestone canyon bottom. About midway, hikers pass the junction with Mystery Woman Canyon. Then the canyon spills out near the lower Skull / Muffins junction. From there, the hike circles Boneshaker Hill and returns to the horse corral area where we met King, the resident Clydesdale. The hike today was smooth and refreshing.

8 miles; 1400 feet elevation gain; 3.75 hours

Nearing the Bottom of Skull Canyon

Junctioning with the Muffins Trail

Crossing over to the Horse Corral

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