Monday, March 18, 2019

Picture Canyon (DNWR) - 3/17/19

Agave Roasting Pit Junction

Large Agave Roasting Pit

Hidden Pictograph

Pipes photographed from new Road Route
Good news! Cow Camp Road has been graded all the way from Alamo Road up to the escarpment base in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge! And! They have routed the dirt road around the observation pipes that were previously in the middle of the road. No more wiggling large high clearance vehicles around the pipes like an obstacle course! In fact, even though we were prepared with four good desert vehicles and fourteen hikers, all cars had no problems negotiating the formerly "worst road in the DNWR" all the way to the Cave Rock Trailhead. We exited Hwy 95 to the right onto Corn Creek Road. At the Visitor Center, we stopped to sign in at the kiosk and take a restroom break.

Spring Mountains from Cave Rock Trailhead
Returning to the paved road, we turned to the left at the dirt road junction. This is Alamo Road. It is a graded dirt road that has camping pullouts on the right and left that are few and far between. This morning, the campsites nearest the Visitor Center were full.

Ridge Approach to Picture Canyon
After around 8.5 miles on Alamo Road, Cow Camp Road turns to the right. It is well-signed.

Looking down to Picture Canyon Entrance

Picture Canyon Entrance
The Cave Rock Trailhead is found after going through the Black Hills Gap. The road curves around to the left and passes hills on your left. When you see a fence to the left, you will pass a low hill with a cave at the top then there is a parking circle corral. This is the Picture Canyon / Cave Rock Trailhead. There are no signs. We exited the vehicles and took in the remote-ish beauty. The snow covered Spring Mountains rose high across the miles wide Las Vegas Wash to the southwest. Turning to face the southeast, the entrance to Picture Canyon can be seen in the escarpment just over a mile away. There is a desert ridge that can be followed for most of that mile.

Snow Covering floor of Lower Canyon Narrows
So, when ready, we started out in that southeast direction and climbed up onto that ridge in front of us. The desert is starting to come alive but at this higher altitude of almost 5000 feet, only the Joshua Trees were budding. And, a few tiny purple Filaree flowers covering the ground in spots.

Studying the Canyon Walls
It was a curious group today. Most of the fourteen had not been on this hike. And, the weather was finally fabulous!

Curve in Canyon Narrows

Narrowing More
Two years ago, we explored this hike and took it all the way up to Wildhorse Pass, a 9-miler. At the pass, there is a wide view of Little Joe May Canyon on the other side. Today, we chose the 6-mile out and back route to the humongous agave roasting pit. This decision made the hike a solid moderately strenuous endeavor ... except for the strenuous two scrambles that the canyon offers. Today's hikers were up to the challenge and came through like pros, working together with help from the Thomases and Mike OC. The first obstacle comes at about 2 miles into the hike. It is a 5' narrow climb that requires mantling on a slippery boulder. A helping hand from Jerry did the trick here.

What is that?
There is an up and around on the left side, too, but that requires a 4 foot drop off a slippery wall at the end. The second scramble comes immediately after that.

Leaving the Narrows Area
The canyon narrows into a slot with very slippery sides (thus "Slippery Slot"). It is blocked by a large boulder. In addition, the other end of the slot is a tall slippery wall. So ....

The Up and Around

Canyon starts to Open Out
This is a challenging up and around. There is a steep loose climb up to the right, a narrow "trail" high above the canyon floor in small scree, then a drop down a rough limestone wall. This adventure is depicted in the photo collage above. Taking our time here, we made it through without slippage. There are two solutions to this obstacle. 1) Someone brings in two ladders to climb up through the slot. Or, 2) Someone improves the up and around trail. The problem with #2 is that it is located on a hill full of small scree. But, we can dream can't we? (BTW, installed ropes would only help those hikers that have enough arm strength to pull up all their body weight on a 7 foot wall.)

View toward top of Canyon Wash
After we returned to the canyon floor and started up again, the canyon began opening up. Finally, it opened up to a wide junction with another canyon making it about half a mile wide in diameter.

Large Agave Roasting Pit
In the middle of this junction, the biggest agave roasting pit that I've ever seen rises like a small hill. We climbed around it and sat for our break on the other side.

Taking a Break next to the Roasting Pit

View back down the Canyon
As I sat, I could easily imagine a large village of Early Piutes, the basket makers, surrounding the pit in the wide open two-canyon junction. It was the perfect spot for a large community. The entrance to the canyon was like a fortress yet easily travelled. There were caves high on the walls where lookouts could see all who entered and easily defend their families who were living further up. But, it does make me wonder about that whole obstacle area. Was it there? Did they have ladders? Which of the surrounding areas did they use as a "backdoor?" The imagination dances! Last time we were on Wildhorse Pass, I think I might have seen other agave roasting pits. Perhaps Little Joe May Canyon was used as a neighboring village site. It is probably the easiest canyon to get to from Picture Canyon. Then, we won't even get into the multiple hoodoos found just to the north on the Hoodoo Forest Loop! What did the Early Piutes think of them?

Heading back to the Narrows
Word of warning: 2 ticks, that I know of, were found on this hike. There was only one pile of "evidence" found in the canyon so maybe the bighorns don't frequent the area much. This pile was found in the entrance narrows. Probably taking shelter from one of the many snow storms that this area experienced in the past 2 months.

Dropping back into Canyon from Reverse Up and Around
After our break, we started back down the beautiful canyon. As last time 2 years ago, the up and around seemed easier on the way back ... except for the steep drop back into the canyon. Watch for rocks that other hikers accidentally set loose!

Into the Cold Narrows

Large "Lookout" Cave near Canyon Entrance
We enjoyed the descent through the beautiful high walls then exited the canyon with another beautiful view of the Spring Mountains. The climb out of the canyon wash was the last "obstacle." From there, we strolled through the shallow arroyos and down the approach ridge easily. We could see the cars at the trailhead all the way there. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed their plunge into the unknown. It is difficult to not fall in love with the DNWR!

6 miles; 1250 feet elevation gain; 4 hours; average moving speed 1.5 mph

Spring Mountains from Picture Canyon Entrance

Climbing Up from Canyon

Joshua Tree Bloom is on its Way

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