Why not climb the second highest peak in Red Rock Canyon and watch the sunset. While we’re at it, why don’t we bring a bottle of Jim Beam and Dinner. Oh and let’s bring our bikes so we can ride down the Scenic Loop at night. That’s pretty much how the conservation went that started this last minute trip idea.
Red Rock Canyon is just outside of Las Vegas, NV. It can be reached via Hwy 159. The entrance station is 15 minutes from the city and charges a $7.00 entry fee. It’s host to a one-way scenic loop, which is 13 miles long and takes about 30 minutes with no stops.
The Scenic Loop closes around dark, so leaving the truck parked after hours was out of the question. Instead, we left it at the exit and had a friend drop us off with the bikes at the Willow Springs Picnic Area. From here, we road up Rocky Gap Road to an unmarked trailhead and stashed the bikes in the trees. It is now 3:00pm and we have about 3 hours of daylight left.
Now I’m a fan of exercise and I think I’m in pretty good shape but the first 30 minutes of this hike makes me think otherwise. It is nothing more than a faint climbers trail fading in and out of the Pinyons and Junipers. Tending to a narrow ridge and preferring not to switchback, it insists on running your loaded down butt straight the fuck up. It does this so it can giggle at your wide eyed frantic gasps for air, and I am pretty sure this results in the trembling of pine needles. Which is akin to a cackling seizure by a preteen girl or the jiggle of Santa’s belly fat as he wishes you a Merry Fucking Christmas.
After about 45 minutes of cursing at trees and repeating the word “up” we reach the table like top of the sandstone summits that make Red Rock so popular. It’s here that the hike starts to fill out and the interest in the view of your boots begins to diminish. There are huge slabs of broken sandstone, wind blown trees and fresh crisp air. There are views overlooking the entire Las Vegas Valley and all the way out to Lake Mead where a portion of the lake is visible on the clearest of days. Vistas can also be had of the La Madre Range, Spring Mountains and Rainbow Mountains. It is worth every breath to be up here wandering.
We will be returning on the same route and must consider how we will find it in the dark. So the next step after gaining the upper most ridge was to make sure, beyond doubt, that we had the spot where we drop down marked. It was here that if one was not sure and gambled with picking the wrong route, would risk cliffing out and have to climb back up. The landscape was studied and a silhuoetted cairn was built. This is a cairn built up on a high spot, a boulder or hill, so one has a good chance of seeing it against the skyline at night.
With piece of mind and a slower heartbeat we made our way slowly and aimlessly towards the peak. The Sun flirted with the horizon, leaving muted warm colors on the seemingly unmovable blocks of sandstone. One only need turn their head to gain interest in something new. Our heads were turned in step to the opening of a new vista. A vista of concrete, asphalt and filth. From here, however, I could tolerate it . Its sits down there with its mouth shut for once, revealing itself as if a band-aid was just yanked off of it. It’s now around 5:00pm. This was about the time we started pouring whiskey.
North Peak sits at 7047 feet above sea level. It was once thought to be the highest peak in the RRCNCA(Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area) but was later determined to be 23 feet shorter than its nearby neighbor Mt. Wilson. It is, none the less, an impressive place to spend some time. Its east face drops an amazing 2000 feet straight down to the head of one the many narrow canyons that permeate Red Rock. This one being a tributary to Ice Box Canyon. A popular canyon that ends in an amphitheatre like setting with a huge swimming pool size water tank and a seasonal pour over waterfall.
The last moments of the day slipped over our heads casting shadows that do literally stretch to the horizon. Watching them slide across the city from these heights is mesmerizing and I can’t help but think of a blanket being pulled over the earth as if mother nature is tucking herself in for the night. The summit register was opened, read and signed. The whiskey opened, poured and sipped. It’s only after a hard days work with a metabolism working over time that I enjoy whiskey so much. Straight, at room temperature is a must. No mixers, no ice. Just pure strong bourbon. It opens the nasal passages and brings about a sense of olfactory over stimulation. I could not draw enough breath and must have appeared somewhat silly, sniffing the air and sipping whiskey in repeating fashion.
Since it was a somewhat spur of the moment trip, we didn’t plan much on making anything fancy. So we just grabbed a couple backpackers meals out of the box and made do. Doesn’t matter, because after climbing a mountain and several cupfuls of whiskey, your appetite is sure to be aroused by the slightest morsel. Boil the water, add the water and wait. Easy enough.
Now with our bellies full, we watched as the lights of Vegas begin there nightly routine. The long stretching streets can be seen clearly now, running entirely from edge to edge. Surprisingly, traffic signals can be seen quite easily switching from green to yellow to red. The strip in all its gambling oversexed glory is chalked full of color and the spotlight beaming from the top of the Luxor pyramid stands like a beacon of excess.
As it got darker the buzz got stronger. To have faith in ones self to safely descend a mountain at night while intoxicated may seem foolish, but I have never proclaimed myself not to be a fool. So let’s just leave credit where credit is due. With a last gaze out over the beautiful night sky we made ready for the descent.
Creeping down and over giant slabs of sandstone, stumbling over twisted fallen tree trunks and trying not to spill the whiskey became the norm now. Our eyes properly adjusted to dark, we walked in anticipation of spotting the cairn. It was found with no trouble and the descent begin. What took us nearly an hour coming up was over in roughly 20 minutes. At the bottom we fooled around in the trees for a bit, laughing at ourselves for not properly planning on finding the bikes. We did in good time, however, find them and on we went down Rocky Gap Road. The road was dirt and somewhat tough to navigate at night, but we found ourselves on the smooth asphalt of the Scenic Loop in no time. It is from here, entirely downhill to the truck. So we coasted effortlessly for miles on a moonless night with cool air and solitude. And with the feeling of doing something unique, a reassuring fact is brought to the surface that it is these moments I strive to find. We arrived at the truck around 1am.
End Desert, Begin City.