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.

Advertisements

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…

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.

.

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.

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.

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…

Within a Damp Desert Canyon

“Big Country” by Bela Fleck with Ian Case.

Setting Out

There are corners close to cities that still endeavor on with quiet enchantment. Locked away just past the well meaning short steppers, the happy sunshine families and the cyborg photographers slogging along just far enough. Such is the average experience at Red Rock. And there, in reason, lies the need to rush past the first miles and dive headfirst into the veiled side canyons that permeate this sandstone outcropping. It is here that the noises and distractions from a more hectic hustle begin to fall away as if cropped by the cliffs themselves.

+ 1.18 miles/4157' Elev/11:36am/3.30.12
Rounding the corner into Fern Canyon.

Visit the Key page for info about photo descriptions.

+ 1.21 miles/4289' Elev/11:39am/3.30.12
Around the bend Ponderosa Pine come into view.

Now Within Walls

Inside, the sun shall sit stubborn, fluttering at angles, halving the canyon in brilliance and mystery. The Ponderosa Pines that grow tall and healthy here have somewhat of a dilemma should they wish to end their lives lying flat. Fall wrong and they will spend years on display, leaning on the immovable stone, naked in death.

+ 1.30 miles/4305' Elev/11:45am/3.30.12
A brief climb up to avoid a choked creek.

+ 1.45 miles/4322' Elev/11:56am/3.30.12
Looking back at the entrance.

+ 1.47 miles/4312' Elev/12:02pm/3.30.12
Dropped down into the creek. Under an overhang with a dead leaning tree.

Spectral Stature

Rumors persist that dreams come strange when surrounded by cliff and that the spirits of the ancients push rock down on those who don’t respect these oracular stomping grounds.  I admit, I can’t help but to throw an occasionally gaze upward, searching the precipice for something shadowy passing judgement on me the intruder.

+ 1.53 miles/4483' Elev/12:12pm/3.30.12
A climber above on the cliff.

Watery Glen

Cramped and wet as it dodges and slides it way down the canyon. The drips, drops, flops and splashes of water fills the hollowed out spaces with resonant racket. A bouquet of aromas, sweet and swampy waft through the air. The beginnings of spring are detectable, wildlife is chipper and the sentiment of well being runs vigorously through the veins. To rejoice in spring, observing vibrant life aggrandizing its design, is intensely satisfying and deserving of an emotion all of its own. Fern Canyon is surprisingly adept at providing such pleasures to the senses.

+ 1.59 miles/4478' Elev/12:27pm/3.30.12
A shy fall.

+ 1.48 miles/4313' Elev/12:04pm/3.30.12
The creek hugs the canyon wall.

+ 1.64 miles/4501' Elev/12:45pm/3.30.12
One of the many pools that adorn this canyon.

Living Up to its Name

The fern is odd here in this stubborn thirsty district, but sure enough it exists and in more places than you would expect. To come across one in its damp state seems to add a touch of grace and is a drastic compliment to the surrounding vegetation. They often flourish in problematic digs where flowering plants may have a hard time taking root.  This makes it seem as if nature recognized that these nooks should not be left bare of beauty just because of a denied invitation.

+ 1.68 miles/4509' Elev/12:52pm/3.30.12
Common Chain Fern (Front) and the Maidenhair Fern (Back).

+ 1.69 miles/4510' Elev/12:57pm/3.30.12
Common Chain Fern.

+ 1.69 miles/4510' Elev/12:59pm/3.30.12
Common Chain Fern along bottom of cliff.

+ 1.70 miles/4514' Elev/1:07pm/3.30.12
Maidenhair Fern.

Apex at Nosh Boulder

Climb in and stumble out. This tends to be the pattern here in the canyons of Red Rock. Ducking under and through bush tunnels, pulling yourself up boulders wedged tight from tremendous plunges and hopping across the smaller ones to avoid a foot drenching. All of these lead to a point where you must declare “Ok, I’ve had enough.” Here in Fern Canyon there is a rather opportune rock that I have dubbed Nosh Boulder. It provides a high point amid the very heavy bush to grab a snack and enjoy the views.

+ 1.80 miles/4595' Elev/1:23pm/3.30.12
Looking East up the canyon wall.

+ 1.82 miles/4607' Elev/1:27pm/3.30.12
Nearing the apex of the hike.

+- 1.90 miles/4692' Elev/1:43pm/3.30.12
View towards rear of canyon from Nosh Boulder.

Heading Out

A whole new canyon awaits for the slackened unhasty pace back out. With breathing subdued I can now discern the more subtle sounds. A throaty frog lays hidden somewhere in the puddles, a Carpenter Bee gentle and giant swings through the cool still canyon air, the calling out of “on belay”  and “climbing” drift down from the lofty heights while soft muted sounds of the creek rebound and reflect off the canyon walls. In these quieted moments I struggle to not feel offended by my own pandemonium.

- 1.82 miles/4607' Elev/2:15pm/3.30.12
The limbs still lay bare here from winters chill.

- 1.68 miles/4516' Elev/2:28pm/3.30.12
Climber on his perch.

- 1.54 miles/4467' Elev/2:42pm/3.30.12
A most excellent looking swimming hole.

Red Dots

In places the white sandstone is freckled with red dots. The red color is cooked up by a union of iron and oxygen known as hematite, a mineral named from the Greek word for blood. The dots are conceived by the process of water precipitating through the sandstone while it is hundreds of feet underground. Water moves the surrounding hematite through the stone into concentrations, called iron concretions. It can form strips, dots, circles, marbles and many other random shapes. Why it forms circular shapes is not understood very well, but is assumed that some sort of nucleus starts the process.

- 1.54 miles/4467' Elev/2:44pm/3.30.12
Iron Concretions.

At An End

Moving out into the full warm sun, fleeing the chasm and its intriguing grasp, I can hear the restless zoo like nature of scurrying humans on the trail below. A couple sits 100′ below arguing about which way to turn. Another group is poking fun at an older man for wearing tie-die. But there is, in the distance, a fleeting sound of the creek. Reassuring me of its reality and pleading with me to return soon before the unsocial swelter decries its existence.  Soon these haunts will be blistering and undesirable.

End Desert Begin City…

- 1.34 miles/4325' Elev/2:59pm/3.30.12
Getting ready to exit Fern Canyon.

- 1.04 miles/4270' Elev/3:08pm/3.30.12
Out in the full sun brings flowers.

- 0.98 miles/4204' Elev/3:14pm/3.30.12
A final look out over Pine Creek before dropping down onto the main trail.

Fern Canyon info can be found here.

I’ve posted this hike just before leaving for a backpacking trip. I apologize in advance for not responding to comments promptly. 🙂