Saturday, October 30, 2010

Potato Knoll & Back (& First Creek) - 10/30/10

First things first! Happy Halloween to all of the Around the Bend Friends ... tomorrow.

Interesting fact: In the photo above, we see Potato Knoll rising as a separate hill in front of Wilson Peak of the Red Rock Canyon escarpment. It is believed to have been formed by an ancient landslide which poured off of the top of Wilson Peak. There must have been a large amount of momentum in that slide to have come to rest at such a far distance from the base of the escarpment.

This morning, the 10% chance of rain fell right where both groups were hiking and both hikes were cut short. Twenty- one hikers set out at 8:30am for the First Creek trail but had to turn back after a half mile. While rain drenched the group, a beautiful double rainbow was spotted above. One half hour earlier, a group of seventeen hikers set out to hike up Potato Knoll, the small hill which lies in front of Wilson Peak. This was a change in our scheduled hike of White Rock Hills Loop which was already getting a large dose of the 10% chance of rain.

We parked at the Red Rock Scenic Loop exit and began hiking into the desert towards Oak Creek Canyon and Potato Knoll. The wind whipped up mightily and tried to knock us off the trail. We remained stalwart in our effort and escaped the worst of it when we dipped down into the crossing of Oak Creek. There was no water running at this crossing as seen in the photo above.

When we reached the small canopy of trees on the north side of the knoll, the clouds finally breached the rim of the escarpment and slid over us like a silent cloak. Soon, it began to rain ... sprinkles, at first, then more steady. Wind breakers and ponchos came out of the packs and we persisted. However, when we reached the southeast side of the base of the knoll, we hung a sharp left and abandoned our original plan by circling back around to the tree canopy and back to the loop exit. The rain stopped before we reached the cars and blue skies weren't too far behind. Timing is everything!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Little Zion via Mountain Spring Peak - 10/28/10

Today's 7.6 mile loop hike travelled up and over Mountain Spring Peak, continued along Red Rock's escarpment for another half mile and stopped to turn back at an overlook point of Little Zion which is also known as The Park. The original plan was to continue down into The Park made of acres of sandstone atop the escarpment. However, this would have made the hike around ten miles with an added long downhill and return uphill. Seventeen club members agreed that this would be a bit much for the day. The maps below will show the reader how close we came to our goal.

The day began very chilly with lows around forty degrees. This being the lowest temperature so far this season, we were surprised yet prepared with coats and fleece. Leaving from the parking area off of the pass on Highway 160, we climbed and climbed while gaining 1200 feet of altitude in the first 2.5 miles. On Mountain Spring Peak, we signed the book, took pictures and continued along the escarpment.

On the next stretch, we saw interesting points along the limestone cliffs including a small window and a large arch. Up, down, up and down, we went. Finally, we climbed over the final ridge and took in a full view of Little Zion from Monument Peak to Sandstone Peak. The hike had already been tough and it was a little disappointing to see such a large descent in front of us in order to actually step into The Park. A decision was quickly made to have our snack break right there and settle on reaching a gorgeous view of a clear day in which we could see Little Zion, the Calico Hills and the Las Vegas Strip without any telltale signs of dust, haze or pollution. (This view is seen in the first two photos.)

While we took our break, one of the members of our party did an exploration of possible trails into The Park. He found a couple of viable routes. The easiest one would involve continuing along the escarpment to the point where the traditional route enters The Park. Another route descended to the sandstone on the Monument Peak side of The Park. Soon, it was time to continue our loop by retracing our steps for a short distance and head down a scree-filled ridge.

The second "half" of the loop was longer yet easier. The most difficult part was coming down the slope of the ridge which was steep and slippery at times. During this descent, we almost ran over a large tarantula who was simply minding his own business when ...! At the bottom of the sloping ridge, we dropped into a sandy wash and connected with a dirt road that we hiked for about a mile.

Along the way back to our cars, we visited a cave in the hill above us. We hiked past springs above the little town of Mountain Springs. We visited a large pristine agave roasting pit and another not so pristine one of the same. We passed a few farm houses, saw a beautiful horse who was otherwise occupied, and came perilously close to the house where "the dog from hell" lives. We were all appropriately fatigued when we reached our cars and will probably sleep well tonight.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Calico Tanks - 10/23/10 (Also, La Madre Springs)

Today was the first Saturday of the split hikes. At 8am, a larger group of twenty hikers set out for the La Madre Springs and Cabin from the Willow Springs Picnic Area and at 8:30am, a smaller group of nine hikers set out for the Calico Tanks from the Sandstone Quarry. The writer joined in the hike to Calico Tanks so as not to miss another chance to photograph the beauty of that area. The report on the La Madre Springs hike was that it went well and only experienced a few drops of rain.

Mt. Charleston received a topping of snow early this morning and Red Rock Canyon was covered in a very low hanging cloud of moisture. Once we got onto the scenic loop visibility was fine even though the escarpment was still in the cloud. On our side of the canyon there was blue sky. We hiked up into the calico canyon finding our way around large puddles in the middle of the trail by climbing up onto the sandstone rocks to the side.

With the unusual weather and difference in trail routes, the hike was interestingly different. We made our way to the large tank which had six inches of water in one area. Sitting on top of the overlook rocks, we couldn't see the city nor much of anything else but it was still very pretty. While taking our break there, the clouds rolled in and the cold wind whipped up. We hiked the return portion with half clouds and half sun. The hike was 2.5 miles round trip with about 450 feet of elevation gain.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Las Vegas Overlook via Boneshaker Hill - 10/21/10

The originally scheduled hike to Little Zion was postponed until next Thursday (Oct. 28th) due to the rainy weather we have been having here in the Las Vegas area. Today, the seven hikers who showed up for a hike were detoured to the Blue Diamond Hills. As it turned out, this was a good move on Chris' part since we observed the bad weather descend on the escarpment where Little Zion is located during our hike.

So, the seven hikers set out from the Red Rock Stables and horse corrals and headed toward the area of the Muffins, Skull Canyon and Boneshaker Hill. The clouds were already rolling into the mountain and canyon areas across Highway 159. However, we were enjoying sunshine and a beautiful spectacle of scenery.

We turned right and began a steep climb up the hill which bicycle enthusiasts enjoy calling the "Bone- shaker." The climb had few switchbacks during the first half mile and was quite a test. After reaching the top of the initial section, we began a much longer and more gradual ascent to the highest elevations of the Blue Diamond Hills.

The picture to the right was taken moments before the clouds engulfed Turtlehead Peak. We were still in the sunshine and were soon to be encircled by clouds on all sides with our donut hole of sunshine right in the middle overhead. Even though the clouds had begun making the escarpment do a disappearing act, so far, they looked relatively harmless. It was likely raining in the Willow Springs area but Little Zion was probably still dry albeit without much of a view.

When we reached the Boneshaker sign, the clouds across the highway were much more menacing.

Arriving at the overlook, we were able to sit for a minute in the sun. We could not see the Las Vegas Strip through the clouds. And, this large bird of prey (below left) circled us ominously. It wasn't long before the cold wind whipped up a bit and we found ourselves without sun. Time to move on!

Next, our hike took us along the edge of the cliff heading into the direction of the old Las Vegas Overlook. Passing a large puddle filled with recent rainwater, we were able to see the Calico Hills which were still in the sunshine. As we got closer and closer to the Calico Hills, we saw the light and shadows play across the colored rock.

We passed the old overlook, noted a new hitching post there for a new trail ride, passed a couple of horse and riders taking the new trail ride and began our hike along a ridge to the Muffins. It was interesting hiking the Muffin trail in reverse. Something new. We arrived at the Muffins and took in an incredible view of Red Rock Canyon which was now wearing a hat of black clouds and showing rain along much of the area.

We saw an unusual rainbow which hung over the canyon floor and Sandstone Quarry. It was rather flat and not high above the ground from our point of view. Some clouds were now hanging over us and we knew we were hiking on borrowed time. We quickly hiked down the switchbacks and back to the horse corrals. When we reached this area, it began to rain. We only had about a tenth of a mile to go. How lucky was this?