January drifts across the landscapes of the desert. The month’s diurnal agenda, stacked solid with sharp shivery bits of time, is just cause for us dwellers to whine. With the whining comes hurried shuffles from home to car, car to work, work to car and car to home. Nevertheless, the call to step out into its brumal embrace falls lucent through the windshield from time to time. And as the day’s end moves closer, my foot grows weighted against the pedal.
Sunrise on November 10, 2012.
The moments that trail the rain in the desert are fleeting and must be sought out expeditiously. Freshly bathed creosote exhibits its darkened hues of green, spread out across the landscapes, washed of the summers dust. Details in the rock are exposed, contrasting distinctly with the fathomless blues of the sky. White bursage, Nevada jointfir, spiny menodora and all the typical desert species of the Upper Sonoran Life Zone are reawakened with the surge of crisp and moisture filled air, laden with a bouquet of youthful aromas. Even the sun seems pleased to crack the day open, as am I, as it casts a vivid light over a seemingly young and polished earth.
On the 10th, 11th and 12th of October Las Vegas received an unusual storm, dropping upwards of an inch of rain. So on Friday morning I headed out to a spot that provides a sweeping view of the Red Rock Canyon NCA and took a picture of the breaking of the storm during sunrise. It’s a shot I have been waiting a long time to capture. The never-ending days of cloudless skies makes a moment like this very rare.
One random companionless cloud drifts indifferently over my plastered box, igniting a placid debate within my head. Over the Sheep Range, another cloud, this one thick with moisture and building towards the upper levels of the atmosphere prompts further discussion. Should I consider it a sign? Will the day mutate into something worthy of a blistering battle with the sun? I can’t help but be an optimist, so I grab my gear and melt into my 170° F car seat. The whine of a Dog Day Cicada, playing favorites with the tree in my yard, is muted once I slam the door and start the engine. I’ve left my sunglasses on the dash again and am left squinting angrily at the sun filled roadway, holding them in the cool air that blows from the vents. An iPod and an iced coffee rest to my right in the center console cup holders. The temperature reads 108° F and it is hot!
Relying on the weatherman in Las Vegas is akin to receiving advice from a baker on a pop quiz for a chemistry class. Come to think of it, perhaps a baker would be better suited as a weatherman here, seeing as we live in an oven. I will say, the one thing the Las Vegas weather folk tend to predict correctly is the wind. Bad predictions aside, I do rely heavily on the off chance of a thunderstorm to motivate me. There are few more awesome events during summer in the Mojave than a drenching of rain to chill the troposphere. I have seen the temperature drop from 110° F to the mid 60′s in a matter of minutes. The redolence the moisture provides creates an explosion of awe within the olfactory senses. And for just a few precious moments, it seems as if you can hear the collective sigh of all things lively within this roasting rock filled range.
Over the last few months I have done what I can to enjoy the Mojave. I have taken a few trips further abroad, such as in the mountains of Montana. But seeing as this blog tends towards a desert theme, I thought better to leave those out. So below are some images I have selected that reflect the more interesting moments I encountered over this years Mojave summer and thought I would just wrap it up before the active fall and winter months to come. I hope you enjoy them…
100 degrees and sunny, 100 degrees and sunny, 100 degrees and sunny. This is the usual forecast a desert dweller faces when they check their weather app and it is the one I confirmed this morning. Sometimes it seems as if this trend will never end and follows deep into the months of September and October. My eye twitches as I hastily toss my phone on the dresser. The hum of the air conditioner is a constant soundtrack to the slow hot moments of what should not be summer and that damn Dog Day Cicada is whining and clicking away. But alas, I can see the head of a cumulonimbus cloud peaking above the rooftop of the neighbors house. Maybe today won’t be such a bad day after all. No thanks to the weatherman anyways.
End Summer Begin Fall…please
I’m thinking these panoramas represent pretty well the stretch of time since my last post. No excuses, just a bump back into it. The summers heat should be fading soon. The lonely landscapes lie waiting and I’m fairly sure the internet does too.
End Downtime, Begin Countdown…
Stained dark and blunt with presence, bashed up over years of abuse. These rocks as they are, sit into the endless nights, wrestling with existence. Pushing their way into the searing days, sitting patiently through the drenching and the winds, only to reveal to the observer, the beauty of the universe in its most intimate state. Naked, narcissistic and new.
I am shy like the lizard. I too wish to stick my head in a bush and let the big meanies move on. So many times they wait for me to move, to open myself for observation. And so many times I lie motionless until they grow bored and leave.
It’s tough to explain the settled yet ever changing moments of dusk in the desert. Mostly it is silent, at least on the rare windless days, but even then it seems empty. Sat down in sweeping motions towards each horizon. Full of serene dispassion. The sense of place, like a child lying down with one eye on the carpet of the living room, is vast and stretching on towards forever.
Obscurity is night’s super power. Except in comparison to what it seems to hide, it is boundless and truly eye opening. Every lonesome second in the desert’s witching hour resonates up from the cremated soil, through the soles of your feet, wrapping the beating tissues of your heart and then finally gushing forth from the fully dilated pupils of your eyes.
End Desert Begin City…
I took an early walk this morning to catch the sun in its advance. In the desert we can move beneath it only with respect, the power of it looms harder as the day goes on, until finally showing mercy as the earth turns a shy shoulder from its gaze. Today, however, the crafty moon will step in, blocking its rays from the surface of the earth.
In the desert, dressed with ruin and standing idle, sits warm pools of ancient water seeping from hellish depths. Bubbling up towards the surface, carrying within it dissolved rock and heat from the core of the earth. So silent it waits, entrenched in the lonesome beauty as though a careless afterthought of a wandering maker dashing between rocks and cackling at the weary while they stumble out into its persistent domain
We ride down from our crowded places, moving in single file along the tar. Filing away thoughts and sipping coffee. Along Hwy 93 we roll, streaming pandorory sounds over air sizzling data waves that emanate from swiss army slick bricks. Even bothering as to fuss over the transitional composition of musical masterpieces. Seeing to it that it fades from one song to the next, like magical melancholy. Under the bridge we park, 10 miles past Wikieup, shouldering the weight of many weeks of sad transitions.
Down and Into
A most peculiar start as one strolls under a huge span of concrete. An interurban structure stands like a gate, but quickly gives way to an open wash that is bordered with Catclaw Acacia, Ocotillo, Desert Broom, Saguaro and many other ideal desert plants.
The Canyon of Two Names. Kaiser Canyon/Warm Springs Canyon
Into the canyon of a thousand eyes. A watcher watches only those who fear to be found. My first time here in Kaiser/Warm Springs Canyon AZ in the long long ago, we had driven foolishly through the night to walk down in the dark to the warm spring. Upon entering the mouth of the canyon we saw, scurrying about in the bush, so many dreadful eyes. Stoned as could be, we could not find the courage to confront these beasts. So we packed up and headed the three hours back home. :/
At the river we shall claim our ground! Feasting on leased property, bashing the rock with boot strides wide and powerful. The smell of burro bowel pastries heavy in the canyon’s air. Even the waters of the fittingly named Burro Creek has a hint of the animals digestive tract. But we must wallow. The surroundings unexpected mash-up of terrestrial flavors tickle the senses, moving one to plop right down there by the river and delve into the pleasures of a cup of bourbon.
Able and willing, the sultry swank of a resting desert afternoon creeps up on us from over the canyon ridges. A spot overlooking the stretch of river is a must and we move to a spot that combines with easy access of the warm spring.
Kaiser Warm Springs
The warm spring, known as Kaiser Warm Springs sits within Warm Springs Canyon, AZ. It is a comfortable 99º F and flows from a pipe jutting out from the rock. In the previous years it was much deeper but has since been destroyed by flash flooding. Upon arriving this time it was in a sad state. Littered with trash and barley deep enough to soak. We spent a good part of the day cleaning up the site and building up the wall. We also built the steps, changing pad and clothes hanging pole.
Awake with the glory of the sun, drenched in restfulness that only the silence of a noiseless desert can pour. A gradual climb by the sun and the descent of its light bathed the canyon walls as we watched the morning routine of a Red-Tailed Hawk. It left its nest up on the cliff just before the sunlight struck and moved out in a straight line out over Burro Creek.
Teddy Bear Cholla glow in the morning light, while a lone Saguaro stands guard.
The devil plays golf, as is proven here with the moon tee’d up on a cliff spire.
One more soak then time to pack it up. Nothing like a warm bath and a hot cup of coffee in the backcountry to start off your day.
Sum It All Up
This trip embodies all the best the desert has to offer. Remoteness is prime here once you have left the highway. On all four of my trips I have not seen another soul while down in the canyon. There is warm spring to soak in with pristine water at a comfortable temp and a river to stay cool during the day only a couple hundred yards away. The canyon is saturated with life, sound and seemingly manicured plants. If you find yourself here, please treat the spring with respect and pack out what you pack in. It wouldn’t hurt to pack out a little more as well!
End Desert Begin City…
TL;DR This post is an account of a bushwhack between Red Rock Canyon and the Spring Mountains. It is an attempt to gain support for the creation of a 9 mile trail linking these two recreation areas.
The trail would run in its entirety across the La Madre Mountain Wilderness, which is managed jointly by the US Forest Service and BLM.
Be awesome! and like the Connect Red Rock Canyon and Spring Mountains Facebook Page to help build support for the purposed trail.
Throughout Nevada there are over 300 named mountain ranges, running primarily north to south and rising to a height of about eight thousand to thirteen thousand feet above the sea. Every one of these seems to be seeded with conifer trees, although most would point out that anything reminiscent of a forest belongs only to those of the most elevated type. Down lower in the less prominent ranges a toughened appearance is portrayed through the dominating species of bedraggled junipers and pinyons.
From the 11,916′ summit of Mt. Charleston one could march from above treeline in the Alpine Tundra down through Bristlecone Pine Forest, then Pine-Fur Forest, Yellow Pine Forest and finally Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands. All within the span of roughly 20 miles. The only obstacle is a 9 mile stretch through the La Madre Mountain Wilderness, which as of now has no trail. The purposed trail would begin at the Harris Canyon Trailhead southeast of Mt. Charleston, then head east to the Willow Springs Trailhead in Red Rock Canyon NCA.
Click here to download the purposed section’s KML file for Google Earth.
Click here to download the North Loop Trail with purposed section’s KML file for Google Earth
Below is an account of the exploration/bushwhack I did in order to find a route. It took over 12 hours to complete 9 miles. This, I think, proves the need for a path through this forgotten stubborn land that lies in transition between Red Rock Canyon and Mt. Charleston.
Should this trail become reality it would immediately make possible a 30 mile hike that begins at the North Loop trailhead in the Spring Mountains and ends at the Willow Springs trailhead in Red Rock Canyon NCA. On this trek one would pass through five life zones, trudge over the 11,916′ summit of Mt. Charleston and not cross a single road. An even longer journey could be had by beginning at the Bonanza Peak trailhead.
Harris Canyon Trailhead
At the trailhead you will find yourself in transition between the Pine-Fur forests and the upper Juniper-Pinyon Woodlands. Should you follow the established trail west you will pass over Harris Saddle then up towards Griffith Peak and finally the Mt. Charleston summit. Should you choose to go east across country with no trail, which is the direction we traveled, you will be traversing through the La Madre Wilderness on Wilson Ridge, down past the Miner’s Cabin along La Madre Creek and on to the Willow Springs picnic area in Red Rock Canyon. It is almost entirely downhill to the end at Willow Springs. This fact played a strong bit in our underestimation of the time scale involved.
The first part of the route starts out extremely simple following a short use trail that tends to a sun filled rocky ridge. Views to the north(left) are somewhat blocked by vegetation while views to south(right) lay wide and stretch down Lovell Canyon, past Mt. Potosi and out towards California. Looking back reveals a portion of the established Harris Canyon Trail as it crosses the open sunny slopes.
Apart from the views this is a very static locale with a seemingly endless expanse of evenly spaced Pinyon Pine. Along the first several miles of the trail you encounter three open spaces. The first, as just mentioned, a rocky ridge. The second a flat wind blown saddle and the third a burned out grassland. In between, it is the ducking and dodging of tree branches that consumes your time.
The First & Second Uphills
After several somewhat pleasant miles you will come to the first of two uphill sections. With the first containing a majority of the elevation gain. After a climb up an airy semi-loose scree covered slope you will gain the ridge. Turn right(south) and skirt along the right side of an unnamed peak. Next a short downhill leads you into a densely brushed saddle.
The Hard Part
In some portions the woods were almost impenetrable, the difficulty lay in stumbling over downed logs and ducking under spreading boughs, while here and there we came to an open area sufficiently spacious for overlooks. So many trees might be seen, some from root to spire, stuck firmly in the steeply angled mountainside that for the next grueling mile or so would be our undoing. The sunshine offset our misery and played through clustered needles, glinting and breaking into fine particles on seeping beads of amber. The hazy outlines of impossibly distant summits had reason to break the never ending into an imposing stretch of earth and sky.
Along with the views and the drenching beauty of deep woods came a nagging sense of urgency. The sun dripped lower into the far off horizon and the slope here on the side of some mountain became foreign and in control. Legs became heavy under the imposing doom, forcing us to throw them out as if in a panicked state. These actions did not come from fear however, but more from the repeated mundane attacks on the senses. Such is the seeming turmoil, beauty vs. pain vs. mundane.
The Last Saddle
So much exuberance came in our exit from the thickly forested slope as we dropped down onto the open saddle that lies above La Madre creek. The sun was now close to the horizon and the light was quickly beginning its transition into typical desert reds and oranges. We had studied the grounds that lay below us on Google Earth and 7.5 minute maps, but we were still not sure if a route existed to the bottom without a repel. We were not carrying rope but were prepared to stay the night in the case that we had to return from the way we just came. An option that we did not relish by any means.
Heading Down in the Dark
Moments fade quickly in the mountains, light slowing for no one. Senses become blurred, leaving you straining with vision, trying in vain to decipher the best course of action through the rock and bush. I do for the most part, enjoy these times at the end of the day. That is, when I am fairly certain of the outcome. This time I harbored a bit of concern, that once coupled with oncoming exhaustion left me stumbling down the extremely steep and loose drop into the tributary of La Madre creek. To be honest, this doesn’t happen to me often. Most of my adventures are fairly tame and would take an act of extreme foolishness to have something go wrong. So this, while frustrating and frightening, was at the same time exhilarating and refreshing. Once I realized the race for light was hopeless, I slowed down and focused on not injuring myself.
It was dark now, pitch black, no Moon in sight. We were working on fumes, struggling with every climb and drop over boulders in this pissy tributary. Inching our way down towards salvation, all the while thoughts in the back of our mind imagined a 100ft cliff blocking our way. In short time our worst fears were realized. Sure enough, there in the tones of black lay a drop off, of which it seemed there was no hope of descent. We dropped our packs right there and fell dishearteningly onto the gravely earth.
“I can fall asleep this instant,” moaned my brother.
“I’m not sure I have the strength to even put my pack back on,” I muttered.
After a quick rest I mustered up the strength to climb up a hill on our left, just one last shot before we settled in for the night. I don’t know if it was the thoughts of a warm bed or the first sip of an ice cold beer that lay waiting in the cooler at the truck that inspired me the most. Whatever it was, it pushed me just enough to discover a use trail.
“Halle-&%#!-lujah,” I huffed. “I found a trail!”
“Awesome,” my brother called up. “I’m on my way.”
What I had discovered was an old trail to a mine from the Miner’s Cabin just below. We followed it down about 10 minutes to the cabin, joyful and renewed with hope. I could almost taste that beer.
After a hot meal of dehydrated beef stew we drew up enough go juice to make the last couple miles down to the truck. The real character of Red Rock Canyon is best realized at night, with the mystical presence of shadow, stark and perfect among the Pinyon. Sound comes as if whispered by ghosts, sprinkled throughout the woods, echoing off the red stone cliffs. The high pitched bat makes its presence known with fleeting glimpses against the night sky. All the creatures seem to be active, glaring at us from behind branch and rock. Contrary to thought is the non-threatening presence of nature at night. I feel like an invisible observer, an outdoor ninja, if it weren’t for the obvious racket of my lead filled boots.
Even though we went through the steps correctly and left a voicemail for the park rangers, we half expected one to be waiting, tapping the ground with his boot and ready to ask a thousand questions. The truck was alone however and with a final moan we threw the packs in the back and slumped down into a blissful car seat. Believe it or not, we were so spent that we lost the desire for a cold beer. In all my outdoor experiences I can’t recall this ever being the case.
In the coming months I plan on repeating the route, this time with GPS to document the route. Please head over to the facebook page and click like to receive updates as this venture continues.
“Where are we going tomorrow Dad?” asked Ash.
“We are going backpacking in Grapevine Canyon!” I said.
“So we are going camping?” Ash replied. He wrapped his Angry Birds blanket tighter around himself.
“Yes, but not how we normally do.” I responded.
“Ya,” said Aaron from the top bunk. “It’s like camping, except we have to hike first.”
“Exactly,” I said. “Now get some sleep. We have a big day tomorrow.”
The wind picked up and rustled the blinds on the window as I shut off the light. Walking down the steps I heard one of them say “I can’t wait till the morning.” I smiled and went to finish packing.
The Next Day
Mumford & Sons blasted on the car stereo as we finished the last of the packing in the parking area by the trailhead. I filled a couple of Nalgenes, trimmed the dogs nails, locked up the truck and then we headed down into the wash. It was sandy and loose as are most washes out in the Mojave Desert. The boys were ripe with excitement however and didn’t miss a beat.
“How far are we going?” huffed Ash.
“Bout 2 or 3 miles,” I replied. “Depends on where we find water.”
“Oh ok,” he said as he rushed to catch up with his brother.
Grapevine Canyon was a spiritual gathering place for the Mohave People, who used it for ritual purposes including an event during the summer solstice. There are over 700 petroglyphs on the rocks near the entrance to canyon. A spring runs pretty much year around, which is why I choose this place. Having to carry water with kids after you are already loaded down more than usual is a burden I’d prefer to avoid.
“Whoa!” exclaimed Aaron. “They are everywhere.”
“Look at these ones,” Ash called out as he ran up to the rock walls.
We were now at the mouth of the canyon where the majority of the petroglyphs are found. The glyphs were created between 1100 and 1900 AD.
Fun Fact: In March 2010, David R. Smith, accompanied by two other individuals, defaced 30 areas of petroglyphs by shooting them with an automatic paintball gun. He was sentenced to serve time in federal prison and pay almost $10,000 in restitution. Ok, maybe not so fun :/
“Come on Dad,” scolded Ash. “That’s enough pictures.”
“Ok ok,” I said. “I’m coming.”
“Don’t get too far ahead,” I called out. “You guys need to keep an eye out for snakes.”
“Ok,” they yelled back. Their pace remaining the same.
“Wait up!” I said sternly this time.
“OK!” came the response.
After catching up, it began to close in even more around us and we were forced to climb up and over a section of rock. Once on the other side the canyon opened up a bit and the grapevines were thick and green.
“I feel like I’m in Jurassic Park,” said Aaron. Pushing his way through the thick foliage and acting out scenes from the movie.
“This is so cool,” remarked Ash. Following the lead of his older brother.
“I’m hungry,” Ash said with a face full of brush.
‘Me too,” came a call from Aaron up ahead.
“Alright,” I conceded. “Let’s stop at the next open area.”
The next open area happened to be just perfect. A large sloping slab of rock with a pretty good view.
“What do you guy’s think so far,” I asked. “Is it too hard?”
“Nah,” answered Aaron. “My feet hurt a little, but it’s fun.”
“Yea,” said Ash. “It’s so fun!”
“Cool,” I said with a grunt while putting the full weight of my backpack back on. “Let’s head up and see if we can find some water. If not we may have to turn around.”
“Ok.” they both said while moving to hoist their backpacks back on too.
We moved up the canyon, checking out every possible spot for water but none were found. After a mile or so of this we decided to turn back and camp near the last spot we saw water. Soon we were there and ready to find a spot for the tent.
The Camp Spot
“Alright little dudes,” I spoke out. “We need to find a flat spot for this tent.”
“How about over here,” spouted Ash
“Or what about this one,” suggested Aaron.
“We need a little bigger space than that I think,” I said. Motioning them to check up on the apex of a small hill. “Go check out that spot.”
They ran up the hill.
“Ya,” said Ash with enthusiasm. “This looks perfect!”
“Yup,” came Aaron’s response. “I think this one will work.”
“Great!” I said. “Then that’s the spot.”
Time to Explore
With the camp all setup, now comes the best part of the day. Good light, exploration and bourbon.
“You guys wanna go explore around,” I asked. I cracked the top of the flask and poured a nip into an aluminum cup from the 50′s.
“Sure!” was their response.
“So this water can make us sick if we don’t clean it?” asked Ash.
“Yup,” I said. “It can give you giardia. Which makes you throw up and have diarrhea.”
“Can you die?” asked Ash.
“Most likely not,” I responded. “But you will have to go to the hospital.”
“That sucks.” said Ash.
“Yup.” I laughed.
We headed back to the tent. The sun was dropping fast and we needed to get a fire ready.
“Why don’t you guys dig a fire pit,” I mentioned. Instructing them to dig a hole and pile the dirt up on the sides. That way when we are done, we just bury the fire under dirt and no one will know it was there.
Now that the fire pit is done we need to go gather wood.
“We need some bark, twigs, branches and a few bigger logs,” I said. The sound of wood cracking and snapping now filled the air as we went to work collecting fuel.
“I’m King Kong” said Aaron triumphantly while hoisting a branch up into the air.
Eat and Relax
With the wood gathered and the sun setting behind the mountains, we got ready to enjoy a hearty meal and a warm spell by the fire. I showed the boys how to start a fire with a magnesium fire starter, which ended up with me falling over as the shredded bark went up like a bomb. Then listened as an ornery owl sent his hoots over the canyon and watched as the full moon rose into the starry night.
“Dad,” Ash said seriously.
“Yes?” I responded.
”Can we eat?” he questioned.
“I love you too, son.” I said smiling as I stood up to get the cooking kit.
End Desert Begin City…
Info on the Grapevine Canyon hike here.