“There are places that sit undefined beyond small towns. Places that speak softly over craggy ridges, casting shadows within shadows.”
This unattended place is located just beyond the backyards of a rural neighborhood called Calico Basin. It is just outside Las Vegas, NV off of Hwy 159. To get there, head towards Red Rock Canyon but turn right onto Calico Basin Rd about a mile and a half before the entrance station. Follow the road as it heads all the way back to the Northwest corner of the neighborhood. There you will find a dirt road that serves as a parking area for the trailhead.
From a locals perspective the desert around Calico Basin boasts the perfect mix of accessibility and adventure. It’s just far enough to get away from it all and close enough to do something spontaneous after work. Come here and roam. Preferably in loops, heading up, over and down the dry dusty ridges and summits that remain unnamed and unnoticed by the crowds of “tourons”. “Touron” is a hybrid word that combines tourist with moron. If you don’t get it, you are one, sorry. I know, I’m an asshole.
So onto the part in which our boots leave signatures in the trail. Onto the part in which the bullshit of city life is substituted by the red dirt and rock, white bursage and rabbitbush that lay siege and stunted upon the ground.
Shade and shadow are heavy as we begin and the play of the sun against the torn edges of the mountains has already begun. It is brisk, touching the high 30’s with a suspicion of snow gathering on the horizon. All seems to be of what I would call a perfectly fine day for a hike.
Our presumptions for snow were confirmed. From the ridge we could see the fleecy thin vales of powder. I welcome the weather. An adjustment to the never ending days of sunshine and happiness. As if snow were not novel enough in and of itself, it also provides an odd contrast to the droughty juiceless wild that surrounds in the Mojave Desert.
Heading west along the still rising ridge the summit was soon to come to view. This is a good thing to see, mainly because it is the highest point of the hike. It also happens to be a wonderful place to break the seal on a bottle of Jim Beam and pluck the views from the skyline.
A pocket-sized fire to fix the chill was prepared. A brumal day such as this calls for it. Dig a modest hole and gather a few dead shrubs. It should be just enough to warm the fingers and spirits. When done, bury it with the removed dirt and a large rock. No one will ever know it was there. Speaking of spirits, a healthy buzz was put on and the feeling of well being was delightful. Back to the views.
The sharp temperature and biting wind, while enchanting to the soul, was not so obliging to the body. It persuaded us with its relentless unsteady bursts of boreal breath to make a retreat from our lofty perch. An unsteady eye was then placed to the gritty wash buried in the red rocks below. With a half a bottle of bourbon left, we stumbled toward the formidable cliffs, peering out over the edge with the belief that a logical route to the bottom did exist.
After a down climb of a short class 4 section, we made our way by bumble stumbling down the unstable broken rock. Arms all a flail, sidestepping across the now comical landscapes with bellies a sloshin’.
After a concluding climb down through some jagged and misplaced chunks of earth, we now stood in gravel. Able to look back up and contemplate the foolish acts of down climbing a class 4 section while intoxicated. Once again, I never proclaimed myself not to be a fool.
As with every wash, it is the power of water the defines the place in which we now stand and in fitting form we decide to defy nature and go against the current. Up the dry falls and chalk stones we go, walking with a quiet resonating rhythm.
The darkening skies bring about a sense of strangeness in the wilderness, albeit not much of one here, it still beckons the mind to think stranger thoughts. With the whiskey almost gone though, the thought of food now creeps into play.
Shadows now gone, the climate stark and frigid, it is the persistence of place that strikes me as bold. The turmoil of night is such that it resembles an unchangeable channel. A removal of choice that is played out not with cruelty, but with lack of emotion. Those caught out in it must not be taken by its lack of, but rather rejoice in it as a reminder of what is to come and what just was.
5 miles, 3 hours and 1 bottle of Jim Beam later we arrive at the truck, happy and sober enough to drive 😉