Desert Means Dry, Not Hot.

January moves across the landscapes of the desert.  The month’s diurnal agenda, filled with sharp shivery bits of time, is cause for hesitation. With the winter like weather comes hurried shuffles from home to car, car to work, work to car and car to home. Nevertheless, the call to step out into its brumal embrace falls through the windshield. And as the day’s end moves closer, my foot grows weighted against the pedal.

A January sunset overlooking the Calico Basin area outside of Las Vegas, NV. Turtlehead Summit lies left center.

A January sunset overlooking the Calico Basin area outside of Las Vegas, NV. Turtlehead Summit lies left center.

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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.

Bad Deeds, Gritty Peaks, Sea Creatures and Rooftops

Listen to “Harm and Boom” by Balmorhea

Daydreaming is central to the explorer mindset. Here at the desk I often drift off  through the window, imagining myself perched up on the summit of some mountain sipping bourbon. Other times I put myself  in the unkempt transitions and erased spaces that lie at the end of cities so that they should not be forgotten or discredited. Then move past into the bellowing real estate that has, in the short term, avoided the clawing consumption of municipal monstrosities.

View out the window from the desk in my home. The summit of Cheyenne Mountain is through the trees.

In these forlorn lands we must tend to the views that sit in front of millions, days on end, with no preference to be seen, saved or damaged.  We should move up above the congested air and breathe deep in the knowledge that, for at least a moment, you alone sit above it all. All the tragedy and loss. All the jealousy and ignorance. All the greed and destruction. Then while up there glaring out over the city you should allow your thoughts to state “Let them swim in the foul muck. Let them pretend that purpose is preserved in the concrete, asphalt and stucco. Let them squint and amuse themselves with wonderment over your whatfor on this lofty abode”.

+ 0.14/2945' Elev/11:48pm/3.28.12
At the base of Cheyenne Mtn. It lies on BLM land and there is no designated trail. This is just wasted space at the edge of Las Vegas.

+ 0.30 miles/3066' Elev/12:01pm/3.28.12
Starting the ascent. Looking back at the city and Lone Mountain, Elev 3342'.

+ 0.47 miles/3297' Elev/12:16pm/3.28.12
A turn towards the east reveals the Vegas Strip.

+ 0.50 miles/3353' Elev/12:24pm/3.28.12
Looking North with Gass Peak in the distance. My house is down there.

Strolling along mountain ridges so close to the city is an amusing activity. The disparity between expectation and reality is bold and complete. Barking dogs, throaty engines and sirens drift up to become odd and off kilter to the ears as they interweave with wispy winds, gleeful birds and shuffling feet. Barrel Cactus, Yucca, Creosote and Limestone all play their role in the desert scene while the roads, homes, cars and buildings furnish a human element. Look to one side for an expanse of peaks, ridges and canyons stretching to the horizon. Then shift your gaze to the other and an urban landscape is dumped in front of you.

+ 0.62 miles/3529' Elev/12:38pm/3.28.12
On the ridge now looking North. Yucca Peak of the Sheep Mountains within the Desert National Wildlife Range sits far in the distance.

An opposing view taken Jan 2, 2011 from the summit of Yucca Peak looking towards Cheyenne Mtn.

+0.67 miles/3563' Elev/12:43pm/3.28.12
Looking South along the ridge towards the summit of Cheyenne Mtn. The 215 Beltway and a scar from a failed neighborhood are visible. Red Rock Canyon and the La Madre Range are out of view to the right.

+ 0.69 miles/3580' Elev/12:42pm/3.28.12
A view on the other side of Cheyenne Mtn. Potosi Mountain is visible on the horizon.

+ 0.74 miles/ 3767' Elev/1:03pm/3.28.12
My dog on the middle summit.

+ 0.78 miles/3664' Elev/1:12pm/3.28.12
Dropping down off of the middle summit.

+ 0.82 miles/3624' Elev/1:22pm/3.28.12
Walking along ridge looking at summit of Cheyenne Mtn. Las Vegas in the background.

The glassy sharp Limestone found around the Las Vegas Valley was formed horizontally at the bottom of ancient seas some 600-250 million years ago. It is made up mostly from the bits and pieces of plankton, precipitates, and suspended sediment. Also to a lesser degree, out of dead fish, seaweeds and shells. It is a common form of grey and gritty earth found stuck and stout in the desert panoramas and while primarily not, it can contain fossiliferous material. Surprisingly, here on Cheyenne Mountain, fossils are found in abundance consisting of corals and mollusks.

Rugose Coral

Rugose Coral

Mollusk Fossil near the summit of Cheyenne Mountain with Las Vegas in the background.

Mollusk Fossil in Limestone

Syringopora Coral

Rugose Corral

Rugose Coral

A strip of fossils

Is that a sharks tooth?

Rugose Coral

Rugose Coral

We humans must touch everything. We feel inclined in every aspect of our lives to meddle and tinker with our surroundings. To leave it as is must mean we have been defeated by nature, tortured by time and embarrassed by fate. Even here up on this insignificant summit someone was inclined to build a substantial rock wall to hide behind. Whoever was inspired to do this, I must say I am impressed with your fortitude.

+ 1.02 miles/3646' Elev/1:45pm/3.28.12
A camp spot surrounded by rock.

+ 1.02 miles/3646' Elev/1:48pm/3.28.12
Closer inspection of the wall.

+ 1.02 miles/3646' Elev/1:50pm/3.28.12
From above.

Today just had that feel to it, kind of drab and dull. The skies were flat and low, the air still and the sounds muted. It took a bit of internal debate to get going this morning and after the last cup of coffee I was finally inclined. All said, it was the perfect atmosphere for an urban themed adventure. Attached and infused with metropolitan presence. Tinged with ancient insignia and soured by the mustering of men.

+ 1.22 miles/3596' Elev/1:50pm/3.28.12
A last look at the summit before heading down.

+ 1.32 miles/3446' Elev/2:10pm/3.28.12
Heading down.

The deeds of men are entombed with sin, preset and determined by time. Evidence of which comes trampled and ripe with death. It’s as if clowns have roamed uncouth and haphazardly through the edges of towns laying their reeking breath upon the ground. So much are the edges of this city ruined by gold trimmed assholes born from ignorance that I come to expect the dissatisfaction of my fellow man as commonplace. More so, it is the acceptance of my own opinion that worries me the most.

This belongs here.

Oh ya, that looks nice right there.

Burnt and beautiful

Looks like they tried to crawl away. They didn't make it.

Where the city ends and the desert begins.

End Desert Begin City…

Albino Ram on Hogback Ridge

La Madre "The Mother" Mountain seems to watch over the Las Vegas Valley.

Occasionally, rather than the hectic hustle of an all day hike, I prefer to spend most of my time in the hills still and quiet. Sometimes more can happen when less is done. So I sat up on Hogback Ridge overlooking the La Madre Range and the entirety of Red Rock Canyon NCA for hours reading and waiting for nothing to happen. Then, something did.

A bit of Vegas beyond the Calico Rocks and Turtlehead Peak(left).

A view over the canyons.

A dignified bitch. She's getting old.

Utah Juniper allowing Turtlehead to Peak.

I heard it from behind. Having lived and explored in Montana for so long in the past, noises in the backcountry still quicken my heart. I suppose the fear of the Grizzly is just instinct, but having jumped up to see what was going, I quickly realized just how lucky I got!

What the hell is that, a Mountain Goat?

Nope, that's an Albino Bighorn Ram.

And of course he was in low light between the Sun and I. Still got a pretty good one I suppose.

Hogback Ridge facing the Las Vegas Valley.

Looks like a Barrel Cactus of fun.

Turtlehead Peak getting ready for the sunset.

Turtlehead peak sticking his head up to reach the days last light.

To score days such as these, one could assume nothing triumphant or mystical. It is frankly a moment so limited in time, that on a calendar of the universe it would not even begin to mark the smallest of events. However, through the average human pupil diameter of 11mm, one can assume that what they have just witnessed is so unique and so fleeting that the mark on the calendar of a human lifetime spans across the entirety of years.

Enjoy this timelapse I made during my time sitting around Hogback Ridge, Red Rock Canyon Las Vegas, Nevada. Music: Winter Waltz by toru-spicy.

End Desert Begin City

Breathless and Still was Windy Peak in the Hills.

On top of the rock as the clock went ticktock, was a walk without persons all the way to the top. 6 miles on trail, 6000 feet high, as our boots met the mountains, the mountains the sky.  Nine miles on 160 from 9 plus 150, we set out for the summit all clipped up and nifty. On the ridges and dirt humps, through the sages and tree trunks, our boots were laced firmly making click clacks and clue clumps.

From limestone to sandstone like pepper to salt, beneath us was changing to the Keystone Thrust Fault.  Rocky and sandy all in one place, the vista and sunshine and the smile on our face.  Up here in a high place and the home of the clouds is a far place from people and the blah of the crowds.

All twisted and gnarly, all chiseled with spunk were the ghostly leftovers of the dead trees one trunk.

On the summit, the apex, the capstone or peak, the height of the mountain, the achievement of feet. All wrapped up in color from sundowns sunlight, not a breath was a blowing, not enough for a kite. To the signing and writing of names with delight, on the paper, the saver of times out of sight.

So down to the lowlands, down with a frown, from leaving the polished and glamorous crown. And then from the distance came a great shine, the sun on the mountains all jagged with spines.

All was not over, though close to the end. Through a gap in the red rock I saw a good friend.

The pictures have ended, the battery done, the moon has now taken the place of the sun. On down to the auto, on down in the dark, on down to the comfort, the car out of park.


Windy Peak is located within the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Follow this link for detailed information about the hike.