Sweltering Foretaste, aka Kindling My Sol.

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.

Red Springs – Calico Basin, NV. Sunrise 5:43am.

 

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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.

A Fistful of Photographs. Good, Bad and Ugly.

The dead and the living, dawn or dusk, on the domes and spires of all the west is ineffably beautiful.  Its dry desert country crowds the libraries of heart and mind with volumes of inescapable yearning.  The flaming glory of the sun scorches the path.  So that touring, not too much unlike the dealing of cards, boot by boot plays wild into the landscapes new and fresh, left untouched by the societies of man.

Listen to “Ecstasy of Gold” by Ennion Morricone from the movie “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” while you read this post for an enhanced experience. I know, kind of corny.

 1 mile. Facing east before crossing a wash in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

A photoshop painting produced by iamzal, who was inspired by the above photo.

1.1 miles. Bulge of Sandstone

1.5 miles. Creosote, Spiny Menodora, Bursage, Rock and Sand in Valley of Fire

1.8 miles. A vista towards the Northeast reveals the hint of a rainbow.

Thar’s drawings in them thar hills.  Of which, I stumbled across quite by accident!  Y’all will get some clues as to where, but in respect to those who came before us and the sensitive nature of the petroglyphs, I would rather leave this to be somewhat of a challenge to locate.  To the observant, however, the map and pictures would surely not lead them astray.  The footsteps mark the path, the wagon the parking area and the small bit of road at the bottom of the map is paved and within Valley of Fire State Park.  The topography on the map is accurate and the “spiral” marks the approximate location of the petroglyphs.  Should you find yourself in the region, this remarkably well preserved and little known parcel of the past would make a distinctive foray.  It is roughly 3 miles round trip if you head straight for the petroglyphs and is not on any marked trail.

For your travels, here are some codes of the west…

If you pass someone on the trail, don’t look back at them. It implies you don’t trust them.

 Never order anything weaker than whiskey.

It’s alright to cuss, but only around men, horses and cows.

Always drink your whiskey with your gun hand, to show your friendly intentions.

Never try on another man’s hat

As stubborn as my dog is, this is a lucky shot!

2 miles. About the spot I turned west. This is looking out towards the Lake Mead RCA.

2.5 miles. Bursage and Creosote creep towards the sandstone hills.

2.7 miles. To what and where is none of my concern, only that it is there.

3 miles. An enchanting area of standing rock.

3.5 miles. Now within the “Courtyard of the Ancients”. A perch overlooking an obvious camp is littered with some of the best quality petroglyphs I have ever seen.

Courtyard of the Ancients

An unofficial designation “Courtyard of the Ancients” was nominated by me personally, as I could find no other for this fascinating locale.  It is an open fairly flat patch of desert, perhaps 2 to 3 acres in size, surrounded by stately walls of sandstone.  Once inside it is hard not to sense that this was a unique and meaningful place for the native peoples that inhabited this area in the distant past.

Should you enter the courtyard from the Southeast, look to the walls on the right or east side of the courtyard.  A small petroglyph man is carved into the rock marking the point at which you should climb to the ledge.  This is quite obviously an instruction, which is the first petroglyph I have found that has a very direct and evident meaning.  The climb up to the ledge is an easy class 4 of about 30 feet.  Up there, one can see how the artist or journalist of the ancients would gaze out over their people and chisel in the stories of the hunt, where to find water or testaments to their Gods.

The ledge in the Courtyard of the Ancients.

A well preserved Bighorn from up on the ledge. Looking Southeast.

Over the expanse of effortless centuries, the immensity of storms bound with thunder and filled with rain tear apart the ground, providing a sequel of sorts to each of its predecessor.  It is hard in this country to gather raindrops into streams, much less streams into rivers.  Most go unnoticed, torn from the land and pulled down into the realm of the roots.

3.7 miles. A burst of rain on my walk out of the Courtyard of the Ancients.

3.8 miles. Looking back after the rain cloud passed, one of the main walls inside the courtyard was beautifully lit. I could not get my camera out fast enough!

4 miles. A pedestal of rock passed as exiting the Courtyard.

4.5 miles. Old wooden structure of unknown use.

Vast, extent and ornate are the layers of sky, horizon and earth.  This park out yonder, in its wild extravagance, exceeds all of the cathedrals of man.  The fable of cowboy and injun echo among the rock and ruin.  Old wood, patient carvings and used up camps still permeate the west.  Holding testament to the proud, the bold and the foolish who set boot or moccasin on the soil of legends.

Sky, Horizon and Earth

5 miles. Approaching the end of the trek as a forbidding storm cloud pushes overhead.

Having inhaled in the redolent of creosote on so many occasions, I am reminded of a multitude of adventures when among it.  In turbid skies, so it seems, does the essence of the desert rise and waft through the air. Ever waiting, ever still until the after effects of far away places bring in the blessed moisture. Standing here on the final leg of the journey, I can wait until the last second as the storm barrels and rolls its way across the region. Drenching the parched landscape, reinventing the desert into a respite of life and good fortune.

End Desert Begin City…

.

Ridges, Peaks and Whiskey

“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.

Looking towards Red Rock Canyon Recreation Area

Calico Basin

Las Vegas

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 😉

End Desert Begin City