Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hike 2013.029 -- La Madre Mountains Wilderness Area, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Hiked Sunday, May 26.

On the way in to town, I stopped at the REI, which is in "The District." The District is one of those upscale, outdoor shopping malls where you park in a big structure, then walk on a faux Main Street to do your shopping. It's in Henderson, adjacent (to the east) of Green Valley Station casino/resort, just south of I-215 and west of Green Valley Parkway.

I had some dividend dollars to spend, and figured they'd be well-stocked with Las Vegas-area hiking maps. Well, not really. They had a "Green Trails" map of the Charleston Peak area, and one of Red Rock Canyon. I already had the Red Rock Canyon one. The other maps were for major hiking areas out of state, so I went ahead and got the National Geographic map of Mojave National Preserve.

Turned out, the place I wanted to hike wasn't on any of these maps, however. It was Trip 16 in the Western Region section of Brian Beffort's "Las Vegas & Southern Nevada: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide." Now, keep in mind that this was the same guy/book that sent me down a ridiculously off-pavement debacle of a route when a 1000% safer and easier route was available to get to Sloan Canyon, and I guess I should have tried for additional references before heading out to La Madre Peak.

Yet, here I was, shooting north on U.S. 95, then turning left at NV-157, which is the Kyle Canyon route towards Mt. Charleston.

The book's directions said to drive 8.7 miles on NV-157 before turning left on Harris Springs Road. Turns out I forgot to note my mileage when I turned on 157, but it was a moot point. I did reset my odometer on the return trip, and the road I was looking for only registered 8.5 miles on my odometer from U.S. 95.

His description of the road was accurate, however: A "well-graded gravel road." There were no signs indicating the name of this road, unfortunately. So I checked the other two roads nearby. Neither seemed to me to be "well-graded," so I went back to the one with the sign for a private property mining site down the road.

In case you also forget to reset your odometer upon turning on to NV-157, Harris Springs Road is the third one after the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area boundary sign. It was about 1.8 miles west of the sign, and, as I said, the only road you'll pass near here that qualifies as "well-graded gravel."

The book then said to drive 2.7 miles on this road until you reach an unsigned, ungraded jeep trail on your left. Well, again, there are a lot of unsigned, ungraded jeep trails in the area. The one I took was at a rise just about 2.7 miles, as directed. I actually drove a little pass this point, however, looking for a place to park. An old campsite/shooting area was just 100 yards or so past the road junction. A huge-diameter pipe segment (with many bullet holes) and assorted other well-shot-up targets were in this large parking area. A dozen cars could fit in the area, easy. It was the only really large parking area I saw on the way in.

I took a number of pictures of this area. But I forgot to reset the programming on my camera, so they all came out uselessly overexposed.

From my parking spot, I headed back up Harris Spring Road, and turned south on to what seemed to be the right road. A vinyl road sign said the motorized section of the trail would end in 2.5 miles.

As described in the book, the jeep trail soon ran along the western base of a large, rounded hill. I looked back repeatedly, taking pictures to remind myself where my trail would be in relation to the rounded hill nearby, and the more distant mountain with the large white dome atop it. I'm moderately confident that must be Angel Peak. Between those two points of reference behind me, and the obvious La Madre Peak in front of me, I knew I could not get *really* lost.

The first bit of trail was quick and easy. I ascended through a thick Joshua Tree forest. Within two miles, this transitioned to a beautiful dwarf forest of juniper and pinyon pines. In just about one hour from the start of my hike, I passed the sign indicating I was entering the La Madre Wilderness Area. That would make it about 2.5 miles, as advertised.

The next half-mile was also a breeze, with the trail still a defunct jeep trail, it was still easy to follow. Indeed, I got the impression that the real wilderness area must start a bit further in, as here, there were plenty of tire tracks and turnoffs for OHV to pull in and provide a nice camping area.

Unfortunately, this all soon came to an end. I saw a number of "No Motor Vehicle" signs at a point where the trail appeared to make a sharp left. I first tried the left, but it appeared to end in a small loop (in reality, it might not have been a loop, and the book's map suggests a sharp turn right there, so I should probably have continued that way). Instead, feeling I had lost the trail, I went back to where all those signs were. I believed those must have been pointing the way to the old trail, only where motorized vehicles were prohibited.

This route ran along the ridge, which seemed like it would be the easier way forward. So, even with a map telling me the trail was supposed to be down in the canyon to my east, I stayed on the ridge. I did drop down a few times, crossing the ravine, looking for a trail. But I never found it.

Either the actual trail just isn't that well defined past the sharp turn to the east, or I was looking in the wrong drainage. In any event, after going across the ravine and back, I just headed back up the ridge, hoping to reach a good view point. Unfortunately, my ridgeline ended long before it reached the pass. So I gave up. Drank some more Powerade, at a Power Bar, and turned around.

Given my cross-country route up to here, I was forced to take a cross-country route back. Not too big of a problem, though: With the obvious points of reference noted earlier, I knew I wouldn't get too lost. In fact, I joined up with the trail just 1/4 mile or so north of the big wilderness sign.

By the time I got back to my car, it was just about 4pm. That meant six hours of hiking, which left me well short of what should have been "up to ten miles, out and back." That would include bagging both La Madre Peak and the unnamed 8093 foot peak to La Madre's south-southwest.

The thing is, Beffort's entire description of the hike from the trailhead to the pass between La Madre and Peak 8093 reads, "From your car, continue following the jeep track as it heads south, then veers to the southeast at the western base of a prominent, rounded hill (point 6161 on the map--a good landmark for your return)."

No discussion of the sharp turn or the trail's path after it enters the wilderness area.

So it was a little frustrating not to be able to get to the viewpoint I wanted. But it was still a nice long day of hiking on a late spring day in the Mojave Desert. Probably 7 miles for the day.

If it's not too hot the next time I'm in Las Vegas, I'm going to try attacking this trail, again. Get an earlier start, bring more food and water, and bushwack, if I have to, to get to the pass.

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