Saturday, January 13, 2018

SMYC & Dale's Trails - 1/13/18

Skull Rock

Dale's Trail Cactus Garden

Dale's Trail Rock Garden

Lined Trail through Red Rock Wash
 It was another holiday weekend so thirteen hikers came out early on the Scenic Loop in Red Rock Canyon NCA to the Lost Creek Trailhead located on Rocky Gap Road right after turning off of the loop at mile marker 7. Capturing coveted parking spaces, we piled out. The SMYC Trail (named for the Spring Mountains Youth Camp kids who built the trail) leaves right from this parking lot and is lined with rock indicating that the trail maintenance crew led by Susan Murphy has been at work. We turned to the left at the first sign and followed the lined trail as it led through the wide Red Rock Wash. After this, the well marked trail climbed up the hillside which is at the base of the Red Rock escarpment.

Directional Sign
 We noted a new trail sign seen in the photo above. The trail has also been improved at this location.

SMYC Trail
 Today's hike was full of ups and downs and it doesn't waste time starting!

Approaching Ice Box Canyon Junction

Dale's Trail with White Rock Hills in Background
 The majority of the elevation loss is found during the first half of the out and back hike. Likewise, there is more elevation gain on the way back. We hiked the one mile long SMYC Trail and junctioned with the Ice Box Canyon Trail which ran perpendicular to us from its parking lot trailhead to the canyon scramble. After crossing this trail, we started down Dale's Trail. Dale's Trail is named for ... well ... Dale! This person presumably made the trail back when the Wilson family lived in Pine Creek Canyon. Thanks Dale!

Mule Deer Cheesecake
 We often see mule deer along the trails at the base of the escarpment and today was no exception. Seeing deer is always a delight!

La Madre Range in Distance
 Dale's Trail is full of a variety of cactus and colorful boulders. It is the "garden" of the escarpment base.

First Bench Area

Escarpment from Dale's Trail Second Bench
 About 0.8 miles from Ice Box Canyon Trail, there is a bench in some shade on the trail. We paused here for a sip of water. Today's group of hikers were very strong and we were enjoying an unusual opportunity to hike as fast as we wanted on this trail-only hike. It felt good to stretch our legs and lungs. Continuing from the first bench, we crossed a few more washes, passed another overlook then came to a second bench placed on a hill where a beautiful view could be taken in. With each wash crossing, we had to dip down and climb back up.

One of the Wash Dips
 Finally, Skull Rock could be seen in the distance. It rose up as the only really large red rock on a terrain mound of other large boulders.

Big Descent before Skull Rock
 The area around Skull Rock looks like a garden and there is an old sign next to the rock announcing the rock that has indentations like a skull.

Skull Rock Approach

Taking a Break
 We stopped here for our break. There are a lot of large rocks to sit on. We were near the Pine Creek Canyon Trail and Mescalito Peak could be seen behind us. Turtlehead and the Calico Hills could be seen across the canyon floor. Our break was well deserved since we made really good time getting here and we would make really good time getting back. The morning had been quiet but here, we began seeing a few other hikers. The air temperatures were cool but we were all sweating ... perspiring ... in the sun with our efforts.

Taking Break in Front of Mescalito Peak
 We started back with the large climb indicated on the elevation graph. It was a doozy!

Climbing Dale's Trail on Return
 But, after getting past this initial ascent, we fell back into the rhythm of ups and downs again.

Through a Wash

Group Shot at First Bench
 We got another glimpse of the deer when we got back to the same area. Then, we needed a stoplight when we reached the Ice Box Canyon Trail! Lots of hikers. We toyed with the idea of taking a side trip to see Lost Creek Waterfall at the end of the hike but decided not to since there were so many people around. Some other time. Great hike. Beautiful scenery. Really enjoyed the fast pace. And, kudos to Susan's work force! The trail was great and much improved from beginning to end!

6 miles; 1100 feet elevation gain; 3.25 hours

Ice Box Canyon Trail at Junction

SMYC Trail

Hiking back through Red Rock Wash

Friday, January 12, 2018

Top of the World Arch Long Loop (Valley of Fire SP) - 1/11/18

Valley of Fire (from hill after The Squeeze)

Valley of Fire (from climb up to Top of the World)

Eye of the Iguana Wash

Coming in the Back Door
Q: How do you make a moderately strenuous to strenuous hike a very strenuous hike?

A: Do the hike in Valley of Fire State Park two days after a downpour of rain!

Q: How do you manage to accomplish these 7.5 miles of scrambling with a group of twenty-one hikers without any falls or injuries on the crumbling sandstone, many unrouted go arounds and slippery damp waterfalls?

A: With a fantastic group of careful and experienced hikers working together. (And, beautiful weather helped!)

Morning Colors
The colors in the Valley of Fire SP sandstone were accentuated with the dampness. We arrived in the park as earth movers were cleaning up from the flood they must have had two days prior.

Our First Obstacle
We were told that the White Domes TH was closed but upon arrival, we found no signs. Knowing that the tall slot was probably flooded, we started our hike by starting the White Domes Trail in reverse.

On the Trail

Passing Pointy Mountain
After a short exploration, we found that the tall slot was passable but going our way in the wash had two more impassable puddles. No problem. We went around with some unplanned scrambling. Finally, we connected with the trail leading up to the left. Yea! And, off we went! The trail was good as we hiked up next to the white stone and into the canyon. We passed Pointy Mountain and Chocolate Wall. The wet sandy trail had no traces of hikers since the rain and we made a line of footsteps. Next, we passed the Eye of the Iguana and the fat Monolith. The Monolith marks the junction of our later descent from the Top of the World. There are three ways to descend from the Arch on top of the high point and they all arrive here. Today's route, it was decided, would be the canyon since the other two ways involved cliffy sandstone walls ... not a good risk on this damp day.

The Squeeze
Next came the Squeeze slot. From there, we climbed up to a little high point and took in the wide view to our left seen in the first photo.

Following Cairns
The cairns in the next section have returned! We followed them on a lateral route then took a sharp turn to the left to descend to the floor via a small wash.

The Slab Climb

Valley of Fire (from top of Slab climb)
A sharp turn to the right led us on a winding route over to Salmon Rock. Going around the orange rock to the right put us on a sandy trail through the brush to the bottom of a slanted sandstone slab wall. ... And, up we went! Several newbies in the group wondered ... "What?" Warned of the possible slipperiness of the wall, we were all conscious of every step. The wall climb finally finished at the view in the photo to the left. Although the group stayed together very well, the wall climb separated us a bit and provided a small rest. Next, we proceeded up the sand dunes section. Usually, this is a dreaded part of the hike slogging up through the sand. Today, YEA!, wet sand!

Up the Ramp
Up past the sliced toast formation on the right, the Ramp appears on the left. This is our stairway to the Big Dip.

Climbing to the Top of the World Arch
Up the Ramp, down into the Big Dip, and up the ramp seen in the photo above. Finally, we have arrived at the Top of the World Arch. Twenty-one hikers clamored up, around and over the large substantial arch that may have been a cave at one point.

Climbing to the Top of the World (Virgin Peak in distance)

Top of the World Arch
Few hikers stuck around to sign into the log book and all ended up on top of the high point above to take their snack break. There were a few explorations going on during the break to here and there. Then, we gathered for our treacherous trip down the canyon. Treacherous, yes, death defying, no. Down through the Big Dip and back down the Ramp, cross the sand dunes, drop and turn left. The Canyon Descent! Slippery, crumbly and brushy. Conversation ceased. Concentration was key and we all knew it. This canyon can seem like it never ends even on a dry day!

Tinaja near Arch
The canyon trail begins on the right side dropping down through an open-topped rabbit hole. As you get by the initial steepness (see in a photo on down), the trail becomes apparent and takes you down scrambles, through brush, under a low rock, past the Quad Arch and finally ... finally ... down to the Monolith. A small rest here.

A Snack on the High Point behind Arch
Retracing our previous steps up the main alley to the Eye of the Iguana, we turned right into its out flowing wash. This is, perhaps, one of the most beautiful and colorful washes in the park!

Tinaja down the High Point Slab

Looking back at the Group
Warning! A few of our hikers reported a small section of quick sand within the wide wash on the left. Last year, there was quick sand below a damp fall in this wash near the highway. Normally, we look forward to an exciting drop on a particular dry fall in this wash. It is steep but always negotiable. Today, the damp fall was sandy and very slippery. (See the "tricky spot" photo below.) In retrospect, the group should have passed the fall on the right side. Onward, the wash crosses the highway at wash #3. Watch for cars!

Down the Ramp
We stayed in the wash for around 50 yards then began a traverse scramble up to the right keeping the same trajectory. A warning about not stepping on fins in this area is appropriate.

Diving into the Canyon Descent
This imprecise route takes you up on a rise of sandstone and curves slightly to the left up a colorful hill. At the top of this hill, color spreads wide before you. The Rock of Gibraltar rises in the distance.

Starting Canyon Descent

Starting down the Eye of the Iguana Wash
A small temporary tinaja sat in the foreground to add perspective. We passed the tinaja and dropped down beside the wash to the right then poured into the main wash below. A right turn in this gravelly wash then turn left up the third or fourth wash climbing shortly up to the terrain above. This put us at the Fire Wave where a few excited tourists were having their photos taken again and again! Finally, we sneaked in a photo of our own and we returned to the Wave Wall behind us. As we traveled to the wall, we crossed over the giant red and white striped landscape.

A few interesting Formations
Guessing that the small slots coming up were probably flooded, we made the choice to persevere and use go arounds to get by the water.

Yellow Rock
We hiked around the Wave Wall and climbed out to the left. Instead of dropping down to a surely flooded slot, we stayed high all the way over to the highway. (We saw, on the way, that the slot was, indeed, flooded.)

Eye of the Iguana Wash
A Tricky Spot
Descending to the Wash #5 crossing on the road, many of us decided to stay high on the right side to bypass upcoming water. We dropped back in and climbed out two more times avoiding the flooded slots. The last time, we shortcutted up and across to the White Domes Trail where the steps take you up to the cars. Wow! What a workout. All those detours and being extremely careful not to slide on the dampness really made the hike a "wet and wild" experience!

Tinaja and Rock of Gibraltar (Fin Section)
Some interesting geological info taken from a favorite "go to" book, Geologic Tours in the Las Vegas Area (Expanded Edition with GPS Coordinates), Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology Special Publication 16, University of Nevada, Reno, Mackay School of Earth Sciences, 2008, Bear Printing, Sparks, NV; page 84. See below.

Valley of Fire Colors
Differential Weathering and Swiss Cheese: A characteristic of Aztec Sandstone outcrops that is well illustrated in this area is the occurrence of numerous holes in the rock that impart an appearance similar to Swiss cheese. Sandstone is nothing more than sand grains held together by mineral cement, usually calcite or silica.

Fire Wave

Hiking from Fire Wave to Wave Wall
In this natural process, some parts of the rocks are more tightly and completely cemented. These parts are more resistant to weathering and erosion than other parts. The incompletely or poorly cemented areas are more vulnerable to weathering and erosion processes and therefore wear away more readily creating the conspicuous holes in the sandstone. This process is called differential weathering.

7.5 miles; 1400 feet elevation gain; 4.75 hours

Climbing out of Wave Wall Wash

Flooded Slot

The Last Climb