Sunday, March 11, 2018

Bitter Spring Cliffs & HCV Tour - 3/10/18

Toward Southeast End of Bitter Spring Cliffs

Tallest Cairn built on Bitter Spring Cliffs

Bittersprings Spring Area

Wild Horses around MM 26 Northshore Road
Just as we turned left off of Northshore Road at MM 25.5, we spied what we thought was an odd car on down the road. It was moving slowly and in a cross road direction. Our driver slowly negotiated the immediate rough downhill and everyone in our car realized at the same time that the odd car was a wild horse! Very rare in this area! On down the road, we got a good distant view of them, 3 of them, and we jumped out of the car to take photos! It was a great start to the morning!

Road Scenes from Bitter Spring Scenic Byway
Thirteen hikers were in three high clearance 4WD vehicles traveling on the Bitter Spring Scenic Byway, a popular off-road route that runs from Northshore Road in the Lake Mead NRA to Valley of Fire Highway near Moapa through the Bitter Spring Valley.

Rabbit Rock ... Hmm
This end of the road isn't bad as far as off roading goes. As you get closer to Buffington Pockets on the Valley of Fire end, the road becomes impossible for all but the toughest vehicles.

Approach to Bitter Spring Cliffs and Trailhead

Starting Up
The road descended from MM 25.5 for 3.25 miles then we came to a crossroads junction. (There is a road sign here.) We would later use the right turn to leave by way of the springs. The road continuation actually turns to the left here but we went straight for a drive by of a large cliff-type pour over. This is probably akin to Niagara Falls when it rains really hard! (Okay, exaggerating.) Anyway, our route returned and at 6.5 miles in, we passed Rabbit Rock on the left. Another hmm .... Anyway, a half mile later, we parked off the road on the back side of Bitter Spring Cliffs, aka the Desert Colosseum. On the right side of the road, an impressive dark colored rock ridge rose steeply. This is the West Longwell Ridge.

Junctioning with the Ascent Ridge
On the left side of the road, all we could see was a desert mountain cut with a couple of washes. When we hiked up to a trailing ridge on the middle right side, we found a vague trail ... up.

View down to Bitter Spring Road (East)
This "mountain" that we were now climbing ends in a cliff face on the north side of Bitter Spring Valley. The cliff is cut in the Bitter Ridge Limestone Member of the Horse Spring Formation. (Ah, no wonder we saw the horses. 😐)

On Ascent Ridge - West Longwell Ridge Behind

The Ridge Ascent
The trail remained vague for the duration but every once in a while we passed one of around three large ascent cairns that assured us we were on the same route that many climbers before us have used. Our route was logical. As the coordinator and I lagged behind, we spied a little desert friend; a horned toad. It was amazing how well he blended in with his/her surroundings. Nearing the top, we sidled over to the left side of the ridge and took a traverse route over to the end of the cliff where we saw a tall cairn as seen in the first photo. Before we reached the cairn, we found ourselves at the edge of the very high cliffs (~ 800 to 900 feet high). The rim of the cliff was covered with large plates of rough Paleozoic limestone common in the Bitter Spring Valley and Horse Spring Formation. BTW, Frenchman Mountain came through the Bitter Spring Valley once upon a time. (I know. So difficult to wrap your head around.)

Eastern View from Ascent Ridge (Bonelli Peak in Background)
The geology of the Lake Mead NRA is so complicated but, at the same time, fascinating. Lots to learn as we hiked along what was once the bottom of a shallow sea trod by ancient reptiles.

Small Horned Toad
After the first cairn visit, we turned to hike along the cliff rim. We passed a double cairn then came to a single cairn that was the largest of all of them.

Following Cliff Rim toward Northwest

Double Cairns Mid-Way
The cairns were made solidly out of those limestone plates and have, apparently, been there for a long time. At the largest of the cairns, we stopped for our rest. Views were fantastic in every direction all along the rim but we didn't want to loiter for too long. Face it. It wasn't the best of weather this morning. Sprinkles were threatening all morning then a downpour was coming in later. We needed to get the short hike done, visit the remaining sights in the area and get back to the paved road before rain complicated things.
Arriving at Largest Cairn
So, after the break, we continued along the rim until we had to start on a steepish descent. For this, we turned to the right and took a pleasant desert ridge down to where it ended in a knob formation.

Taking a short Break
At the knob, the coordinator said that either the right wash or the left wash is viable but he led us to the left. Good choice!

Following Rim

800-900' Cliff
This wash was fun and very pretty with the plates of limestone underfoot. We descended easily for 0.4 miles in the wash. Then, a trail led sneakily up to the right at a corner. This took us overland while cutting off a large corner of terrain. The wash continued off in a leftward direction. Again, the trail was quite vague yet easy to follow and we came to the next wash over to the right. Instead of dropping into this wash, we hiked alongside of it until we came to a (vague) trail zigging down into the wash bottom. The trail continued from here through its shallow mouth all the way to the trailhead and the cars at the base of West Longwell Ridge.

Descending Ridge on Northwest End
We felt the first very light sprinkles at the knob just before we dropped into the wash. As we descended, we felt a few more. At the cars, there were droplets on our windshields.

Knob at Bottom of Ridge
Still, not a huge threat of rain. So, we got in the cars and continued out the dirt road for another 3/4 of a mile to see an old mine or dwelling of some sort on the right side of the road.

Nice Wash Descent to Left of Knob

Back at the Trailhead
Now, it was time to go home but we had one more sight to see; the spring for which Bitter Spring Road was named. So, we returned to the crossroad we had passed coming in and turned left at the sign. This section of the road can become sandy in dry conditions but we didn't have any problems today. We stopped to visit the beautiful spring area then continued out to Northshore Road mile marker 33.5. A big sigh of relief by three drivers when we hit pavement even after the sprinkles had ceased! Although the hike is a short one, it is a strenuous climb and the drive is very exciting and worth the adventure. The Bitter Spring Cliffs are no longer a mystery. Very fun and exciting day!

3 miles; 1100 feet elevation gain; 2.25 hours

Square Room in Rock

Tunnel in Rock

Different Route back to MM 33.5 Northshore Road


Las Vegas Cockapoo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Las Vegas Cockapoo said...

Kay--I really enjoyed seeing your photos and reading the narrative on yesterday's hike. Thanks! I'm glad you were able to capture such a nice shot of one of the wild horses--the horse looks so healthy. The horned toad lizard was neat. And, how about that Setsuko shot--it really dramatized the height of the cliff we were on. I liked all of the giant cairn and scenery shots, especially the ones from "on-high."

A minor note--the small eroding butte out in the center of Bitter Spring Valley is sometimes referred to as the desert arena or colosseum by some. I like the idea of referring to the small butte as the desert arena and the huge Bitter Ridge Cliff as the desert colosseum.

In looking through the Geologic Tours in the Las Vegas Area Book, I noticed the book indicates that water produced from the springs is bitter to the taste, hence the name "Bitter Spring Valley." Some of the hikers speculated on this yesterday. I guess the wild horses find it thirst-quenching enough. There also was some discussion on the East and West Longwell Ridges. According to the book, a Chester Longwell produced some of the earliest geologic maps of southern Nevada from the 1920s to the 1970s--and, I guess the ridges were named after him. Also, I learned something else from that book about the white stuff on the ground that hikers often ask me about and I probably don't give them a good answer. I'm sure you're up on this, but the book discusses "Caliche" as a calcium carbonate which is leached out of rock and deposited as crusts on pebbles on desert surfaces.

I also came across an old 2003 Cerca Country Road Trips Guide that had an article entitled: "Bitter Springs Trail, Sweet Medicine." In that article, the author mentioned "a small shaft mine," and nearby: "a cave house, a small room dug into the hillside for living quarters, dynamite storage, or some such purpose." The author goes on to state: "The room was still intact, but the absence of timbering made us jittery visitors who did not tarry long." The article also comments on the springs that wild horses frequent the area. (We saw lots of horse tracks at the springs to include the smaller colt tracks.)

Chuck Hawkins