Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Moenkopi / Calico I Loop - 10/31/17

Calico Hills

Wilson Cliffs

Moenkopi Trail

Hiking over to Calico I
 The Moenkopi Loop is, perhaps, the easiest trail in the Red Rock Canyon NCA. It is only 2 miles. Fourteen hikers added to that a hike over to the new Calico I turnout for a 3.3 mile loop today. We started at the lowest tier of parking at the BLM Visitor Center and took on a leisurely pace with several stops to comply with the requirements for an Around the Bend Friends "Easy" hike. We climbed the steps to the Memory Garden start of the Moenkopi Loop. There are a few signs along the trail that give interesting facts about a few of the species of wildlife found in our beautiful desert.

South Calico Hills from Moenkopi Trail
 The sky was blue and the temperature was just under warm. ... Perfect!

First Crossing of Scenic Loop
 After passing the weather anemometer, we turned right. This is the lower section of the Moenkopi Loop. Soon, the trail presents a fork.

Turtlehead Peak and the Calico Hills

Informational Sign at Calico I
 The left fork continues the Moenkopi Loop. We took the right fork and crossed the Scenic Loop. The trail took us up to the ridge above the Calico Wash then on to the newly constructed Calico I turnout. At Calico I, about half of the group dropped down to the lower overlook then returned after a few minutes. The rest of the group stayed at the top and took in the view up there. After regrouping, we headed up to the top end of the turnout where there is a crosswalk painted on the Scenic Loop pavement. This is where a new trail has been constructed to take the place of an old one. We followed this trail down passing the old trail junction.

Hiking down to the Lower Overlook
 Next, the trail turned right at the junction of the remaining Moenkopi Loop. This section began a gentle climb up to the top of Moenkopi Hill.

Trail from Calico I to Moenkopi Hill
 Along the way, we noted the remnants of the 2005 desert burn. We also talked a little about how the moenkopi rock layer was formed from seabed shells and silt.

Bridgepoint Peak from Moenkopi Hill

View from Moenkopi Hill to North Calico Hills
 We followed the moenkopi layer up the hill then took our break at the top. The view from the top of this hill is very expansive since the hill sits right in the middle of the wide area known as Red Rock Canyon. On one side, there are the colorful Calico Hills. On the other side, there is the intimidating escarpment that some call the Wilson Cliffs. After the break, we followed more moenkopi rock layer down the other side of the hill then returned to the parking lot. Beautiful and relaxing morning among friends.

3.3 miles; 350 feet elevation gain; 2 hours

Snack Break on Moenkopi Hill

Moenkopi Layer Underfoot

Return to Trailhead

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Gass Peak - 10/28/17

Desert National Wildlife Refuge

Gass Peak from Main Ridge Approach

View East near the Summit

Gass Peak from the Trailhead
Gass Peak is located on the northern border of the Las Vegas valley in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, its mountain range is called the Las Vegas Range. To get to the trailhead, there is (at least) an hour long drive, partially on high clearance roads, from the Santa Fe Casino, our meeting location. After a stop at the Corn Creek Visitor Center to sign into the registry, eight hikers in two HCVs drove out the Mormon Well Road and turned right onto Gass Peak Road. Gass Peak Road is in good condition with the dips into the washes being a little bumpy. As we motored along the road, we delved into a beautiful mountainous desert area seemingly miles from anywhere.

The Team (5 Newbies, 3 Veterans)
In reality, all that was between us and 2.5 million people was that 6937 foot mountain and its small surrounding range.

View West from Approach Ridge
When we arrived at the small parking lot, someone's Jeep was already there. We passed him as he was descending the approach ridge. He said he had arrived at the trailhead around 7am for his cool climb.

Approach Ridge Trail

Junction with Main Ridge
Our leisurely trailhead time was around 9:30am. We started up the gated forest road on a gentle climb up a trailing ridge. When the road turns off to the right, we continued straight up the approach ridge. There is a trail ... in fact, there are a few trails! They all go the same place and eventually we began to see just one, sometimes two, main worn paths. The climb up this ridge is forgiving. There are several small "peaks" after which we enjoyed a few feet of flatness. That said, the last bit of climbing up to the main ridge junction is probably the steepest.

View Back at the Trailhead & Approach Ridge
At the main ridge, we were sure to note the appearance of two cairns set thirty feet apart. It is obviously important to recognize this junction on the way down.

Mountainous View from Main Ridge
The group of eight hikers were well-matched and we stayed together with the occasional rest and water stops. Although the hike is virtually all trail, it is still a formidable climb.

Hiker Shadows along Long Traverse

Two Hikers on Difficult Traverse Section
We turned to the right onto the main ridge and it wasn't long before we were at the bottom of the steepest section of the hike, staring up! This section is made easier with the use of several small switchbacks. After this, a long traverse on a difficult ascent angle begins. A few stops were taken during this part of the journey as we took in the gorgeous scenery far below and far away. It is difficult to describe the scenery except that there are mountains as far as you can see to the north and desert terrain laid out below. Twice, we traveled across rocky saddle areas. Views of Las Vegas and Lake Mead laid out before us on the south side. (A building fire had obscured the view of the Strip.)

Eastern View
We searched the area for bighorn sheep. We had seen hoof prints on the way up and a lot of scat. But, they were nowhere to be seen.

Gass Peak within Reach
The peak with its resident antennae array could be seen almost all the way up the trail. It beckoned us and mocked us all at the same time.

Smoke from a Fire over Las Vegas

One of Two Rocky Traverses
After the last rocky saddle traverse, the trail steepened again as we made our final push to the summit. The trail leads up just below a limestone wall. Finally, we arrived at the large solar panel array and turned right to climb to the summit. The weather was, as predicted, perfect! If not for the smoke from the fire, the views would have been clear in every direction. We sat for our snack and noticed that the old torn-up wind sock had been replaced with a weather vane. There is a nice new log book in the box and we added our names. The newbies were duly impressed with all of it.

Arriving at the Solar Array and Summit
Kay made an attempt at a timed photo under less than perfect conditions and still didn't make it to the group in time! But, it doesn't matter!

Kay needs to get her timing down on the summit photo.
The wide shot above shows the narrowness of the summit, the large array of communications equipment and the proximity of Las Vegas.

From Summit to Vickie to Solar Array to Las Vegas

Starting down the Main Ridge
All that remained was our descent. We took our time and everyone happily stayed together. The trail seemed easier to follow on the way up. On the way down, we had to search for it a few times. That really didn't matter either! It's a ridge! Anyway, we smoothly found the approach ridge junction with the cairns and made our way down the intermittent peaks ... and, finally, the forest road. Gass Peak is a great climb and the drive out and back must be viewed as part of the adventure. Fun group today!

7 miles; 2100 feet elevation gain; 4.25 hours

Steep Section Descent ... with Grace

Starting down the Approach Ridge

Arriving at the Trailhead

Friday, October 27, 2017

Hollow Rock Peak - 10/26/17

Hollow Rock Peak

Valley from Hollow Rock Peak

Multi-color Sandstone

Beginning Heartbreak Hill
Hollow Rock Peak is the second to last peak on the south end of the Red Rock Canyon NCA escarpment. It sits between Windy Peak to the north and South Peak to the south. (South Peak is not officially part of the escarpment since there is a separation of the sandstone here.) Hollow Rock Peak is located at the end of a rocky sandstone bench and holds a large knobby boulder at its apex above Cottonwood Valley. The boulder, itself, is approximately 20 to 30 feet in diameter. Although it can be climbed, the difficult part is getting down from it above the cliffs. Today, none of the seven plus two hikers tried the risky endeavor as we sat below the big boulder for our break.

Starting out Hollow Rock Peak Trail
Arriving at the trailhead, we had seven hikers but we noticed a familiar car parked there and found two more club members on up the trail.

Hiking Hollow Rock Peak Trail
We climbed Heartbreak Hill at our own speed and regathered at the saddle. This climb is always a good workout for the heart, lungs and legs.

Windy Peak from Trail

Pause for Meeting and Greeting
After a brief respite on the saddle, we turned to our right to continue climbing along the ridge that leads out to the peak. Most of the trail out the bench is cairned right now and is only vague in a couple of spots. As Mike OC put it, if your shadow is behind you, then you are going in the right direction! Well, actually, don't take that too literally! The bench heads in a southeast direction then, once on the sandstone, the bench curves direct east. Anyway, we caught up with the other two club members who were out for a simple "scramble-less" hike on the escarpment and enjoyed a short conversation while we subversively searched for the trail.

Following Vague Trail
Once spied, the trail continued around the small peak in front of us even though all the small peaks along the bench can be climbed over if preferred.

Arriving at the Sandstone
There is a lot of descent going out the bench. This is why we usually do this peak as a loop. The return along the bench is a bear!

Hollow Rock Peak from start of Sandstone

Sandstone Route
The last intermittent peak is circumvented on one of two trails to the left. The first trail that forks to the left is ... well ... more interesting as it hangs on slippery
footing above a cliff. The second trail forking off to the left is the better trail to take, as we learned. After rejoining the ridge, we reached the sandstone line as it melds into the limestone. Passing the return trail that heads down toward Highway 160, we circumvented one more small peak to arrive at a campsite that has always been there. ... Yep, forever! Now, we hiked out into the yellow, purple and cream colored sandstone.

Slab Descent
There is one more campsite here that the campers have bolstered with a rock wall. Somehow, we just still didn't think that this was enough to guarantee that a spark from a campfire would not escape to the dry brush on a windy evening.

First Dip
The route leads hikers along the ridge line for a few minutes. Cliffs dropped on the both sides.

Peak Climb

Potosi from Peak
For some time now, Windy Peak has been in our face to the left. We searched and searched for bighorn sheep in the cliffs on either side. They are known to live in this area. But, we didn't see any of them today. We did, however, follow their clear hoof prints all the way back to the cars on the forest road later. (There was even one tiny set of prints from a lamb.) At any rate, our route followed the tip of the ridge until big boulders blocked our path. The route, then, drops down to the right side scrambling over to the first of two steep drops.

Windy Peak and Calico Hills from Peak
The first drop is a white sandstone slab that is easily navigated. Then a climb up the other side ensues.

Break on Peak
Next, there is another steep drop. This drop can be done by either scrambling on the left side around or by dropping down through loose stones within the manzanitas.

South Peak from Hollow Rock Peak

Slab Ascent
Either way, another steep sandstone climb is required afterward. At the crest of the second climb, the peak is clearly seen and the scramble out is completed at the base of that large boulder. The views from the end of the bench encompass a wide variety of southern Red Rock Canyon NCA points of interest. Past the hulking sandstone of Windy Peak, the colorful Calico Hills could be seen. See 4th photo up. There was a little bit of haze over Las Vegas but, otherwise, the sky was blue and it was a nice temperature. After the break, we started back over the sandstone maze the way we came.

Scramble across Ridge
Liz, who was one of the newbies today, declared that this hike is officially not scary. (Just try to avoid that lower trail on the way out the bench!) We scrambled back over to that saddle where the trail turns down toward the highway. (... taking the higher trail going back!)

Trail parallel to Wash
Starting the descent, this trail was vague but easy to follow until we crossed the first wash. Here, the trail seems to disappear and pick up further down the hill. At any rate, we continued our traverse descent somewhat paralleling the large sandstone wash to our left and finally connected with the trail below.

Trail to Abandoned Road

Top of Abandoned Road
The second wash crossing put us on a much clearer trail that led to the end of an abandoned dirt road. There is a nice overlook of the large wash here. On a gentle descent, we followed the road switchback down to the forest road and turned right. After about a mile on an undulating dirt road, we hiked into the trailhead parking lot. Always a great hike! And, always fun to have a couple of newbies along!

5 miles; 1500 feet elevation gain; 3 hours

Wash Overlook

Road Down

Road to Cars