Friday, December 8, 2017

Skull Rock Loop - 12/7/17

Skull Rock rising in front of Bridgepoint Peak

Old Skull Rock Sign

Rainbow Peak from Trailhead

Cold Morning and Brisk Pace
Today's hike was a simple 6 mile moderate hike done at a moderately strenuous pace as we learned about a little used portion of the desert between Pine Creek and Highway 159 in Red Rock Canyon NCA. Fifteen hikers parked at the Scenic Loop exit parking lot (aka the Horse Lot) and started out the connector trail that leads straight to the Oak Creek Trailhead off of the Scenic Loop. There are many trails that lead out from this parking lot so the best description this writer can give is to cross the Scenic Loop at the gate and turn to the right. There is one trail leading adjacent to the Scenic Loop but take the next trail to the left of that.

Calico Hills across Red Rock Canyon Floor
We started out at a brisk pace. Our car thermometers had read only 39 degrees. Thankfully, we were sheltered from the wind in this location; probably by the escarpment.

It's gotta be an elk!
We stopped to talk about the deer that love this area and reminded the hikers to keep an eye out for them. Exactly at that moment, one hiker said, "What's that?"

Arnight Trail

Arnight Trail
Far in the distance toward the escarpment, something very large was moving slowly through the desert as it foraged. We watched for a few minutes but it was so far away, we could only guess that it was a burro (because of its size) or a coyote (because of its posture while walking). Out of seven photos that this writer took, only one revealed the creature's head between the many trees and bushes. Yep. Pretty sure it was an elk. This is an unusual siting on this side of the escarpment but not unheard of. Lovely sight!

Mescalito Peak from above Wilson House
So the group took a pause at the Oak Creek Trailhead restroom then headed out Arnight Trail. There were a few hikers that were not familiar with this trail and were surprised at how beautiful it is.

Crossing Pine Creek
We love our desert! We passed the Juniper Creek crossing (dry), then the connector trail to the Fire Ecology Trail that turned to the right.

Wilson House

Rocky Pine Creek Trail
The Knoll Trail turned to the left then the Juniper Canyon Trail turned to the left. We followed the Arnight-Knoll Trail that continued toward the embankment next to Pine Creek Canyon. The trail takes a decided descent on a slope down to Pine Creek where it joins the Pine Creek Loop Trail. We crossed the water and ice of Pine Creek then hiked up to pass the Wilson House on our right. We passed another hiking group as we traveled up the rocky Pine Creek Trail and found the Dale's Trail junction. By this time, the temperatures had warmed a bit and we had taken a few pauses for water and to allow one hiker to retrieve forgotten sunglasses.

Dale's Trail Junction
A left turn onto Dale's Trail put us back into unfamiliar territory for a few hikers. We only hiked a short distance on this beautiful trail but it's entire two miles are worth the effort someday.

Relaxing at Skull Rock
Skull Rock is a large sandstone rock containing a large amount of iron ore. An old low sign on the right marks the spot.

Snack Break at Skull Rock

From Skull Rock back to Pine Creek
Named for its hollowed out indentations that make the rock appear as a skull, a juniper tree has grown up and covered the best effect. The surrounding sandstone boulders provide a great place to sit and relax for a snack and we did. Although cool, it was a beautiful day to be out. Afterwards, we returned to Pine Creek Trail on Dale's Trail the way we came. There, we turned to the left and a short distance later, we turned right onto the Fire Ecology Trail. This is a well-marked trail with signage talking about how fire is used to control the prospects of wildfires. It drops down to cross Pine Creek where a tiny stream of water flowed. We continued out the other side of the small loop and found an old little used trail that climbed the embankment at a gentle slope after leaving the main trail by turning to the left.

Starting return on Dale's Trail
This began an exploratory. We bushwhacked through low desert scrub across the ridge at the top of the embankment searching for a very old two-track road. We found that we could not see it until we were right on top of it!

Taking Pine Creek up to Fire Ecology Trail
In our search for the road, we came across a huge pile of rocks. One of our hikers took a distaste to it and it may not be there next time!

Fire Ecology Trail Signs and Picnic Table

Gentle Trail Climb out of Pine Creek Canyon
We followed the two-track all the way down the ridge until it gently dropped off right at the junction of the Oak Creek TH road / Scenic Loop. Next, we connected with the trail that follows adjacent to the Scenic Loop traveling about 30 feet away from the pavement. Three quarters of a mile on this nice trail put us back at the cars. The return trip of our loop hike was new for the club and we found it to be new and fun. New stuff is always fun! Great group of hikers today!

6 miles; 600 feet elevation gain; 3.25 hours

Rock Pile in Middle of Nowhere

Very Old Two Track Road down Ridge

Trail along Scenic Loop Road

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