Monday, May 13, 2019

First Creek Grotto v Oak Creek Trailhead - 5/12/19

First Creek Grotto 

First Creek Downstream from Grotto

North Cottonwood Valley

Indigo Bush at Burro Fence near Trailhead
Down in the valley, today, seven hikers spent Mother's Day morning in the beautiful desert loaded with flowers, nuts, bees and butterflies. The indigo blooms are out right now! The Joshua trees and other various yuccas are filled with nut clusters where the blooms used to be. There are still several hedgehog blooms around and the skies were blue! The rain we had last week is still flowing strongly down the washes and our quest was to take a look at the First Creek Grotto Waterfall. To add a little distance to our stroll, we started at the Oak Creek Trailhead on SR 159 and used the Valley Trail to connect over to the First Creek Trail.

Joshua Tree Nut Cluster
The official Oak Creek Trailhead is found approximately 1.4 miles south of the Scenic Loop Exit on SR 159. There is another one on the Scenic Loop and a couple more from SR 159 that are unsigned.

Painted Lady on Indigo
Years ago, this Oak Creek Trailhead had a campground. SR 159 was a simple dirt road. When Las Vegans would want to visit Red Rock Canyon, they would have to travel this dirt road that ultimately arrived at the White Rock Hills. Rocky Gap Road would take them over the ridge leading them to Pahrump.

Heading up the Oak Creek Trail

Hiking the Valley Trail
Times have changed. The dirt road is now partly a busy paved highway and partly the Grand Circle Trail. Rocky Gap Road is only travelled by the absolute toughest of cars. And, the park is now a conservation area. Who knows what the coming years will bring to the landscape. Anyway, we left the trailhead to follow the road through the abandoned campground area,  past the gate and across the Oak Creek Wash. About a third of a mile from the TH, the road/trail forks. A third option turns a sharp left up the hill to the top of a small ridge. This is part of the Valley Trail that leads from the Scenic Loop Exit TH to Spring Mountain Ranch State Park.

First Creek Trail Crossing
We turned left and followed the trail until it dropped down the ridge. Soon, it junctioned with a cross trail at the First Creek wash. We turned right to follow the trail down and across the wash.

First Creek and Wilson Peak
There was a lot of water in the wash but a few stepping stones helped us across. (See photos above.)

Indigo Bush with Rainbow Peak, Bridge Mountain, and Bridgepoint Peak

Hiking up First Creek Trail
The trail continued toward the First Creek Trail and soon, we were there. First Creek Trail is obvious, very large and usually has other hikers about. We turned right onto the large trail and chose the right fork at most opportunities so that we didn't get too far from the canyon wash. Today, we couldn't remember the correct landmarks for the Grotto trail. (In retrospect, John's first guess was the correct one!) So, some of us hiked up the trail until the trail met the wash. Nope. We passed it somewhere way back! Anyway, we added some healthy mileage and returned to the Grotto area that we had passed earlier.

Blooming Hedgehog Cactus
The maps and statistics below indicate the corrected route. (Someday, I'll remember the landmarks.) ... Or not.

Male and Female Side-blotched Lizards
Finally, we zeroed in on the Grotto by first finding the overlook above it. After a couple of photos, we climbed up to the beginning of the spur trail that heads down into the canyon.

First Creek Canyon

Top of Grotto Waterfall
Look for a tall tree to the south of the main trail, turn north and look for a bunch of embedded flat rocks. Follow the spur trail down to the left. Wow! Today, the waterfall was flowing very strong! And, the lagoon was filled almost to capacity. We were the only ones down there at the time and we enjoyed taking photos and eating a snack on the side of the pool. Very nice respite! As more hikers started intruding on our revery, we got up to leave taking the well-learned scramble up next to the wall. At the top, we placed a couple of cairns but, really, we don't expect the cairns to be there next year! ... Tall tree and flat rocks.

First Creek Waterfall from Top
Two of today's hikers scooted on down the trail without us. Probably had Mother's Day plans.

Start of Grotto Spur Trail into Canyon
The remaining five club members hiked at a decent pace down to the Valley Trail junction and turned left.

Small Waterfall in First Creek

Taking a Break at the Grotto
The Valley Trail was easy to follow on the return and then we turned right onto the Oak Creek Trail, again an easily recognizable large trail that forked in the immediate vicinity of the Valley Trail junction. On the way back from the Grotto, we enjoyed the beautiful desert landscape and the majesty of the Red Rock escarpment. We had started early and now it was getting hot. Time to go home. Great hike!

<4 miles; 325 feet elevation gain; 2 hours; average moving speed 1.5 mph

Gunsight to Waterfall

Enjoying a Prime Location

Returning the way we Came

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Lee Peak in Snow from Ski Slopes (with the Thomases) - 5/8/19

Jerry and Cheryl in front of Charleston Peak

Cheryl Climbing the Ski Slopes

Past the Ski Slopes (McFarland Peak Behind)

Charleston Peak from the North Loop Trail
 The photos speak for themselves. Jerry and Cheryl sent these from a duo climb to Lee Peak by way of the Lee Canyon Ski Slopes and the North Loop Trail. As you can see, there is still a lot of snow up there even though it is the middle of May. The Thomases are experienced in snow hiking having attended a few snow schools and climbed many snowy peaks. Be prepared properly when attempting a snow climb.

Other information on snow coverage that club members have gathered:
- The South Loop Trailhead gate is still closed at this time.
- The highest we have safely climbed on the Trail Canyon / North Loop Trails is about 3 miles up. This is just before that long switchback up to Mummy Junction. Here, the snow endangers simple hiking progress.
- Harris Peak will remain closed this summer. Please respect the wilderness replacement progress.

Happy Hiking!

Jerry below the Ridge

Charleston Peak

The Glissade!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Hollow Rock View Loop - 5/9/19

Las Vegas View from Hollow Rock Ridge

Peak View from Stopping Point

Checking out the Overlook
Whew! Cold rain for the first half of the hike! But, nine hikers toughed it out without complaint. From the Mountain Springs Pass Trailhead, we took the Forest Service Road east and junctioned with the old abandoned dirt road that switchbacks up to the ridge next to the large sandstone wash. The road turns into a trail at the top then there are several use trails that continue to the ridge. We junctioned with the ridge at the campfire ring where the Hollow Rock Peak Trail begins on the beautiful pink, purple and yellow sandstone of the bench. Here, it was a pretty large consensus among the hikers to make this the turnaround spot. Being out on wet sandstone with even a small threat of lightening is never a good idea. And, that's what we would have to do to get to the rocky peak. So, we took a short break and began returning the way we had come. The rain had stopped but the skies were still keeping a few secrets. On the way down the abandoned road, at the apex of the switchback, we noticed a beautiful new trail across the arroyo in front of us. Where did that come from? Everyone was game so we made our way down to the trail and just followed it! The well-made trail led us zigzagging down to the forest road. The forest road junction was about 1/2 mile from the trailhead. What a great find! Thanks to whoever worked so hard to make the trail! It is a much improved route between the trailhead and the abandoned road switchback. It never rained again but we returned happy to have found a new trail.

4 miles; 900 feet elevation gain; 2.25 hours; average moving speed 1.8 mph

Exploring a New Trail

Kay on the Overlook

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Keystone Thrust Loop - 4/30/19

Keystone Thrust Surface Fault Area

Keystone Thrust Surface Fault

Sunrise at Red Rock

View Back to Cottonwood Valley
The limestone / dolomite found in the Red Rock Canyon NCA was deposited in the Paleozoic Era between 540 to 250 million years ago from a shallow sea that first occupied this area of the globe. After that, in the Jurassic Era, around 180 million years ago, sand dunes built up over the limestone layer and formed sandstone. Next, the tremendous force of the movement of the North American continent against the floor of the Pacific Ocean created several thrust fault situations in western North America. The Keystone Thrust fault is one of the faults created by this force as the younger sandstone layers became the subduction zone and the older limestone layer was pushed on top of it. This also resulted in the two layers being pushed eastward where they came to rest locally in what was to become Nevada. The limestone / sandstone line is clearly seen along the top of the Red Rock escarpment or Sandstone Bluffs.

Short Distance on the White Rock Hills Loop
This line, or Keystone Thrust fault, runs north south for several miles but there is one place in particular that people from all over the world have come to know as the poster child of the Keystone Thrust fault.

Group of Five - We aren't your normal grandparents!
This special place is where the thrust fault, itself, can be observed above ground. It is one of a handful of such geologic anomalies in the world. And, it is located in the heart of Red Rock Canyon NCA about a mile upslope from the Scenic Loop High Point Overlook.

Steps at Junction to Keystone Thrust Trail

Agave Roasting Pit and Cactus Hill
Ready for another cool early morning hike, five hikers parked at the White Rock Mountain Road Trailhead located at the junction of the Scenic Loop about 6.5 miles past the Visitor Center. The day before, Red Rock and the rest of Las Vegas had endured a "whammy" of thunderstorms that included hailstones and buckets of rain. The clouds remained low lying and created a beautiful spectacle of a sunrise as they slowly burned off over the next 3 hours. We set off up the half mile of dirt road choosing not to give in to the temptation of a jacket in the 46 degree temperatures. We knew it would warm up quickly! A quick restroom stop at the top of the road, the White Rock Hills Trailhead, then we continued up onto the White Rock Hills Trail.

View Down to Fault Area from High Point
We passed an old overgrown agave roasting pit, crossed a wide gravel wash, then climbed another fifty feet or so to the Keystone Thrust Trail turnoff to the right.

Rare Succulents at Fault Area
About ten stair steps have been built here to accommodate the hiker's climb up the embankment to the remains of an old abandoned road.

Down Keystone Wash from Fault

Taking a Look at the Surface Fault
On the way up the old road, we stopped at another agave roasting pit that is in better condition than the first. To our right rose Cactus Hill; a hill that can be climbed for an overlook of the wide Red Rock Wash area. Eventually, the climb ended at another trail junction marked by rock lines. The road continues up the ridge to a fabled chop shop that operated during the post depression era. We took in the view on the other side of the ridge where red sandstone rose from the depths of surrounding limestone. The rock lines turned us in that direction downhill. The trail led us to the slab where we chose an interesting route to scramble down to the surface fault.

Climbing Up to Reconnect with Trail
The foggy morning afforded deep colors for the camera. At the fault area, we noted the rare desert succulents that live under the overhanging fault layer. They are thriving this year with all the rain!

View down Keystone Wash
Today, we decided to take a different route down to the wash by hiking up to the ridge on the other side of the fault. (The usual route is a steep trail down the base of Cactus Hill.)

Upper Wash Junction

Climbing to Ridge
There is a very clear trail that travels from the top of the sandstone slab over and up to the ridge. On the way, hikers have to dip down into the wash then climb steeply up the hill. While in the wash, we noted a trail that led down the wash where we wanted to eventually end up. This is good info for later. Instead, we continued up to the top of the ridge where a beautiful view of the Calico Hills awaited us. As we stood there, we looked up toward the La Madre Mountains and were presented with an otherworldly view of the clouds allowing a peak to peek up and through the fluffiness. Beautiful! This made it worth the early start! The trail became more vague but we found it leading along the ridge. Unfortunately, I missed the turnoff to the right where the trail traverses down a precarious route to the wash.

Calico Hills from Ridge
Instead, we found ourselves finding our own route down the side of the hill ending in the wash. Maybe next time we will try the trail at the wash crossing. (But that means that we miss the high viewpoint of Calico Hills.) Anyway, we ended up in the wash right around the area of the white rocks. Back on the normal track of the Keystone Thrust Loop.

La Madre Range peeks Out
After another couple of photos looking back up at the red sandstone and clouds and mountain peaks, we started down the wash. Ahead of us, we could see the escarpment playing within the clouds.

Fault Area from Ridge

Dropping to Wash
We stayed in the wash all the way down past the low crossing tree trunk and resisted the urge to do the limbo! The wash appeared recently washed out. When we reached the dry fall seen in the photo below, it was necessary to be very careful since the rocks were shiny and polished. Even down the steep slope from the ridge and down the rocky wash, all five of us stayed upright! No falls. Our slow pace was perhaps to credit for that. Down, down, down, then finally, we reached the culvert under the Scenic Loop. It was also recently washed out and we bent over for our hike through a clean culvert! On the other side, the hike down the wash continued as we watched a couple of cars pass on the Scenic Loop above us.

The Dry Fall Drop
This part of the wash opens out into the desert while maintaining its splitting gravel bed. We watched for our landmark juniper about half a mile past the culvert.

Dottie emerges from the Culvert
The landmark juniper tree is large and stands out in the immediate surrounding desert. This is where the Grand Circle Trail crosses the wash we were in.

More Mountain Peeking

Continuing down the Wash
Finding the juniper and the trail, we turned right onto the trail and followed it up about 1/3 mile to cross the Scenic Loop exactly at the junction of White Mountain Road. Our cars waited for us there. It was a beautiful morning and the sun was beginning to make its appearance. Along with the sun came the heat! Everyone enjoyed the two hours of fun and nature and were ready to meet the day!

3.5 miles; 850 feet elevation gain; 2.25 hours; average moving speed 1.6 mph

Almost to Juniper Tree Landmark (left of center)

Starting up Grand Circle Trail

Nearing Scenic Loop Crossing