Friday, September 22, 2017

First Creek Grotto via Valley Trail - 9/22/17

Joshua Tree along Valley Trail

Wilson Peak behind Matchweed Bush

Calico Hills from Valley Trail

Hikers viewing Red Rock Escarpment
 Fall is a good time of year to do the Valley Trail in Red Rock Canyon NCA since the trail is totally in the sun. Today, the temps were in the 50's and 60's with an occasional light cool breeze. Four hikers chose to add part of the First Creek Trail to the Valley Trail. This made a normally moderate hike on all trail turn into a moderately strenuous hike of 6.5 miles. In the addition, there was a bit of bushwhacking and scrambling in the First Creek wash. We parked at the Red Rock Scenic Loop exit then headed out the trail to the south that is closest to Highway 159. We were immediately enveloped by the desert foliage.

Hiking the Valley Trail
 Warned, we kept an eye out for the rattlesnakes that might be sunning themselves after a cool night.

The Hill
 We stopped quite often to take in the scenery. Naming the peaks of the escarpment; pointing out Sherwood Forest on the face of Wilson Peak; naming different desert plants along the trail.

Nearing the Oak Creek Wash

Hollyleaf Cherry (Prunus Ilicifolia)
 We made a left turn before the first Oak Creek wash crossing. This trail led up a little hill that gave a bit of a grand view of the escarpment across from us. Two beautiful horse and riders passed us as they were galloping along. Dropping back down to the wash, we came upon a tree we mistakenly thought was simply a holly oak. However, this tree had fruit on it as seen to the left. The fruit felt like a grape. After a minimal amount of research, a conclusion was perceived. This is a hollyleaf cherry tree. Or, more properly, prunus ilicifolia! The "cherries" are actually edible ... it said.

Someone's done some work!
 The trail came to the gate on the "New Oak Creek Trail." (So, the sign said.) We passed around the gate, walked through the decorated wash (seen above) and found a blocked trail that turned to the left.

Looking for Trail at Oak Creek Wash
 This area of the route is somewhat messy. Suffice it to say, the route stays between the wash and the small ridge to the right. There is, indeed, a hard-to-find trail.

First Creek Wash

First Creek Junction
 The route eventually began veering around to the right and passed the junction that we would take on the return. The next point of interest is the First Creek wash. We crossed this and joined with a much better trail that headed straight for a perpendicular junction to First Creek Trail where we turned to the right. Not long after our turn, we veered again to the right to find our way into the First Creek wash. At this point, we began a messy scramble up the wash that included a lot of bushwhacking and bouldering. Finally, we came to the First Creek Grotto area.

Scrambling up First Creek Wash
 A couple of hikers with two gorgeous and smart dogs were enjoying the grotto. They were just leaving so we stopped here and had our snack break.

The Grotto
 The water was barely trickling through the rocks at the bottom. During the snow melt, this grotto is filled with a decent waterfall ... in the desert!

Fern on Walls of Grotto

Top near Grotto
 After our snack, we climbed out of the grotto in the usual way up the side of the canyon. Next, we descended back to the Valley Trail junction by way of the First Creek Trail. Our return to the cars was different for about a mile. This happens after turning at that junction we passed earlier then following a trail that was between the trail we took out and the escarpment. Part of it was on that small ridge. The Valley Trail is a difficult trail to follow since there are so many little trails going in the same direction. But, we all agreed that it is near impossible to get lost!

6.5 miles; 500 feet elevation gain; 3.75 hours

Back out First Creek Trail

Matchweed on Oak Creek Road

Almost back to Scenic Loop Exit TH

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