Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Calico Tanks Loop (with the West Hills) - 4/23/19

Main Calico Tank (Fullest in Several Years)

Redbuds in Turtlehead Canyon

Turtlehead Peak from Third Tank in the West Hills

Preparing for Today's Scramble
Red Rock Canyon's history of geology is millions of years old. Between 540 to 250 million years ago, this part of the continent was under a warm tropical sea. The animals in these vast waters decayed into the seawater and eventually created the surrounding limestone mountains of Red Rock. Around 200 million years ago, sand dunes covered the entire area. These sand dunes hardened due to overlying pressure and the cementing effects of mineral-laden groundwater particularly containing calcium carbonate that glued grains of sand together to create the Aztec Sandstone of the Sandstone Bluffs and the Calico Hills.

Starting down toward the Quarry
Some time later, there were tremendous tectonic movements that created such a large amount of pressure that the underlying limestone was pushed up above the sandstone. Erosion shaped the remaining landscape as we see it today.

The West Hills from Approach
Although we have named this area Red Rock Canyon, it is really comprised of around nine major canyons mostly within the escarpment. Each canyon has its own charm and challenges for hikers, scramblers, and rock climbers.

Morning Sun on the Sandstone Bluffs from the West Hills

Climbing the West Hills to First Tank
So, today, in the year 2019, those canyons and hardened sand dunes are the playground for thousands of outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Fifteen club members arrived at the Sandstone Quarry Trailhead located 3 miles into the Scenic Loop of Red Rock Canyon NCA for a grueling scramble in the northern section of the Calico Hills.

Scrambling can be described as anything from "stair climbing" rocks to climbing rocks and slabs with the use of your hands. In other words, scrambling is the type of "hiking" you do between following trails and bouldering. In the Calico Hills, this is most hikers' modus operandi besides, of course, all-out rock climbing.

Pause at the First Tank
Because of its location, we seldom visit the West Calico Hills. They aren't far from the Calico Tanks Trail but it is difficult to tie them in with other hiking routes. We made that trip over to the hills via a small section of the Grand Circle Trail.

Group at the Third Tank
The climb up to the highest point of the West Calico Hills is a good warm-up. It left us breathing strongly! Along the climb, we came across three tinajas that were very full of water. Views of the escarpment and Sandstone Quarry were unique.

Descending West Hills

Finding Trails to Wander On
(and connect with the Turtlehead Peak Trail)
Our trip up the big rock hill and back down covered around a half mile. When we returned to the limestone wash below, we began following a series of use trails in the area between the West Hills high point and the Turtlehead Peak Trail. It was a wandering route just to see what we had not seen before. Soon, we were connecting with the Turtlehead Peak Trail and we followed it up to the Petroglyph Corner passing the Mormon Cave, a large cave alcove in the West Hills. All of today's participants climbed up a steep sandstone fin to the right of the ancient petroglyphs using their mantling skills. We turned the corner at the top and descended into the small inlet between sandstone walls.

Mormon Cave from Turtlehead Peak Trail
An outlet in front of us put us on a small use trail that leads to Turtlehead Canyon. (This trail used to be part of the Rattlesnake Trail.) When the trail drops into a wash, we started down.

Climbing the Fin to Petroglyph Corner
The wash has a few beautiful scrambles and leads down to an interesting drop slot. If you turn around and look behind you from within the slot, you see Turtlehead Peak.

Mohave Yuccas blooming in front of Turtlehead Peak

Not as Hard as it Looks!
(in Turtlehead Canyon)
Turtlehead Canyon starts at the beautiful wash, drops down into the slot, then passes through a dark "alley." Today, the alley was filled with morning sun and shade of leaf designs. Redbud flowers were added to the large mohave yucca blooms, desert marigolds and dandelions, purple asters, Utah Penstemons, and Cliffrose. Spring sprang and I almost missed it! We circled around the Redbud trees and joined the Rattlesnake Trail at the red rock slot. A left turn into the slot took us to the Red Cap approach area. We continued a traverse around the red rock passing the large white boulders that look somewhat out of place after falling in years past from the white sandstone walls above.

Descending Turtlehead Canyon
By staying high, this trajectory sent us on a scrambling journey above the official Calico Tanks Trail. Next, we climbed the red wall to our left and crossed over the first set of CCC steps on the Trail.

Sunlight in Turtlehead Canyon
We passed the bottom of the Mass Production Wall descent where a small spring was running then climbed the next set of CCC steps on the Trail.

Redbud on Rattlesnake Trail

Passing the Big White Rocks
Taking a left turn at some large boulders, we started up a neighboring small canyon, climbed the left side wall and followed the wall until it dropped back in. A couple of climbs to our right put us at the Ledge Tank. The tank was full. The view was fantastic. And, some shade was offered. We stopped for our break at the pond finding a few tiny fairy shrimp in the tank. (Anostraca is one of the four orders of crustaceans in the class Branchiopoda; its members are also known as fairy shrimp. They are usually 6–25 mm. ~ Wikipedia) We dropped back to the Trail and climbed up to a completely full main Calico Tank. It was huge! I wonder if it's okay to bring a raft! Probably not. Remember the wildlife!

Scrambling above the Calico Tanks Trail
We circled around to the opposite end of the tank, in awe of its unusual beauty. Then, after a brief pause, we started down the steep descent to Calico II.

Scrambling to Left of Calico Tanks Trail's Steps
It is a descent but use of many muscles are required as we waded through loose rocks, sit and slide situations, big step downs, and finding the preferred routes.

Snack Break View

Snack Break on the Pond
On the way down, we saw a glimpse of a gray fox and a quick view of a chuckwalla ... or a gila monster. (Watch those gila monsters! Very dangerous!) Recently, a rock climber in Red Rock was bitten by one. Their poison is akin to a rattlesnake's. We passed several rock climbers on the route down. At least one was hanging from a wall about 70 or 80 feet above the ground. The descent route passes through another rock climbing venue where there were two ladies having a great day on the walls. Eventually, the route drops into a grassy area where there are a few paths through the brush.

Descent from Snack Break Pond
Coming out of the brush, you find yourself at the bottom of Angel Canyon. We turned to the right and made our way toward the Scenic Loop and the Grand Circle Trail.

Starting the Steep Descent from Overlook
A right turn on this trail will take you back to Sandstone Quarry and the cars. There are 300 feet of gain in elevation during this last mile of our loop.

Over the Hump and Down between the Walls

Rock Climbing Entertainment
At the bottom of the descent, I was worn out and when we junctioned with the Grand Circle Trail below Calico II, the heat hit me strong. I was a bit slow in that last mile! Besides that, the hike was very well received and it was a beautiful but warm day. The route was about one mile longer than I had anticipated but worth repeating in the future. A fun morning of scrambling.

4.7 miles; 1400 feet elevation gain; 4 hours; average moving speed 1.2 mph

Passing more Rock Climbers

Junction at Angel Canyon

Return on the Grand Circle Trail

Calico Tank Loop (red) vs. Calico Tanks Trail (blue)

Full View of both Trails

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Liberty Bell Arch - 4/18/19

Four Tough Hikers!

It was 117˚ on the Colorado River today. Only the tough guys (and Tonya) showed up. We locked the gate to White Rock Canyon as we left this morning. Too damn hot. Closed till Thanksgiving.

The forecast indicated that a high of 91 degrees should be expected in the Liberty Bell Arch area today. But, I bet it felt like 117! Just a reminder: the White Rock Canyon Trailhead is closed from May 15th to October 1st every year. Please be smart and stay out of this area during the hot time of year if you are hiking. Kayaking in to the area is a good suggestion. And, no matter what, always bring lots and lots of water. We're not kidding, folks!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Spring Blooms at Hoover Dam 2019

Ron and Sandi were out at Hoover Dam yesterday and were very impressed with the flower display! For those of you who have not been able to go out to Lake Mead NRA, here are a couple of Ron's pics.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Gypsum Jump Overlook - 4/7/19

The Gypsum Jump Overlook view to South

Blue Diamond Gypsum Mine - Overlook Top Right in Foreground

Scars from Gypsum Mining in North Blue Diamond Hills

Joshua Tree in rare Full Bloom (Bridge Point Peak)
 According to Google Earth's satellite photos of the western side of the North Blue Diamond Hills, a couple of new trails have cropped up. Today, eleven hikers explored one of those trails. In May of 2017, the satellite photos showed that the trail we hiked today only went to a certain point on the western ridge and without any extension of the trail around the overlook corner. Now, in April 2019, we proved that the trail leads all the way to the "peak" of the ridge then continues down from there as seen in the first photo of this entry. (We are probably a little late to the party because the trail appears that it has been there for a long while!)

Finding small Game Trail Connection from end of Conglomerate Gardens Trail
 We assumed it was a bike trail since the trail zigzags up the hills making the ascent and following descent gentle and gradual. However, today, a Sunday, we did not see any bikers.

Blooming Mojave Yucca, Game Trail and Target "V" in Ridge Beyond
 Researching the route, I saw that the trail was not easily accessible by any known route in the Hills except for the dirt road that is gated at SR 159. One could argue that the hike could begin at that gate but the gate should not be blocked at any time. (See the last map below.)

Target "V" in Ridge from dirt road Crossing

Connecting with a very nice Trail
 Therefore, we started our hike at the Cowboy Trails Trailhead today to make our way across the desert to the "V" in the western ridge where we would pick up the worn trail. The hike would turn out to be a solid moderate hike as an out and back. Through the ranch gate, we took a sharp right and dropped into the wash next to the trailhead. A little further up, the Conglomerate Gardens (Kibbles 'n' Bits) Trail comes out of the wash on the left. Follow this trail shortly until it makes a sharp right turn around a boundary of piled dirt. After the turn, go straight finding a game trail junction that is barely discernible. Then, follow the burro tracks! They know where they are going!

Yucca Bloom in front of Calico Hills
 This game trail drops into the wash. It does cross the wash but turning left into the wash works, too. We learned this coming back. So, just stay in the wash until there is a very small deep cut wash on the right side where we placed a cairn. I hope the cairn stays for a while!

Panorama from First Hill - Trail Continuation from our Junction
This little wash crosses the dirt road and shallowly leads up to the worn trail junction in the ridge "V". Turn right onto this trail and you begin your zigzagging ascent.

Hike Points of Interest

Hiking a Moenkopi Layer of Limestone
 First, the trail zigzags up a small hill, then it crosses over to an intermediate hill with more zigzags. Finally, the trail perches atop the long western ridge of the North Blue Diamond Hills. Along the way, the views are unique and wide of the Calico Hills, the Sandstone Bluffs and the north and east North Blue Diamond Hills. The ascent continued along interesting terrain traveling through a Moenkopi layer of limestone. The cliffs on the east side became steeper and there is a very safe but thrilling view over toward the dirt road and the very old mining scars leftover from back in the day. The higher we got, the more we could see the southern portion of the Sandstone Bluffs and Mt. Potosi.

Climb continues on Neighboring Hill (Rainbow Peak-L, Bridge Point Peak-R)
 It was a mixed moderate crowd today and we all had no problem with the moving pace of 2.1 mph. We moved along taking note of lizards and flowers along the trail.

Easy Stepping Limestone Slab
 We passed the "end" of the trail as indicated on my GPS and saw that the very well maintained trail continued to the peak overlook. We were very happy about that!

Wide Views of Red Rock Canyon NCA

Well-Maintained Trail near Top
 Arriving at the overlook appeared that we had arrived at a bottomless clifftop! When we sidled over to the edge, we saw that the "cliff" would have been easily down climbed into the remains of the Blue Diamond Gypsum Mine but that would be crossing a private property boundary as claimed by the Corner Boundary Marker placed on the cliff rocks. The Red Rock Canyon NCA ended here but still continued down the ridge in the southern direction. I was surprised to see a long trail appearing that led down toward the old Oliver Ranch off of SR 159. (Not seen on the May 2017 satellite photo.) We took our break here on the overlook ruminating on how we can use these trails for the future.

Mt. Potosi and Sandstone Bluffs from our Gypsum Jump Trail
 We enjoyed our stay then started down. I asked the women behind me what I should call the hike on this blog. "Gypsum Overlook" and "Gypsum Jump Off" were two suggestions. I gave it some thought and went with Gypsum Jump Overlook. Maybe the bikers who created the trail would like that!

Taking a Break on the Gypsum Jump Overlook
 Descending the trail, we noticed an old mining claim. Interesting that it is still there. Also, "something" zoomed across in front of me so fast that it was a mere blur. Thinking it might be a kangaroo rat, I followed the blur until it stopped.

Corner Boundary Marker at Gypsum Jump Overlook

Starting our Descent
 Peeking out from behind a rock, we could see that it was a Great Basin Collared Lizard. These are larger than the common Side-blotched Lizards. It was an uncommon sight here at RRCNCA. We continued down the zigzags and dropped off the worn trail into the small wash, crossed the dirt road and continued into the larger wash where we placed a cairn. Finding the game trail out of the wash was not easy and we had to use the GPS but suffice it to say, this wash is the same wash that leads all the way to the trailhead. We always have a lot of fun doing new stuff! Great group today!

6.3 miles; 800 feet elevation gain; 3 hours; average moving speed 2.1 mph

Some of the "Cliffy" Trail Edge

Zigzagging down the Intermediary Hill

The Wash between Trailhead and Gypsum Jump Trail

Trail Relationship to Nearest Routes