Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top of the World Arch (Long Loop) - 12/27/16 - Photo Essay

Top of the World Arch

Tank near 3 Steps of Death

Virgin Peak from Valley of Fire

White Domes Descent
 The Top of the World Arch lies hidden on top of a high point of sandstone in the northern section of Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. The northern section of the park also holds some of its best and most colorful scenery. Therefore, this long loop route is filled with photo opportunities and this entry reflects that. There were twenty-three hikers on the hike; all at a moderately strenuous level or above. Requirements for this hike were to be able to scramble off and on for a distance of 7.5 miles at a moderate pace over moderately strenuous terrain. Everyone fit the bill! Our morning meeting places included a new location at Aliante Casino. Everyone agreed that it was a very good location for when the club is heading north for a hike. A second meeting location was held at the park's Visitor Center. We met at the casino at 8am and made the start time at the visitor center at 9:30am. Probably could have made the start time earlier ... maybe 9:15am.

Gathering at the Movie Set
From the visitor center, we headed up to the White Domes Trailhead at the end of the scenic drive.

Heading into the Tall Slot
 The morning was cold but the sun in the lower elevations warmed us quickly.

Avoiding First Puddle

Starting Out the Trail
 Along the road going to the park and along the scenic drive, there were several spots where sand had covered the roads recently due to flooding so we knew we would run into some puddles in our path on the trail. Excited about the challenge, we descended down to the old movie set and turned right. Surprisingly, the tall slot was not flooded at all! We hiked through, climbed around one puddle in the wash, then turned left onto a trail that leads up between the white sandstone and dirt terrain. This is past the trail marked as the Prospect Trail. We were careful to not step on cryptobiotic soil in the area.

Up and Over next to Pointy Mountain

Landmarks in the Main Alley

Climbing Up from the Squeeze

Grand View after the Squeeze
 Our trail headed into the sandstone and took us up and over a little high point. We were now in the Main Alley. This alley took us by Pointy Mountain, Chocolate Wall (aka Burnt Toast Wall), the Bullseye, and the Eye of the Iguana. Some of these names have been passed down over the years. Other names have been recently used to mark locations. Continuing down the Main Alley, we passed the Monolith Rock which marks the junction of where we would be returning after our descent from the arch. We headed through the Squeeze then up and over another small high point of orange colored rock. There is a fantastic grand view to the left here.

Dropping Down toward Salmon Rock
 We made our way down an unmarked trail to a small canyon and curved around to the right. This part of the hike used to be cairned but a recent change to the park staff resulted in the removal of the guiding rocks.

First Set of Bighorns
 Here, we saw our first set of four bighorns running away from the Salmon Rock area.

Climbing the Slab

Grand View from Top of Slab (Laszlo in Center)
 We curved around Salmon Rock to the right and arrived at the base of the sandstone slab wall on the left. Newbies in the group stared at the wall wide-eyed! Yep! We're climbing that wall! So up we went in no particular hurry. It took a few minutes for everyone to get up the wall and on up to the high point where we would curve around to the right. A couple of wayward sons were still finding their way down an unintentional pickle. In the meantime, the grand view was very satisfying.

Tony leads up the Final Slab

Rounding the Corner

Second Set of Bighorns

Kay leads through Sand Dunes
 After curving around to the right, we hit the sand dunes section and started climbing. The sand was a little moist so all the sand hiking we had to do was made easier. Up ahead, in the same spot we had seen them in past years, we saw our second set of bighorns. (Was it the same set? Not unless they knew another way up to this point in the difficult terrain.) We watched them watch us and took photos. Next, we arrived at the ramp on the left side of the dunes. The sandstone is very worn here so the route is clear.

The Ramp
 We climbed up next to a large fin and stepped up on that fin at the top.

Front Group climbs up to the Arch at the Big Dip
 The Big Dip came next. The group separated here as the stronger hikers charged down and up to the arch.

Grand View on Climb to Arch

Other Side of Climb to Arch
  Down the large fin, over to a fin across on the right and up. At the top of this fin, we found the arch and had our first break. The whole area atop this sandstone mountain is explorable. Due to the recent rains, there was water in area tinajas and a "new" beautiful tinaja was photographed over on the other side of the peak which was on the way to the famous 3 Steps of Death. The Hot Tub was also full of water. The wildlife were probably happy to have so many watering holes suddenly!

Settling in at the Top of the World Arch

Scenes from Around the Arch

Tank on way to 3 Steps of Death

Tank and Virgin Peak
 Our break was lengthy then we gathered the twenty-three hikers to decide who was going to descend which way. There are three ways now. The third way is the 3 Steps of Death which, apparently is not so deadly! A group of ten hikers explored this descent and found it to be "easy" and not scary at all. In fact, this is likely the way we will descend in the future for everyone. The remaining thirteen hikers used the regular route back through the Big Dip and down the canyon.

Returning through the Big Dip
 The canyon route has a lot of its own challenges. It is a long way to go but it will remain in our hearts.

Descending the Canyon
 The others were waiting for us for several minutes at the landmark Monolith.

The Colorful Wash opposite the Eye of the Iguana

Hiking through the Colorful Wash
 With all hikers together again, we hiked back up the Main Alley to the Eye of the Iguana and turned to the right. This wide wash is one of the most scenic washes in the park sporting many colors near and far. The wash terrain is very tame until near the end where there is a steep dry fall that must be negotiated as seen in the photo below. Past that, go arounds are easy. One dry fall just before the road must have had a large puddle beneath a foot of sand. One hiker ended up knee deep in quick sand. The line of hikers behind him quickly changed their path!

Bypassing Small Steep Dry Fall

Don't step on the thin fins!

Another Unusual Tinaja

Arriving at the Fire Wave (Rich stands Atop)
 We crossed the scenic drive at Wash #3 then headed into a section of sandstone that had a lot of thin fins sticking up through the rock. We always warn our hikers to not step on the fins but apparently other hikers that come through here are not as conscientious. Many of the fragile fins have been broken. Please be careful when hiking in sensitive geological terrain. Thanks. We hiked down the wash and started climbing up on the sandstone to our right heading in a one o'clock direction.

Grand View out Wash below Fire Wave
 We passed another unusual tinaja, photographed the colors and hiked on down to the wash to turn right. Using one of the cracks on the left side of the wash, we climbed up to the area of the Fire Wave for our second snack break.

Fire Wave
 Our hikers and other recreational hikers were scattered all over the massive sandstone slab of the Fire Wave area. It was that type of day when exploring the area was very appealing.

Expansive Slab in Front of Rock of Gibraltar

Climbing up Wave Wall Wash
 After this break and the mandatory recount, we headed to the Wave Wall. There were a few recreational hikers on top of the Wave Wall. (That's different.) Nearing the end of our 7.5 miles of Valley of Fire, we chose not to follow suit. So, we climbed up around the wall in the wash then took a left up and over the sandstone where pink and yellow sandstone meet. Here, the group divided again. Some stayed up, some dropped to the wash to enjoy the first small slot canyon. However ....

Slot Puddle forcing Go Around

Laszlo watches Go Around from Above

Some Valley of Fire Geology

Two Feet of Sand in Small Slots
 The end of this canyon was puddled. So, we were scattered again getting around the puddle to the scenic drive crossing #5. The remaining small slots were surprisingly not puddled and we continued through on a very deep deposit of sand. Reaching the movie set, we elected to climb the steep hill back to the cars. (It was shorter than the trail further on!) A fun day at the state park. Nice cool weather and lots of exploring on the side.

7.5 miles; 1500 feet elevation gain; 4.75 hours

Exiting the Last Small Slot

Climbing Up at White Domes

Lots of Holiday Cars at Trailhead

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