Friday, May 31, 2013

Hike 2013.025 -- Little Santa Anita Canyon

Hiked Tuesday, April 23. Yes, over a month ago. I'm way behind in my blogging, which is really sad, considering how few hikes I'm taking so far this year.

On this April evening, I was initially planning to hike to Orchard Camp (a pretty decent day hike). However, it turned out the flowers were blooming nicer than two weeks previous, the last time I was in Little Santa Anita Canyon. So I ended up taking a lot of time shooting photos, and wound up only with enough time to hike to First Water, again.

I'm having trouble getting into a rhythm with the hiking. When I was unemployed, of course I could hike pretty much every day, and I had no trouble finding the time. Even with all those job applications floating around, and with more than a few hikes interrupted by a phone call asking for more info or to set up an interview (which, disappointingly, failed to yield work!), blocking off four hours for a short hike, or taking a day hike to a popular trail during the week to avoid the crowds was easy. Three- and four-hike weeks were common.

Now, I may *think* I have an afternoon free, but a phone call or an upset stomach or just a food craving, and suddenly, I'm at home, getting fat, and barely averaging over one hike a week.

Yeah, a lot of my time gets eaten up with the two jobs, and a fair amount of potential hiking time is spent doing family stuff. But I'm always amazed at how little time I have for hiking, considering how few other diversions I have.

Anyway, I'll have to compare my photo files with my blog write-ups to be sure, but I think I'm only about two hike write-ups behind, now. Definitely planning on an afternoon hike in Griffith Park, tomorrow. Hopefully, I'll feel less fat after that.

Of course, there's always a drawback: That'll mean I'll be dog tired when I'm working the 12-hour shift on Sunday. . . .

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.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Hike 2013.028 -- Table Top Mountain, Mojave National Preserve

Hiked Saturday, May 11. This is largely a repeat of my 30th hike of 2011. The difference is I started this hike much later in the day, and it felt about twice as long.

I can confirm much of what I wrote two years ago. The "trailhead" (such that it is) is a fraction over 5.0 miles north of the turnoff for the Hole in the Wall Visitor Center or Black Canyon Equestrian Campground, both of which peel off of Black Canyon Road. Among the very significant changes that have occurred since my last visit here is a large road washout last fall. The road has been re-graded, but, as of May 2013, the road is now extremely rough for roughly the last three miles of the way north. My understanding is that the road is similarly rough north of this point, so coming down from the Las Vegas direction would also be rough.

Whereas last time, 45mph would have been easy, this time, most of the way was at under 10mph. Obviously, a jeep or other off-highway vehicle could take this road comfortably at a much faster clip. Passenger cars will need to take it very slow.

Also, the cattle grating is largely covered by the dirt redistributed by the flooding. You will hardly notice passing over the grating, though the reflector on the west side of the grate is still easily visible. It's also still true that, if I didn't already know what I was looking for, I would easily have blown right by this little turnout for the "trail" to Table Top Mountain.

So, at any rate, I've got some pictures above showing the approach to the turnout, what it looked like behind my car, looking back at Black Canyon Road, and looking forward from where I had pulled over.

From there, you continue along the jeep trail, over the crest, and continue along the double-track for perhaps 1/2 mile. At the first left on on the road (not to be confused with a wash, coming in from the left), turn left and head towards a windmill. Along the way, wildflowers were comparatively thick. It wasn't a carpet of flowers, like at Antelope Valley in a good year, but it was a very good show for the Mojave: Mostly desert mallow (orange in color), with some yellow daisies, and the purple of chia.

Once at the windmill, you'll probably see a water trough for the grazing cows (you may see some cows, too).

Head cross-country, due east, paralleling the barbed wire fence. Note the large outcropping of rocks, near the start of your cross-country route. That's where you'll head back to on your return trip. Hard to miss.

Meanwhile, you just walk east, barbed wire at your left. It's probably a mile and half of just trudginga long. Some descriptions will mention a duck-shaped rock (the one pictured at the top of this post). But, really, all you need to do is continue until you see that there are no other ups and downs along the ridge line that will take you up to Table Top Mountain. When you reach that point, it's time to look for a point to cross under the barbed wire fence (the lowest strand is not barbed), and head up one of the drainages, towards the crest.

By this time, you'll have realized that the face of the ridge is not very steep. Yeah, there's still some altitude to gain. And you may need to occasionally boulder-hop to do it. But it's not technical, and there's nothing that'll stop you unless you get tired or thirsty. Just take your time. There is more than one way up this ridge, so don't worry about getting lost. Just walk carefully, try not to trample too many wildflowers, and take some care on the way to keep from falling.

By the way, here's the windmill. So all the pictures so far (except the one at the top of the post) were just along the first mile or so of the trail.

Once you reach the crest, turn right (duh). Table Top Mountain should now present a rather daunting climb before you.

And make no mistake: It IS a very steep 150 feet or so remaining. Again, there are multiple routes up, but all will require care to keep from sliding back down with each step.

You'll pass by many dead pinyon pine, the remnants of a thick forest that burned a number of years ago.

Looking up at the lava cap at the west end of Table Top, even getting closer, it still looks daunting.

There is one area where a straight boulder wall maybe 8 feet tall forces a detour left or right. Approach the cap from the northeast, and you'll discover the way up is generally unexposed, and requires no more than good care to navigate the last 20 feet or so to the top.

From the top, you'll be rewarded with some pretty outstanding views from the top. Even just a portion of the way up, you can look south, towards Barber Peak, where near where you may have or will be camping. To the northwest is the slow but steady image of Cima Dome, with Teutonia Peak jutting above it. Far beyond that is Clark Mountain, the tallest point in the preserve, rising north of I-15

Looking east, along the mesa top, you'll see lava blocks just below the surface, which is, of course, the reason why there's a mesa here at all: a hard surface atop weaker sand and sandstone that eroded away.

You'll also conclude that the only real challenges in this hike are 1) Finding the trailhead; 2) Surviving the heat, and 3) Surviving the steep final climb to the summit. Bring plenty of water if you're hiking in reasonable heat, as well as something to eat, because you'll burn a lot of calories on this hike. Sunscreen will probably also be a good idea.

Keep in mind, the hike gets exponentially tougher the higher the temps. Be sure to bring enough liquids.

Return the way you came. Hopefully, you made some note of where to head down from the mesa top. The obvious advice is, if it starts looking tough, you're going the wrong way. If it was easy coming up, returning should also be easy.

Just find a good way down a drainage, cross under the fence, and parallel it back to the windmill area. The follow the jeep trail back to your car.

Total mileage should be around 7 miles (longer if you decide to walk across the mesa top and back).

I'm obviously way behind in my hike blogging. Sadly, I'm not falling further behind since I haven't hiked in the two weeks since Table Top Mountain. I should get in at least one hike over the long weekend, however. Hope to catch up on my blogging after I get back.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Back from the Spring 2013 Mojave National Preserve Star Party

Drove out on Friday, and did two hikes, which I've done in the past (Barber Peak Loop and Table Top Mountain--But I'll blog with some updated info and new pics as soon as possible, though it may take a week. I took a LOT of pictures). That brings me up to 28 hikes for the year, four of which I still need to blog. Yes, I'm still well behind my intended schedule.

The star party was on Saturday night. Some time around 5pm, I set up my solar telescope. The sun was incredibly active yesterday, with a couple of HUGE prominences on the eastern limb. Even a few sunspots were visible in my h-alpha telescope, which means they were also huge. Together, they definitely conveyed the fact that the sun is not a quiet place.

After the sun went down, I replaced my Coronado 60mm with my C11. Five other telescopes were also out there for the night: Two 8-inch Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrains, one 8-inch Vixen Catadioptric (modified Maksutov-Cassegrain), one 7-inch apochromatic refractor, and one really large Dobsonian-mounted reflector (probably 14" or so).

There were quite a bit of clouds as the sun set--high cirrus, and lower, puffy cumulus clouds. That was some cause for concern. Of course, even if they did not dissipate, we would still be able to observe the planets, but that would defeat much of the purpose of having an outreach event out "in the middle of nowhere."

The main purpose for the start party, by the way, is to provide an additional incentive for volunteers contemplating a long trek out to the desert for a service trip. This weekend, it was the Mojave Desert Land Trust, doing trash collection in the Lanfair Valley. Nearly 40 volunteers came out to work that hard work. The potluck social, star party, and a good conscience are the reward.

A thin crescent moon was the first night sky object we spotted. It would have been a bit under two days old at this point. Once the sky darkened some more, the earthshine dimly illuminated the shadowed portions of the moon's earth-facing side, giving a ghostly outline of the entire disc.

About twenty minutes after that, we could make out Jupiter. At that point, we noticed the seeing was very good. Despite its low altitude, I could easily see four bands on Jupiter with my C11. The big refractor showed those bands much clearer, of course.

Maybe 15 minutes after that, most telescopes swung over to the east to observe Saturn. You know, it's only as I write this that I realize I didn't get to look at Saturn last night!

Once the sky got even darker, the stars really became visible. Each observer jumped to their favorite deep sky object. I noted the large dob spent a lot of time up towards Coma Berenices, probably looking at both the large star cluster and the many "smaller" (more distant, but obviously much larger) galaxies in the distance.

I looked at the Beehive Cluster, the Leo Trio of Galaxies (M65, M66 and NGC 3628), the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51), the Sombrero Galaxy (M104), and the globular clusters M4, M13 and Omega Centauri. I also let a couple of vistors "drive" the controls of the C11, so they could cruise along Markarian's Chain.

That's a surprisingly short list of objects for how long I was at the telescope under a dark sky. However, there were relatively few breaks in the the viewers, and I had no real observing plan mapped out ahead of time. I just wanted to make sure they saw things in my C11 that they were unlikely to be able to see as well elsewhere or before. Also, it helped illustrate the idea of why dark skies are valuable: Those small, faint fuzzy blobs in my pretty substantial telescope would in many cases be invisible from town, or much less "dramatic" than here, so this is an experience that's only possible from a dark sky location, like in Mojave National Preserve.

Of course, I have no pictures from the really dark sky observing. No flash photography at a dark site, and I don't have the time to set up a longer exposure that would be necessary under ambient light. Mine are "waiting for darkness" and observing the moon and Jupiter at twilight" shots. But I did see someone set up a camera for shooting at the pad, so I would not be surprised if I see pictures of that pad show up on someone's facebook page before too long.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Spring 2013 Mojave National Preserve Star Party, May 11, 2013

Mojave National Preserve Conservancy Star Party next week, May 11, 2013.

A heads up for those of you making plans for Mother's Day weekend that may not involve actually visiting your mother. Saturday night, May 11 is the Mojave National Preserve Conservancy's spring star party. They've been having one in the spring and one in the fall for about five years, now. I've been to all but two.

The stars in the Preserve are exceptionally dark, and the Black Canyon Equestrian/Group Campground has a fortuitously-placed concrete pad, perfect for setting up telescopes. Dark skies and big telescopes mean galaxies galore. We'll also have Jupiter after sunset and Saturn an hour or two later. We'll also have lots of star clusters and nebula to look at, so if you've always wanted to look through some very fine astronomical instruments (not professional-grade, mind you, but very nice), well, here's your chance.

I'll also be bringing my solar observing set up (the same one I brought to Utah to see the Annular Eclipse, and set up in La Canada for the Venus Transit).

As a bonus, it's in the Mojave Preserve, so you can do hiking on your own the day before or day after the star party. I've got blogs of several Mojave Preserve and area hikes elsewhere on the blog, so feel free to search them out.