Saturday, May 20, 2017

Lower Rocky Gorge Loop - 5/20/17

Rocky Gorge

Desert Sage near Lee Canyon

Mummy Mountain from Big Switchback

Starting Trail down Little Wash
 Rocky Gorge Loop is an old horse trail that was revived when it appeared on the trail map given out at the new Spring Mountains Gateway Visitor Center opening in the Spring of 2015. The trailhead for the loop can be anywhere in the Blue Tree Campground area off of Lee Canyon Road. It can be hiked clockwise or counterclockwise with advantages to either way. Today, ten hikers hiked the lower 6 mile portion of the 8 mile loop in a counterclockwise direction starting from Blue Tree Road about 10 miles up from the Lee Canyon Road / 95 junction on the right side.

DNWR beyond our Trail Downhill
 It was a cool morning with promises of warming up to around 70 degrees. Perfect!

A Look Back
 The trail begins to the right of the large parking area by dropping down beside a small wash. There were a lot of prints showing that this trail is still popular with horse riders.

Small Breath at Bottom of Big Switchback

Descending Ridge after Switchback
 The trail is easy to follow staying either in the small wash or just outside of it until it curves off to the left heading toward the nearby escarpment. We could see the big switchback scar in the hill that would take us up to the top. As we climbed the big switchback, the views down were the best that a desert could offer. The views up showed us Mummy Mountain, also one of the best views in the Spring Mountains, with Charleston Peak peeking up behind the highest ridges.

Joshua Tree & Beyond
 Once on the top of the hill, we began following the trail down a long ridge line. Although we didn't see any large wildlife, we did see evidence of elk.

Dropping into the Rocky Gorge Wash

Heading into Rocky Gorge
 The small trail led us down into a wash then out to traverse around a gentle ridge. Here, the trail jogs down on another ridge then turns to the left. (We missed this again.) Finally, the trail brings hikers into the wash below. This is the Rocky Gorge wash. After a short break, we started up the wash. There were a lot of cliffrose bushes blooming in the area. We also saw larkspur, beavertail, and some blackbrush with blooms. Very soon, we entered Rocky Gorge. This is a small gorge made of limestone. Unusual for this area and terrain, it is a pretty anomaly.

Gorge provides Shade for Wildlife
 We zigzagged through the gorge that holds a few steps in the rocks then, just as quickly, exited the slot. Next, we found ourselves trudging up loose gravel in the bed of the wash for around a mile.

Cliffrose at Gorge Pinnacle

Hiking through the Gorge
Sometimes a side trail would offer some relief from the gravel. We took our snack break in some tree shade then continued. We occupied our minds with looking for the turnoff to the right. It is marked with a dead log. We gave up looking right before we got to it. We had bushwhacked up and crossed it on the ridge above. The long version of this loop follows this trail down to cross No Mads (dirt road) in a large dip. For the short version, we followed the ridge we were on until we reached No Mads near the top of a hill.

Loose Gravel in Most of Wash
 The ridge has been traveled by other hikers and horses so a trail is starting to get worn in. We balanced the ridge all the way up to the dirt road junction.

A Break in the Shade
 Next, a left turn on the road led us to a steep downhill. About halfway down the hill, a trail (Sawmill Wiggles) crosses the road. We turned left onto this trail and started toward the Blue Tree Campground.

Balancing the Ridge

Dirt Road Junction
 Nearing the bottom of the hill, a fork was offered and we veered left to go up and around the campground below. Firefighters were still camping here for training and their large tents were set up. As we continued over the trail and through the area below, we found three more fireman blankets (large shiny silver things) discarded in the brush. Hmm. Don't they know they are missing some blankets? Anyway, we picked them up, offered them to the firemen we saw later but they didn't speak English. And, ... it was siesta time. So, we disposed of the blankets ourselves. A gorgeous day in the mountain foothills.

6 miles; 1100 feet elevation gain; 3 hours

Trail Up & Around Blue Tree Campground

Ten Happy Hikers

Gathering Firefighters' Blankets from Brush

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