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

An Arizona Jewel

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

The Drive

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. :/

Burro Creek

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.

 

Camp Spot

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.

Next Morning

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.

Morning Soak

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…

Whippersnapper Backpacker

Bedtime

“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.

Ash

Aaron

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.

Petroglyphs

“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.”

Aaron was already headed up and in short time we were making our way through the large boulders. Hints of water began to appear and the further up we went the more lush the canyon became.

Heading Up

“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.

Lunch

“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 tent is left center.

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 we headed down into the canyon to really spend some time looking around and to find a good spot to filter water.

Filtering Water

“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.

Make Fire

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.