Saturday, March 19, 2016

Oak Creek Loop (from Hwy 159) - 3/19/16

Oak Creek Canyon from High Point of Hike

Oak Creek

Old Rocky Road heading toward Potato Knoll and Rainbow Peak

First Wash Crossing
 Oak Creek Canyon of Red Rock Canyon NCA has many different ways to approach. The three main trailheads are the Oak Creek Trailhead on the Scenic Loop, the Scenic Loop exit parking trailhead, and the Highway 159 Oak Creek Trailhead. After leaving the trailhead of your choice, there is a network of trails that travel along Oak Creek, around Potato Knoll and further into Oak Creek Canyon. Today's twenty-two hikers began at the Highway 159 trailhead, hiked past the old campsite then up the very rocky old road toward the left (south) side of Potato Knoll.

Hiking around the Gate
 There is a parallel trail that, in hindsight, we could have taken. It would be preferable to the rocky road but when we started out, our chosen path was not as bad as it got later.

Oak Creek Trail
 We made progress toward Potato Knoll in a fairly straight line. Mt. Wilson rose in front of us, Rainbow Peak was to the right, Potato Knoll poked up in the middle foreground and Bridge Mountain's Dome could be seen in the middle background.

Rocky Trail approaching Saddle Junction

Calico Hills in the Distance
 We finally reached the first high point of the hike, the saddle junction where a trail leading up to the top of Potato Knoll turned off to the right. Continuing, we hiked down into the wonderland behind the Knoll where Oak Creek Canyon lurked alluringly between the two tall peaks of the Red Rock escarpment. The foliage was green and we saw a few flowers (mostly Paintbrush) blooming alongside the trail. Not far down the trail, the coordinator found an unfamiliar trail that turned off to the left. Curious, she decided to explore.

Peaking Out on the Saddle Junction
 The twenty-one other hikers were very good natured about the whole side trip into the unknown but will undoubtedly remember it for a while.

Starting Down on other side of Saddle Junction
 The trail started out modestly by winding around the low desert foliage along a wash. It was heading in the direction of the trail we wanted to connect with.

Exploring a Curious Trail

Arriving on top of a Berm
 Then, there it was, the reason this is not the major route! It dipped down into the wash and shot straight up onto the adjacent berm. A large cairn sat stalwartly on top. (Come on up!) We all climbed to the top of the berm and crossed it to the other side. The group of hikers we had today were not so happy about a dive down the steep trail on the other side. So, we followed the berm down back in the reverse direction and found a trail down that was ... doable. This process took several minutes. After everyone was down and connected with the original trail, three hikers decided to call it a day. ... Onward!

Mule Deer
 We watched a horse & rider trailed by a burro go by. (Yeah, random.) Then we found our way to the trail leading into the canyon. A small herd of mule deer watched from the left side.

Climbing the Trail adjacent to Oak Creek Wash
 The trail climbed up onto the hill that runs along the wash on the left side then eventually drops gently into the wash at a boulder wall as seen in the photo below.

Trail / Wash Junction

Returning to Potato Knoll Area
 We had our snack break then started back on a route that took us around the other side of Potato Knoll. We crossed a flowing Oak Creek twice and ended up on a trail that led us in a pretty straight line back to the cars. The weather was warm but there was a cool breeze. It's time to start making sure you have a good supply of water and electrolytes for your hikes, folks. The hikers on today's hike took the extra mile in stride (pun) and we were all ready for an afternoon nap!

6 miles; 800 feet elevation gain; 3.75 hours

The First Oak Creek Crossing

Following the Trail back through the Desert

Paintbrush in Bloom

No comments: