Thursday, March 8, 2018

First / Corkscrew Canyons Loop (Desert National Wildlife Refuge) - 3/8/18

View to Higher Elevations from Saddle

Entrance to First Canyon

Descending Corkscrew Canyon

First Canyon Entrance from Trailhead
 Our second hike into the Desert National Wildlife Refuge this season was also a second-timer. This hike requires a total of about 4 miles of bushwhacking on the alluvial fans below two canyons; First Canyon and Corkscrew Canyon. The remaining 2.5 miles took fourteen hikers into a fun double canyon experience. We stopped, again, at the Corn Creek Visitor Center for a restroom break before turning right onto Mormon Well Road and traveling the gravel road for approximately 4 miles. Soon after the road climbs up out of a very wide wash, there is an unofficial pullout on the left side of the road. (This is also before the turnoff for Gass Peak Road.)

Following Ridge to First Canyon
 There were a couple of fire rings here that we didn't remember from last year's exploratory of this area.

Starting up Meander Canyon
 When ready, we dropped down off of the ridge into that wide wash we had just crossed in our cars. This is the lower portions of a large alluvial fan that comes out of First Canyon.

Climbing Meander Canyon

High Walls of Meander Canyon
 We pinpointed the entrance to First Canyon and suggested that everyone find the route that made them the happiest. There are two particular ridges that almost run all the way up without any wash / arroyo crossings. They are difficult to decipher. Most of us found one of those and we reconvened at the canyon's entrance for a pause. The cool air was welcome as we shed our layers. Then, looking up the canyon, we saw our route turn to the left into the first canyon. We had named this canyon Meander Canyon since it tends to wind back and forth some.

Narrowing Meander Canyon
 Meander Canyon begins to narrow about half way up and there is a little bit of scrambling to do.

First Dry Fall
 We all managed the first of two dry falls. But, the second dry fall was conquered by only half of us. The remaining hikers easily hiked up and around.

Second Dry Fall

Bighorn Sighting
 After the second dry fall, someone spied an elusive bighorn way up on the side of the mountain in front of us. This was the first bighorn that any of us had seen in the refuge! And,... it was very fast! Soon, we found the ascent wash on the left side. This wash has a dry fall that can be seen near the bottom so some of us took the ridge before the wash until we passed that dry fall. From there, the wash is very climbable. The footing in the wash may be better, at times, than the footing on the side ridges.

Climbing the Wash to Saddle
 The saddle comes quickly and we all made it up together. A wander to the left brought us to the top of "Dent" Canyon. The view is very nice and we stopped for our break.

Saddle View above Dent Canyon
 Dent Canyon seems to be a dent in the side of the mountain here. Otherwise, it probably doesn't have a name.

Snack Break on Saddle!

Wash Descent
Another view from the saddle that is very nice is the view down toward Corkscrew Canyon. After the break, we headed that way in an easily navigated wash. Care must be taken since this wash is very seldom traveled and the rocks are not solid underfoot. At the bottom of the wash, just before dropping into Corkscrew Canyon, there are a couple of dry falls but the up and around on the right side is very easy. As we gathered in the new canyon, the first things we noticed were the dark walls and the abundance of barrel cacti on the walls.

The "Fam" is doing well!
 The second thing we noticed was that the gravel of the canyon is quite a bit more rutted than last year. There must have been a lot of water coming down through there since then.

Last drop into Corkscrew Canyon
 This canyon is amazing with the twists and turns of the high dark colored walls. But, we were obliged to watch our steps constantly with the gravel ruts.

Starting down Corkscrew Canyon from a Mid-Point

High Dark Walls of Corkscrew Canyon
 At one point, we watched a hawk circling a possible nesting site very high on the wall above. Then, we exited the mouth of the canyon into its alluvial fan. From there, the group put on a very fun and brave face as we all immersed ourselves in the 2.5 miles of overland hiking in and out of the arroyos. Yep! We had fun as we took on each arroyo with finesse! One bit of advice: keep your route high after the initial crossovers. Don't listen to the sirens of the downhill until you pass several arroyos in the middle of the traverse. Nearing the end, you can see the cars at the trailhead. Great group! Fun day!

6.5 miles; 1500 feet elevation gain; 3.5 hours

Barrel Cacti litter the Canyon Walls

Exit from Corkscrew Canyon

Substantial Bushwhack on Return

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