Another Mojave Summer in my Rear-view Mirror

One random companionless cloud drifts indifferently over my plastered box, igniting a 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…

A rainbow frames Turtlehead Peak.

Last bit of light after a long, hot and stormy day over the La Madre Range, NV.

A storm cell passes over Las Vegas in August.

The remains of an intense storm cling to cliffs of Red Rock Canyon NCA. Click and enlarge for better view.

Low Clouds hang below the peaks of the La Madre Range after the clearing of a summer storm.

Frisky Bighorn enjoying the cool air after the storm in Lake Mead NRA.

The storm clouds break and leave me with an intense sunset over Red Rock Canyon NCA.

Blue Moon of August rises over Las Vegas.

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

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The Beginnings of a Trail

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 Route

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.

Sun filled rocky ridge. Facing forward(East).

An expanse of view. Looking right(South).

Looking back(West) at the Harris Canyon Trail.

Open Spaces

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.

Out of the trees once more. Moving up towards a burned out ridge.

Decimated Pinyon Pines lie down in defeat. Facing forward(East).

A view to the right(South) from the burned out ridge.

A typical position one would find themselves in along this route.

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.

Looking back(west)towards Griffith Peak(left) and Harris Mountain(right), from where we just came.

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A view from the lush saddle opens up the north towards the Sheep Mountains and the Desert National Wildlife Range.

After the saddle a shorter climb will take you to an even higher second ridge. Turn right(east) and skirt around the left side of another peak.

Gaining the high point on the second ridge. Facing east(straight).

From the last high point facing south(right). It's all downhill from here.

A last look south(right) reveals a beautiful expanse of the typical Nevada mountain ranges.

Soon to be left behind, Lovell Ranch lays far below. Facing West Southwest.

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.

Looking back(West) past the bushy saddle.

Looking back(Northwest). From left to right Griffith, Harris, Mummy and Fletcher peaks are all within view.

Looking forward(East) as we come up to a small hill along the ridge. The route after the hill heads left.

Now on top of the hill. The summit on the right is the last before dropping steeply down into Red Rock Canyon. The route misses this summit to the left but you could, after the trail is built, make an effort to reach it. In fact, it would be an amazing place to setup camp for a night.

This is what the route turned into just after the top of the small hill. It took us nearly two hours to go 1 mile.

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.

Looking east from a point just above the saddle. Turtle Head peak is center with Calico Basin just to the right. Las Vegas lies in the distance.

Another view east with my happy face in frame.

Looking north towards the Sheep Range. We contemplated following the canyon down in the case that we had to turn around. We were pretty sure we could find an old road to take to the highway. That sounds something like the beginning to a "I shouldn't be alive" story, huh?

Looking Northeast down the ridge from the saddle. The days last light plays on the slopes of the La Madre range. La Madre summit lies beyond. We went down to the right.

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.

The final moments of light encompass Turtle Head as we descend into the dark unknown.

The Cliff

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.

The last photo snapped. Around 12am as we cooked ourselves a hot meal. So exhausted that I couldn't even focus enough to get a decent shot.

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.