Saturday, October 31, 2015

Cowboy Horse Trails - 10/31/15

Turtlehead from Horse Trail Peak

Lost Horseshoe

The Muffins above Horse Trails

Twenty-One Hikers
 Red Rock Canyon NCA has horse stables at the foot of the North Blue Diamond Hills on Highway 159. The wranglers lead horse rides, here, of various lengths. One of the more popular routes is a short circle around the foothills that includes a small hill. This was our route today. Twenty-one hikers gathered at a crowded Cowboy Trails parking lot to begin their hike. (There was another hiking group who started out of this trailhead as well. And, mountain bikers were out in full force today.)

I've always been a blonde.
 After passing through the gate, we took an immediate left onto a well worn horse trail that forks off to the right toward the horse corral. There were several requests to see the Clydesdale horse.

Climbing Up the South End of the Hill
 We saw the horse but he wasn't in much of a mood to be photographed. Instead, the blond posed for the camera!

Traversing the Hill

View of Our Route Below from North End of the Hill
We clumsily found the trail that takes you up the hill between the corral and the highway. This trail is not maintained and is always difficult to find. But, once we were on top of the low end of the hill, the trail became very clear and we hiked from the low end to the high end stopping for views along the way. At the peak of the hill, Horse Trail Peak, we stopped for a view on the horse train turnaround. Then, we began our long descent on the rocky trail that the horses use regularly. There are a few steps built into the trail here.

High Stepping the Downhill
 Watching our footing was necessary on the downhill as it is very uneven. When we did look up, we could see the Calico Hills and the Red Rock escarpment in a wide view.

Calico Hills from our Trail Down from the Peak
 At the bottom of the hill, we turned to the right and, soon, dropped down into the gravel wash that encircles the hill. The horse trail continues through the gravel.

Working Out in the Gravel Wash

Back on the Sandy Trail
 The gravel wash gave us a workout and just when we were about tired of the difficult terrain, we rounded the hill and followed the trail up onto the dirt to our right. At the next junction, we forked to the left and followed the trail through a very sandy area then into the wash that flows down from Skull Canyon. The horse trail continues up through the wash providing relatively easy footing. Not far up the wash, we found an area where there were a lot of big rocks to sit on. Here's where we took our break.

Wilson Peak from the Horse Trails
 The foliage between the hill and the wash was medium in height. The weather was cool on the warmish side; warmer than we had anticipated.

Starting into the Skull Canyon Wash
 After our break, we continued up the wash until we junctioned with the Muffins trail at the base of Skull Canyon. At the right turn, we waited while we watched a biker make his way down the Muffins trail and pass us.

Snack Break in the Wash

Skull Canyon Wash
 Now on the surface trails, we circled around Boneshaker Hill then forked to the right on the second turn. This small trail brought us just below the upper stables. From here, we took the trail down to the parking lot. This is a nice short hike with great views of the Red Rock area. It also provides a small amount of several varying terrains.

3 miles; 450 feet elevation gain; 2.5 hours

Nearing the Top of Skull Canyon Wash

Snaking Our Way across the Surface Trails

Home Stretch

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mountain Springs Peak Loop - 10/29/15

Turtlehead Peak from Escarpment Rim

Clouds over Rainbow Wilderness

Stratosphere Window

Climbing Heartbreak Hill
 Mountain Springs Peak is located on the limestone layer of the Red Rock Canyon NCA escarpment behind the sandstone Black Velvet Peak. It is the highest point in that area and can be seen from the front of the escarpment. The trailhead for this and other peaks on the south end of the Wilson Cliffs is found at the Mountain Springs Summit Pass on Highway 160. It is an obscure road that turns north off of the highway into the trees. This morning, three of our twenty hikers never found the trailhead and we had to leave without them.

Climbing to the Escarpment Rim
 The first mile of the climb is known as Heartbreak Hill. It is a steep climb that ends on a saddle after passing a radio relay tower on the way up.

Hiking into the Clouds
 Several hikers zoomed up the hill while several more hikers were a little slower. We all made it up with spare energy. Good thing. The climbing wasn't over!

Telescope Peak (Death Valley NP) from Trail

Windy Peak Trail Junction
 We turned to the left on the saddle and followed the trail up to the fork seen in the photo to the left. Go right for Windy Peak. Today, we went left. Soon, we found ourselves on the escarpment rim where we saw Black Velvet Peak below us to the right and all the way to Telescope Peak in Death Valley to the left. The trail alternated with climbs and leveling out as we made our way up. Each time we reached another climb, we stopped at the top to wait for the end of the line to reach the front hikers. All the way up, we marveled at the gorgeous display all around us.

Black Velvet Peak and the Las Vegas Skyline
 The clouds decorated the sky. The shadows decorated the ground. And, the sun pointed out various interesting places in the terrain.

Climbing Again
 The weather was cool but we were warm from our exertion. There wasn't much wind either.

View Toward Pahrump, Nevada

The Group Climbs the Last Big Hill
 As we approached the last big hill, the front hikers took off! This was the last serious ascent of the day. From the top of Mountain Springs Peak, today's route would be going mostly downhill and we were only 2.5 miles into a 6.75 mile hike. The last hikers climbed up onto the peak and the log book was already out. We had several newbies today and they were happy to sign in. Cameras made their way out of the packs.

Mountain Springs Peak Summit View
 This was the first view we had of the Red Rock Calico Hills. The clouds were really doing a great job of filling in the landscape.

Summit View of Turtlehead
 There were so many photo ops that it was difficult to put the camera down and hike!

View from the Escarpment Rim Trail

Monument Peak from Snack Cliff Area
From the summit, we continued over its other side on the escarpment rim trail hiking on the edge of very high cliffs. We dropped down to the lowest point here and stopped for our snack break on the cliff overlooking Monument Peak. Just past this cliff, a small window reveals the Stratosphere if you look through it in the right place. (See third photo.) We took our break on the edge of the abyss then gathered ourselves once again to start the downhill portion of the hike. We began by hiking up the next hill on the rim trail!

Hikers on Snack Cliff
 When we almost reached the top of this ridge, we turned to our left and began an off trail trip down the ridge. We could decipher a bit of foot traffic having been down this way before.

Off Trail down the Ridge
 The descent wash du jour would be the one on the left side of the ridge. We dropped down the top of the ridge until we came to a small wash dividing two hills on the ridge. Taking a left, we dropped down into the wash below and turned to our right in a small friendly rocky wash.

Small Descent Wash

One of Few Obstacles
 This wash also displayed previous foot traffic. There were several small interesting obstacles and a few cairns here and there. The wash, itself, seemed in slight disarray ... most likely from recent hard rains. As we dropped down, the wash became narrower, almost like a trench. The group was still staying together very well. A lot of concentration centered around where to put feet so that injuries did not occur.  The terrain finally leveled off as we neared the round hill in front of us.

Descent Wash Narrowing
We were now searching for a trail that crossed over the desert toward the springs near town. This would be the first time we used this trail for this particular hike. The first hiker that found the trail won. It was Steve Al. ... Of course.

Found the Cross Trail while Mt. Potosi gets Rain
 This is a fantastic trail and some of us wondered why we had not found it before! Happily, we followed the trail across the desert.

Loving the New Cross Trail

Rain Clouds from Cross Trail
 Eventually, the trail ended at a trailhead found at the springs area. We passed the springs, found the agave roasting pit turnoff, and connected with one of many old roads in this area. The Mountain Springs residents have been busy trying to block off some of the passages. Motor vehicles are likely the discouraged culprits. We followed our old dirt road over to pass above the farmhouse with the dogs then climbed up to the road above. Using a short cut trail to the right, we connected with the road that we began the hike on. This was a great hike on an absolutely gorgeous day!

7 miles; 1600 feet elevation gain; 4 hours

Mountain Springs Springs Area

Agave Roasting Pit

Following Old Roads back to the Trailhead