Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Top of the World Arch (Up Canyon / Down 3 Steps of Death) - 2/22/21

Heading down to the 3 Steps of Death Descent

Yellow & Pink Slot

Two Moms and a Baby at White Domes

Morning at White Domes
On another gorgeous day at Valley of Fire State Park, three of us met at the visitor center for a hike to the Top of the World Arch. As it happened, we also met John W. and David & Brenda M. getting ready for their own hike in a different part of the park. We drove up to White Domes Trailhead at the end of Mouse's Tank Road. When we walked up to the trailhead, we noticed several (about 6) bighorn sheep grazing on the hill behind the restrooms. At the time, we didn't notice any babies. It's the first time I have seen the bighorns hanging out so close to this trailhead. After photos, a slow start to our hike, we descended the long hill beyond that leads to the movie set and the Kaolin Wash.

White Domes Descent to Movie Set

We turned right in the Kaolin Wash and hiked through the tall slot. Beyond the slot, we continued up wash until we passed the rock wall on the left.

First Hike of the Day through Tall Slot

Finding the trail leading up between the cryptobiotic soil on the left, we turned. The trail led us to the first wide opening in the wall and turned up this wash.

Pointy Mountain Bypass Trail to Main Alley

Eye of the Iguana
The trail continued up and over a small hill and we passed the Pointy Mountain on the left side. This put us in the Main Alley to go straight. Two wide washes went past on the left. On the right, we passed the Chocolate Wall and the Eye of the Iguana. The next landmark was a fat monolith rock that stood in the middle of a junction of three washes. The main alley continued in the wash ahead with a small fork coming up soon. The end of the 3 Steps of Death descent was directly right and the canyon wash headed off at a 2 o'clock direction. We headed into the canyon for our climb.

Main Alley passing Beautiful Wash

The canyon trail is clear but it is narrow so it would be difficult to lose the route anyway. We ducked under the overhanging rock and the bent tree. (The tree was a real test!)

Canyon Ascent

The canyon got steeper and, in the end, we came to a large square boulder blocking progress. Our scramble was on the left end of the rock.

Last Scramble to top of Canyon

View from top of Canyon
We scrambled up and around the boulder then made our way to the sand dune up a level on the right. Following old footsteps through the sand, we came to the first ramp climbing the wall to the right. Up the ramp, jump to the left, down a ramp, cross the desert floor at the bottom, then start up the next ramp. These ramps represent quite a bit of elevation change and at the top of this last ramp, pass the rock on the left side and circle around to see the large, sturdy arch. This arch was created out of a large tinaja area in the peak of the sandstone hill / mountain. It spans what was probably a very deep tinaja at one time.

Crossing Sand Dune, Climbing Ramp and Rock Pointing the Way

While we were taking our photos, we heard voices clearly from far below. The sound carried very well. Then we heard, "Mike!"

Down and Up Ramps to Top of the World Arch

While we were taking our break, we saw John W.'s group far below on the Prospect Trail. And, they saw us. Later, we exchanged photos!

View from Up Ramp to Arch

Mike climbs up to the Arch
We took a very pleasant break then faced the music! This would be my first descent on the 3 Steps of Death! Everyone kept telling me that the scariest part of the descent is the name! So, we climbed up behind the arch, dipped down to the right side of the steep sandstone slab wall and found the passage. The 3 steps that the name refers to is one small 10 foot section where the slab is steep and hikers are required to climb up the slab about 3 feet that is somewhat sandy to reach the comfort of a narrow space behind a large boulder. After passing behind the boulder, we followed a sandy, rocky and steep trail down to a long steep slab descent.

Three Musketeers on Top of the World Arch

At the bottom of the slab, we connected with a trail that finished the descent down a steep old rockslide. We finished at the fat monolith landmark.

Rock Layers at Arch

We took a short rest looking back up at the steep descent we had just made. Then, turning back to the left where we had come from previous to the canyon climb, we headed back to the first large wash opening up on the right side of the main alley.

View from Top of the World Arch to Northwest (Prospect Trail below)

Rita and Kay near Hike High Point
I call this wide wash "Beautiful Wash" but I don't yet know the official name. I tend to name things as I see them. And, this wash has beautiful and incredible yellow, pink and orange colors. The wash has a few flat features but also has a few undulating dry pour overs. Most of them need to be circumvented due to their slightly too high drops. The wash winds around a little until it reaches Mouse's Tank Road. This is the Wash #3 crossing. We continued down through the sandy wash until, soon, it made its next bend to the left. Staying straight, we climbed up the orange colored rock on the right.

Mike and Rita at the 3 Steps of Death

It is in this area that many delicate fins protrude from the rock underfoot. It is important that hikers watch their step during this section of the hike so not to break the fins.

3 Steps of Death Slab Descent

The route continues over the flattish sandstone terrain by veering to the left slightly. Finding your own exact path, the hike eventually drops into the Kaolin Wash next to the red crack wash at the right.

Hiking into Beautiful Wash

Delicate Fins
Passing some photo shoot equipment with a caretaker, we turned to the right and followed the wash until we came to a crack to the left that leads up to the Fire Wave. Usually, you recognize this by all the people around! Staying out of the photo shoot, we passed the unusual rock design and hiked over to the Wave Wall where we stopped for a short pause. It was getting warm so we didn't linger long. Our next move was to climb the adjacent wash, go over the pink & yellow hill, and drop back into the Kaolin Wash. The yellow & pink slot was next. The walls in this slot have soft curvy lines that make the slot appear like a dream.

Photo Walk View

The Mouse's Tank Road Wash #5 crossing is next. The continuance of the Kaolin Wash offers many colors and appearances all the way back to the movie set.

Passing the Fire Wave

During this section, there are three different small slots. It has been a few years since I have been able to pass through these slots certain that they will be dry.

Passing the Wave Wall

Entering the Yellow & Pink Slot
When we reached the tall slot again, there were bighorns up on the sandstone ridge high above. I didn't realize until I got home and saw my photos that there was a baby there as well. So cute! (See third photo of entry.) The large group of bighorns that we saw in the beginning of the hike had spread out into the high cliffs of White Domes. We saw them as we finished out the hike on the White Domes Trail. This was a lovely day at the park. We are beginning to feel like the park is becoming an old friend.

Stats: 5.7 miles; 1100' gain; 3.75 hours

Mike and Rita in one of the Kaolin Slots

Bighorns watching the White Domes Trail

Returning to the White Domes Trailhead

Friday, February 19, 2021

Big & Beautiful Loop (Valley of Fire SP) - 2/19/21

Pastel Bowl and Round Mound

Red Pinnacle

Tri-Level Deep Potholes

Left at Gibraltar Rock
Exploring in Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park is quite an undertaking so for my first such outing, I chose what I thought would be easy pickings. (I also hoped it would provide a little excitement as only Valley of Fire can do!) Rita and I were still a little sore from our group's escapades on Frenchman Mountain so a long beautiful hike in the colors was very inviting. Vaccine business excused the remaining of the Fearsome Foursome. Jerry and Cheryl should be rejoining us soon to complete the Six with Sticks. We drove up I-15 to exit #75 and drove studiously across the next 15 miles to the park. From the visitor center, we crawled up Mouse's Tank Road to Parking Lot #3 to begin our hike. A very busy lot later in the day, we were the first to arrive there just after 9am.

Game Trail to Pastel Bowl

We crossed the pavement as if we were heading to the Fire Wave. However, as the trail bent to the right, we took an unmarked trail to the left. This trail led down into the wash at the base of Gibraltar Rock and continued up alongside.

Pastel Bowl

The first through crack to the right is the Corner Junction where our hike would close the loop in the end. We turned into the crack and followed the gully until the terrain to our left opened out. Climbing up a level of sandstone, we found a game trail coursing through the desert terrain.

View back in Pastel Bowl

Entering Pastel Bowl Wash
Ahead, there is a round mound. Our trail forked to the right and we reached an area of pastel rock just in front of the round mound. Sight for sore eyes! The pastel colored bowl gradually descended down to the right so we chose a path in the ruts and began taking several photos. The Pastel Bowl led us down into our beginning canyon wash. The fantastic colors didn't stop as we veered to the left in the wash. Settling into the sand, our interest was piqued by a slot to our right into the red rocks. We took a small exploratory look-see and came back out to our route a few yards down wash. Back in the sand, we continued down. Our first slithering slot in Serpentine Wash was a two leveler. The first level was a little high so we went up and around. But the second level was just challenging enough to have some fun.

From Pastel Bowl to the Slithering Slots in Serpentine Wash

The next dry fall was also a two leveler but we couldn't handle either one of them. Up and around. So, is this the way it's going to be? Nope!

First Slot Ahead

When the type of rock changed, so did the challenge level of the dry falls.

Slithering Slots in Serpentine Wash

Small Drop
Next, we settled into a series of narrow slots and dry falls that were all perfect for challenging fun. The slot dry falls would wind this way and that landing us in a deep hidey hole of sand. Coming out of one slot, we looked up to the ridges above and saw a single bighorn sheep keeping eyes on us. One of the last slithering slots was dubbed the Duck Slot. It was very narrow with pleasant looking conglomerate walls and a chock rock blocking the last five feet of the descent. Our method of slithering is laid out in the photo collage below. I guess if you are bigger than either of us, you might have a small problem but, perhaps you can figure it out! We were having bunches of fun! 

The Duck Slithering Slot

After that, there were a few more drops and we wound our way down to junction with the main wash. This wash, Magnesite Wash, begins at the White Domes and flows all the way down to Overton.

Under to the Left

Very near where we came into the wash, there is a low point. It is clear that grasses and reeds have gravitated to this area where the water pools in the sand. We began our climb up through the sand and used the sandstone slab on the embankments when possible.

Doorway Arch

Main Wash
We took our break on one of those embankments then about half a mile from where we entered, we turned left to gently climb a beautiful and somewhat disorganized wash. Veering slightly to the right, we connected with that same game trail. We could see the round mound ahead. This time, we used the trail to circle around the ridge to our right and enter a pastel rock field. Hiking into the field, we came to a wash that was deeper than the others. Having been here once before, my GPS and I were fairly certain that this was the beginning of Weird Canyon. We dropped in and started a descent of winding beauty. When presented with a choice, we just chose the descending wash. Soon, we passed the Red Pinnacle.

Colors in Thru Canyon Wash

Points of interest in Weird Canyon include scrambling around a very large chock boulder and a switchback turn in the wash. The colors are spectacular!

Double Trouble in Thru Canyon Wash

Then the canyon reaches a large pool of water with reeds and grasses growing in it. This is the Delta Spring Hole. You must climb up and around the pool by starting to the left. The spring hole looks very healthy.

Rounding Corner to Pastel Field

Starting down Weird Canyon
However, the next spring hole (Epsilon) was almost dry. We were able to see that the deep hole is indeed about 3.5 feet deep. Weird Canyon flows into Magnesite Wash after that and we turned left for a trudge up the sand. Happily, we found a sheep trail off to the right side of the sand where hiking was much easier. Our final section of this three-part hike entered into another unknown-to-me area. I had never seen Duck Rock before so we were on a mission to see this rock that was making all the fuss. On our way, we passed the entrance to Black & White Canyon wash. We knew this was one way to exit. Right after, we reached a tri-level dry fall in Magnestie Wash. In this area, we found the very old petroglyphs I saw on a map somewhere.

View back to Red Pinnacle in Weird Canyon

The tri-level dry fall had very deep potholes at each level climb so we had to climb up and around on the sandstone fins to the left. Not as easy as it sounds!

Delta Spring Hole

These fins created a very large area of canyons and cracks. It isn't a simple matter of climbing up on the wall and passing all three of the wash dry falls! So, on the last fin of our up and around, we saw Duck Rock in the distance. Yes, there is no mistaking!

View in Weird Canyon

Epsilon Spring Hole (Almost Dry)
Our main objective here was to get a look at the "Duck." We did that! So, at that point, we decided to try to find our way to the slab exit. Again, not as easy as it sounds! Navigating the huge fins of red sandstone, we climbed up and up trying not to fall into the deep crevices. As we climbed, we found that the crevices shallowed out, the higher we went. Thank goodness! At the top of the maze, we could see the Gibraltar Rock and it rose as a beacon for our trip back up to our cars. There were still a couple of washes to cross but the crossings were easy enough. We found the slab that I had been on before and walked the length of it. To our left, we could see Virgin Peak rising up across the Overton Arm of Lake Mead.

Odds and Ends

Choosing not to turn to the right and climb the long hill of deep sand straight up to the trailhead, we followed the slab out to its tip and connected with a trail.

Catching the Game Trail Wash Bypass

Although the trail was a bit disorganized in the sand dune, it was clear enough and we neared the red rock on the north end of Gibraltar Rock. The trail wound us through the red rock then connected with a game trail that connects to the system of game trails we had used hours before.

Duck Rock from Canyon Maze

Escaping the Maze
Lo and behold! We came to the Corner Junction thereby connecting today's loop. From there, we followed the trail up beside Gibraltar Rock, through the green stuff and up to the right on the Fire Wave Trail. Back at the parking lot, we lifted our buff masks and walked into a packed and crowded trailhead. Both sides of the road were filled with parked cars. BTW, we did see evidence that the Serpentine Wash (official name) had been hiked before but not much. It is definitely worth your while! This hike is Big & Beautiful as advertised ... by me!

Stats: 7 miles; 1000' gain; 5.5 hours

Virgin Peak across the Pastel Field

Slab to Home

Closing the Loop at the Corner Junction