Friday, October 13, 2017

Mountain Springs Peak Loop - 10/12/17

Mountain Springs Peak

Escarpment Cliff

Wash Descent

Part of Heartbreak Hill
 The limestone peak located behind Black Velvet Peak in the escarpment of Red Rock Canyon NCA is dubbed Mountain Springs Peak, named for the small town located in the foothills to the south. It is the highest limestone peak on the southern end of the escarpment. The trailhead for this climb is located on a concealed road turn off from Highway 160 at the Mountain Springs Pass. There is no signage here so look for the powerlines crossing the highway. Before they relined the highway travel lanes during recent construction, the turnoff was exactly where the two right lanes were merging. This is no longer the case ... thus, the writer's U-turn this morning.

Lead Hikers on Heartbreak Hill
 A wonderful group of fourteen hikers started up Heartbreak Hill to the Saddle. We spread out but not too far and regathered at the top.

Mt. Potosi from Trail
 Most of us have just come down to the lower elevations from the mountain trails of the Spring Mountains NRA so the climb up Heartbreak Hill was easy and strong. It might not be by spring!

The Saddle

Surrounding Terrain to West
 As we looked into the distance toward Death Valley, we noted the thick layer of smoke covering the mountain ranges. Windy conditions brought smoke down from forest fires in California and all the distant views, today, were obscured. The views of nearer subjects, however, were still beautiful and seemed a bit greener than in years past. After taking our group photo on the Saddle, we headed out the trail to the left. There is more climbing as you make your way to the Fork; the right turnoff to Windy Peak. We paused again, at the Fork, then took the left turnoff. This is the Mountain Springs Peak Trail. It takes hikers out to the escarpment rim arriving where there is a fantastic view of nearby Black Velvet Peak and Las Vegas in the distance.

Group climbs 2nd Segment to Fork
 This segment of the trail is enchanting. To the right, there are the views of the escarpment peaks and the Las Vegas alluvial fan. To the left, the views are of Lovell Canyon and beyond toward Death Valley. Behind us, we could still see Mt. Potosi.

Gathering at the Fork
  This division is described as being on the border of Jurassic Aztec Sandstone and Cambrian through Pennsylvanian rocks, undivided. From one period to the other, there are geologic periods that are skipped, or overridden. Thus, the interest in the Keystone Thrust for which Red Rock Canyon NCA is famous.

Spring Mountains to the North

Hill on the Way
 Our trail climbed a hill or two and curved around the rim to the right. As we curved, the peaks of the Spring Mountains came into view and we stopped to pick out what peak was which resulting in the photo above. We passed by a bush with fruit on it. In the past, we had identified it as Hollyleaf Cherry (Prunus Ilicifolia). But the fruit was past its prime, hollowed out and tasteless. Bighorns were spotted from the highway on the drive up but our eagle eyes didn't see any of those majestic creatures on the surrounding rim rock. We made the final kick up onto the peak and, just like that, our major climb of the day was over. We wrote in the log book and took our snack break taking in the smokey views all around.

Mountains Springs Peak Trail
After the break, one hiker was having knee trouble so he and another hiker made their return the way we came up. And, now there were twelve to continue the 7 mile loop.

Peak view of Black Velvet Peak
 On the rim of the escarpment, the Upper Sonoran and Transition Life Zones take precedence. Many species of birds, mammals and reptiles live in these elevations.

Calico Hills from Peak

Fat Bananas on Banana Yucca
 We descended down the trail along the rim of the escarpment. These are the best views of the hike! The Calico Hills are seen across the Red Rock valley and Wilson Peak is the large yellow sandstone outcropping ahead. High cliffs were dropping off to our right. We passed a banana yucca bearing unusually fat fruit then stepped out on the cliff where we, sometimes, take our snack break. We had several newbies on our hike so we didn't want to miss a single point of interest! The small window below the snack cliff was noted then we climbed the trail to the very next ridge line. Here, we veered off the trail to bushwhack down the ridge then down to the left into a small wash. Although this wash is somewhat brushy at times, it is navigable with a small trail that goes in and out and around the brush. This is a "full body workout wash!"

Hiking along Escarpment Rim
 Be careful in the wash, as you must in all washes, to avoid slipping on the polished limestone!

Starting Bushwhack down Ridge
 There is only one or two places that hands might be required to steady yourself as you descend rocks in the wash.

Dropping into Wash to Left

Winding through Wash Brush
 The wash hike descends for almost a mile ... enough to be ready to escape at the end! Try not to escape to the ridge on the left too early. The ridge promises easier going only after a certain point where brush opens out. We got out a tad early today but started following an elk (okay, elk prints) down through the brush and wound our way to junction with the cross trail, Mountain Springs Trail. We turned left on the horse trail and headed in the direction of Mountain Springs, NV. The trail is broken up from heavy horse traffic so be careful of your footing. It can be like walking on marbles sometimes! ... (Ask me how I know!)

Scramble Drop
 Even so, the trail is a good one with only one hill of significance to climb.

Lower Wash
 The route follows this trail for around a mile before it ends above Mountain Springs at the namesake springs where fall foliage was still hanging on.

Bushwhacking Ridge to Trail

Hiking Mountain Springs Trail
 The route follows the dirt road until a left turn at more ATV deterring boulders. We passed a well preserved agave roasting pit then followed the trail that takes right turns until it is on a straight path back toward the cars. Eventually, we passed a nice ranch house with the two miniature horses that came out to say hello and followed the road back to the cars. It was great to see some old friends and greet newcomers and visitors on this nice escarpment loop.

7 miles; 1400 feet elevation gain; 4 hours

Fall Color at Mountain Springs

Hiking past Agave Roasting Pit

Miniature Horses greet Us

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