Saturday, January 26, 2019

Cowboy Horse Trails - 1/26/19

Climbing Horse Trail Peak

Calico Hills from Horse Trails

Rainbow and Bridgepoint Peaks from Horse Trails

Hiking behind the Horse Corral
 Cowboy Horse Trails is an easy to moderate hike in Red Rock Canyon NCA that uses old trails that have been used for trail rides on Red Rock's beautiful horses and mules. The trailhead is located on SR 159 across from the open Red Rock Canyon scenic loop route. This trailhead is used for many different hikes and bike routes so parking is usually at a premium. Ten hikers got there early and found a parking space. We hiked under the ranch gate where only ranch workers and trail ride customers can drive and turned left immediately. Right away, it was obvious that this was a trail that the horses used often. We followed their tracks and curved around to come up behind the corral.

Climbing the First Hill behind the Corral
 Along the way, we saw Jackson, the burro, watching us from his new digs. After that, we said "hello" to a few of the horses and mules behind the corral fence. Six horses were being teamed up to the upper hitching area for the day's excursion.

Calico Hills from the Climb
 An old trail crosses a rocky wash here and heads up the hill. The trail is so old and unused that it is difficult to find. Suffice it to say, the trail zigzags gently up the hill and becomes more clear at the top.

Ten Club Members on Horse Trail Peak

Rocky Descent
 Views of Red Rock are beautiful from the small ridge line that we found ourselves on. The old trail followed along the ridge to the other end where there was a slightly higher hill. After views and a photo, we circled around and descended the hill on the old trail that is very rocky and has several boards holding back the soil. Be very careful here with your footing! At the bottom, we circled around to the right following the original horse trail. It poured down into Red Rock Wash and we slogged along for a few minutes. Finally, the trail climbs up the embankment to the right. The soil underfoot is much softer here and we curved around a junction to the left. This trail headed straight for a small canyon at the base of the Muffins hill.

Horse Trail through Gravel Wash
 The small canyon wash is very nice to hike through with beautiful views of the Calico Hills when you looked back. We stopped at one point to have our break.

Gravel Wash and Rainbow Peak
 It was getting warm so we continued up the wash to the junction with the Muffins/Skull Trail. Here, as we walked by, one hiker noticed a very nice shell fossil in a big trailside boulder.

Mt. Wilson rises across from Horse Trails

Starting up Small Canyon at Base of Muffins Hill
 We hiked through the hitching wire and around Boneshaker Hill. Not taking the "normal" way back, we took a slightly longer route that crossed over to near the upper hitching corral. From there, the route crosses the dirt road and follows another trail back to the cars. It was a very pleasant morning hiking slow and protecting body parts! A very nice way to open the park again after the record breaking shutdown.

3.5 miles; 400 feet elevation gain; 2 hours; average speed 1.5 mph

Gathering in the Small Canyon

Nice Shell Fossil

Hiking the Trails from the Muffins Above

Friday, January 25, 2019

Zabriskie Loop (Death Valley) - 1/24/19

Manly Beacon 

Manly Beacon and Red Cathedral

Telescope Peak from Zabriskie Loop Trailhead

Dropping down on Old Road to Gower Gulch
 Fifteen club members made the two hour drive to Death Valley on Thursday to the Zabriskie Point Trailhead; found ~25 miles west from the 373/190 junction on SR 190. Throughout our 7.5 mile hike around the loop, we ruminated on the geology that created the other-worldy scenery. It is so unusual that several movies have been filmed here in the badlands to represent other planets in outer space. In fact, just today, there was a filming going on for something and we have also seen some modeling in the past. So, before getting into the logistics of the hike, I went to Wikipedia for some information.

Zabriskie Point is a part of the Amargosa Range located east of Death Valley in Death Valley National Park in California, United States, noted for its erosional landscape. It is composed of sediments from Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up 5 million years ago—long before Death Valley came into existence.

Nearing Gower Gulch Junction
 The location was named after Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, vice-president and general manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company in the early 20th century. The company's twenty-mule teams were used to transport borax from its mining operations in Death Valley.

Recently made Gouge in Gower Gulch
 Millions of years prior to the actual sinking and widening of Death Valley and the existence of Lake Manly (see Geology of the Death Valley area), another lake covered a large portion of Death Valley including the area around Zabriskie Point.

Dry Mud Flow of Gower Gulch

Hiking Dry Mud of Gower Gulch
 This ancient lake began forming approximately nine million years ago. During several million years of the lake's existence, sediments were collecting at the bottom in the form of saline muds, gravels from nearby mountains, and ashfalls from the then-active Black Mountain volcanic field. These sediments combined to form what we today call the Furnace Creek Formation. The climate along Furnace Creek Lake was dry, but not nearly as dry as in the present. Camels, mastodons, horses, carnivores, and birds left tracks in the lakeshore muds, along with fossilized grass and reeds. Borates, which made up a large portion of Death Valley's historical past were concentrated in the lakebeds from hot spring waters and alteration of rhyolite in the nearby volcanic field. Weathering and alteration by thermal waters are also responsible for the variety of colors represented there.

Entering the Narrows
 Regional mountains building to the west influenced the climate to become more and more arid, causing the lake to dry up, and creating a dry lake.

The Narrows Curve
 Subsequent widening and sinking of Death Valley and the additional uplift of today's Black Mountains tilted the area. This provided the necessary relief to accomplish the erosion that produced the badlands we see today. 

A Few Fun Scrambles in Narrows

Reprieve in Gower Gulch Narrows
 The dark-colored material capping the badland ridges (to the left in the panoramic photograph) is lava from eruptions that occurred three to five million years ago. This hard lava cap has retarded erosion in many places and possibly explains why Manly Beacon, the high outcrop to the right, is much higher than other portion of the badlands. Manly Beacon was named in honor of William L. Manly, who along with John Rogers, guided members of the ill-fated Forty-niners out of Death Valley during the gold rush of 1849.

The primary source of borate minerals gathered from Death Valley's playas is Furnace Creek Formation. The Formation is made up of over 5000 feet of mudstone, siltstone, and conglomerate. The borates were concentrated in these lakebeds from hot spring waters and altered rhyolite from nearby volcanic fields. ~Wikipedia

Narrowing just before Valley Outlet
 So, there you have it! Death Valley is a very complex geological feature of this planet. It is difficult for me to wrap my head around the whole of it!

Gower Gulch Wash in Valley
 So, one group of hikers came from the Santa Fe Casino taking the 95/373 route and several other hikers chose to bypass the gas station meetup and headed on over. The trailhead restrooms were sparkling clean. There was no trash piling up anywhere. No evidence of the government shutdown here!

Traverse Trail ending at Golden Canyon Trailhead

Finding a Place to take a Break
 We started the hike around 9:45am heading over to the trail that drops down from the right side of the prominent overlook where an unusually few people were milling about. Parts of the trail we hiked today are remnants of old mining roads. This road led us down to Gower Gulch; a wide dry mud wash that leads down through the badlands. In the distance, we saw a snow-covered Telescope Peak and neighboring peaks rising above the valley below us. The sky was clear and the temps began in the upper 50's for us. Very little breeze and highs in the lower 70's were expected. Perfect! The group of strong Thursday hikers sailed down Gower Gulch comfortably while taking in the badlands scenery. The dry mud is easily navigated.

Starting up Old Road in Golden Canyon
 We passed the junction of the Golden Canyon / Gower Gulch Loop then came to the old mine up on the hill. Choosing to pass up the opportunity to peer inside the grated hole in the hill, we continued on to the nearby narrows.

Golden Canyon
 The narrows of Gower Gulch offer a little bit of fun scrambling and we dropped through the rocks one by one. The walls of the gulch here are towering and colorful.

Manly Beacon from Golden Canyon

Climbing up toward Red Cathedral
 Next, we came to where the gulch flows out into the wide valley by way of a tall non-negotiable dry fall. The trail climbs up and over the right bank (Be careful here!) and follows a traverse along the base of the hills toward the Golden Canyon Trailhead. The view of the valley is impressive! At this TH, we found the parking lot only half full and the same clean conditions of the first TH. During the entire hike, we felt like we almost had the whole park to ourselves! We took our break here then headed up Golden Canyon. The scenery of the hike gets better and better with views of Manly Beacon and the Red Cathedral rising in front of us.

Fun Slot Scrambling
 We hiked up the old road and soon came to a junction of the loop. Instead of making this right turn right away, we continued straight up to the base of Red Cathedral.

Last Climb up to Overlook
 The wash gets narrower and views of the beacon and the red rock become demanding. All at once, the wash disappears into an ancient rock fall. Good scrambling through a tunnel ensued.

Returning to Junction from Red Cathedral

Starting First of Three "Hills"
 At the top of the wash, the trail continues up to a fantastic wide view overlook. A handful of hikers took the "loop route" down from here. We met up and returned down to the loop junction to turn left. This is the first of three major hills to climb before we got back to the cars. This hill climbed up from the junction, traversed the base of Manly Beacon and crested out above the badlands with major great views! Next, we followed the trail down, up, over and across to the next signed loop junction. Here, we made a left turn to follow the trail back to Zabriskie Point Loop Trailhead. This also began the second of the three hills to climb.

Manly Beacon Approach
 Usually, I hear a lot of complaints about how the hike ends with the uphill portion but today's group was exemplary in that regard. They welcomed the challenge as I did. My philosophy with this hike as it is laid out is that the scenery pops in the beginning then builds and builds throughout the hike.

View Back Mid-Climb
 It also doesn't hurt to have a restroom at the break area and prevents another 7 to 10 miles of driving if you begin the hike at Golden Canyon.

View Ahead Mid-Climb

Descent from First Hill
 The second hill tops out on a badlands ridge with gorgeous views of Manly Beacon and Red Cathedral. (See first and second photos of this entry.) With the trail circling around on top of the ridges, this is perhaps (okay, besides hiking the base of Manly Beacon) my favorite part of the hike. This is also a part that is missed if you simply hike the traditional loop of Golden Canyon / Gower Gulch. We got a view of Gower Gulch below us as we turned a sharp ridge corner then the trail descended to the old road that we came in on. This is the junction where, earlier, we turned down Gower Gulch.

Small Drop!
 As we dropped, we saw the movie people across from us doing their thing. It looked like one man was in fatigues and one man was in some sort of space suit or parachute suit. ... Well, we were in California. Just act natural.

Climbing Second of Three Hills
 We turned left onto the old road to return up the hill. We could see the Zabriskie Point Overlook above the movie makers. We were beginning the third of the three hills.

View from Mid-Climb

Gower Gulch from Above
 This hill is not as challenging as the first two hills but it is the end of the hike so it requires effort. The fifteen hikers spread out a little but I think it was more due to deep conversations than physical effort! Best over 50 yo hiking club in Las Vegas! Back at the cars, we signed out and left for our two hour trip back to Las Vegas ... except for three hikers who planned to stay a couple more days. Great reprieve from the cold windy days we've been experiencing lately.

7.5 miles; 1350 feet elevation gain; 3.75 hours; average speed 2.0 mph

Descent from Second Hill

Climbing Last of Three Hills

Old Road Remnants as seen from Below