Monday, January 30, 2012

Blue Diamond Cactus Garden - 1/30/12

 To everyone's surprise, twenty- six hikers showed up for the Monday's adventure to the Blue Diamond Cactus Garden located in the hills between the small community of Blue Diamond and Cottonwood Valley. We parked in a large dirt parking lot off of Highway 159 between Blue Diamond and Bonnie Springs. After passing through two gates (and don't forget to close them behind you),  we followed a trail through the desert and alongside a barbed wire fence.

 We could see the Red Rock escarpment across the valley and we were happily hiking along a nice flat trail. ... THEN ... the coordinator said, "The old turquoise mine is up there on the side of the steep hill in front of us. We are going to try to pass by it as we climb the hill!"

Well, we looked at each other and proceeded to ... well ... climb the hill. It was pretty steep but, one by one, all but one hiker made it to the top. This experienced hiker wandered around in the desert until our return from the loop.

 We missed the mine on our scramble up but a couple of hikers found a few shards of turquoise on the ground. Interestingly, we also found an old rusted horse shoe. Anyway, onward we went. We were now on top so the going had to get easier! We crossed over to the next small peak and found the cactus garden. It was like a fairyland of red barrels and light gray limestone; a scene that all of us wouldn't mind having in our backyards.

The barrel cacti were concentrated all over the south facing hill. We passed by them as we continued down the ridgeline trail. The ridge continued for around a mile and before we started our descent, we sat down for a snack and conversation. The weather was pleasantly cool and slightly cloudy. We were very comfortable.

After our break, we started down the ridgeline and junctioned with the Blue Diamond Bike Trails trail just above the sandstone rock where we usually have our break. We continued down this trail and followed it down the left side of the canyon below. Before we got to the bottom, we saw the small herd of burros grazing on the trail ahead of us. We detoured down the hill to bypass them.

We rounded the hill at the bottom and began crossing the desert terrain by bushwacking. There are many trails in the area ... but who needs 'em! Just kidding. We found our way just fine and ended a very adventurous hike around 3.5 hours after we started.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ejection Seat Ridge - 1/28/12

                                Mt. Charleston from Ejection Seat Ridge

                                Lake Mead from Ejection Seat Ridge

Today's hike over Ejection Seat Ridge was short but challenging. Twenty- four hikers began the loop hike from the pull- out at mile marker 14.5 on Northshore Road at the Lake Mead NRA. We dropped down into the wash that ran parallel to the road and hiked up to mile marker 15. Here, we rounded a bend and began a sharp climb up to the ridge.

Upon gaining the ridge, we could see Mt. Charleston to the southwest and Lake Mead to the south.  It was a windy morning but the wind only hit us at certain points in the hike. Otherwise, the weather was fine and got quite warm as the morning passed. We hiked south on the ridge and came upon the ejection seat for which the ridge is named. The plane crashed in a wash close by. Hopefully, the occupant of the ejection seat survived.

                         Guy tells about his work on ejection seats in the US Air Force

                                Airplane parts at the crash site

When we inspected the crash site, we found bits and pieces of a thoroughly mangled airplane. The largest piece was the complete tail section as seen in the photo collage above. The hike coordinator said that there was another crash site located further toward the lake.  After climbing back up the wash, we headed on up the next steep hill of the ridge then followed the ridge down to three large red sandstone rock outcroppings where we had our break.

                                                Snack Rocks

The hike continued down into the red rock wash area below us. This was part of a maze of red washes in the area. We enjoyed the easy hike through one of the main washes which led back to our cars. Although the hike seemed short, it was interesting and filled with color.

                                Red Wash

When we were signing out at the cars, a small herd of bighorn sheep slowly crossed the road about a quarter mile up. When a truck pulling a boat drove up, they scampered to both sides of the road then two ran back across in front of the truck that was politely waiting for the sheep to make up their minds! After the truck cautiously passed, the two separated sheep ran back across to where the others in the herd were grazing.

                                Bighorns racing across Northshore Road

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Valley of Fire Pinnacles - 1/26/12

                                Valley of Fire Pinnacles

                                The Wave at Valley of Fire

It's beginning to seem like one cannot take a bad photo at the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada! The colors of sandstone were, again, bright with the morning sun for fifteen hikers. Brian D., the Valley of Fire explorer and connoisseur, showed us yet another outstanding hike on the northern end of the park. Our main objective today was the Valley of Fire Pinnacles; an area of the park where colorful hoodoos sprout from the rocky hills.


Our five mile hike began at the small parking area on the left side of the road just after the small sign on the right indicating "The Wave" trail. We hiked back up the road a tad and dropped down among the sandstone. Soon, we were staring  at a frozen dune "painted" with red, gold, and orange color in a pattern of a wave. Hmm, we didn't think that Arizona's Wave had anything to worry about. But it was quite beautiful anyway. Next, we warmed up with a jaunt through the first slot canyon of the Three Slots Hike. It is always a beautiful walk through here.

                                Climb to first plateau.

After circling back around to the point at which we began the slot, we started travelling in the opposite direction. The warm up was over and we turned left to climb a very steep slope up to the first plateau. Dropping down the other side, we found the entrance to a very exciting slot that would bring us to the pinnacles that we spied from the top of the plateau. Brian calls this the "Drop Slot;" a few of us with scraped elbows and knees call it "The Grinder!"

                                Entrance into The Grinder Drop Slot

The Grinder begins as a narrow crack between red sandstone. It is an awkward scramble through. Then, as seen in the photo below, the narrow slot comes to a drop of about eight to ten feet. It is necessary to wedge your body between the walls and shimmy down while praying. Depending upon the size of your body, it can become quite unnerving. The writer lost friction after the point of no return. Hands and elbows worked frantically as her feet dangled below! But the sandstone was rough so the free descent was slow and resulted in simple skinned elbows.

                                                 Brian waits at the top of the drop.

After fifteen hikers escaped The Grinder, we found a gorgeous wash to climb up to The Pinnacles area. The photo to the left and the one below show the wash climb as we were blown over by the sight. There was more to photograph when we reached the top where we sat for our snack break.

                                The Pinnacles

Scattered about among the different colors here were small black volcanic rocks. A few geodes were found. We wanted to stay here longer but, after all, we are a "hiking" group ... not a "sitting" group! So, Brian announced that the best scenery had been seen and now we begin our return.

The return to the cars involved a couple of miles of scrambling through red rock. This was an excellent way to top off the morning. Our energy reserves were spent by the time we added a couple of sandy washes to the mix and climbed the hill past the huge red rock landmark mountain to the cars. One by one, as we crested the hill, we heard the hikers exclaim, "The cars!" I suppose that says it all!

                                Valley of Fire Pinnacles Hike
                               Brian Dodd's Valley of Fire Hikes (Nov. 2012)