Saturday, February 6, 2021

East Section of Bowl of Fire, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, NV

Hiked Saturday, January 23. Having explored sections of the Bowl of Fire on my two previous hikes, today was supposed to be a longer hike, approaching from the Northshore Summit trail.

I had hiked the short Northshore Summit trail several times before. Most recently was last October, but I have been up there at least twice, previously. Can't find my older posts, though, so maybe I never blogged it? Odd.

Northshore Summit trailhead is one of the few formal hiking trailheads indicated on the Lake Mead hiking handouts. A link to the recreation area's designated hiking areas is here..

The "official" (NPS) hike from this trailhead is a short one, just to the top of a bluff that's north of Northshore Drive. Great view from there, though. However, even on my first hike there, I noted a trail crossing the desert, far below. Figured that one day I would investigate that, though I had no idea what I might see.

Turns out the "what I would see" was a lot more spectacular than I would have imagined.

From the top of the bluff, the trail continues another 1/4 mile or so, running along the edge of a steep dropoff. Portions of Bowl of Fire are visible to the north and northwest. Relatively flat alluvial plains stretch to the north and northeast, with that plain crisscrossed by flood gullies and washes of varying widths.

The ridge itself descends just a bit as it curves to the northeast. From that northeast end, a well-defined use trail made its way, yes, somewhat steeply in parts, but not dangerously steep, nor dangerously exposed, down into the alluvial plain, below. I followed the trail that way.

Note, by contrast, my AllTrails app indicates a turn left to stay on the "trail" some distance before that. I did not see a more apparent trail before "mine," however, so I don't know if the indicated trail has since been eroded away, or if the "trail" is just a sort of "suggested direction" thing that was drawn from above, but not actually walked. If the trail is still in use, it must require a pretty steep drop to get to.

After a relatively brief section of steepness, my trail eased its way along the edge of a small wash, before eventually dropping down into the bottom of that ravine. There was a small pile and line of rocks at the intersection, so, on the return trip, the point to leave the wash was easy to see.

After a spell, this wash ran into another, wider wash, and another small duck of rocks. I made a left, there.

More weaving within the wash, until a wide wash inflow came in from the right. A stack of rocks there indicated another turn, so I headed up this other wash leg. Stayed in this broad wash for nearly a mile, until I saw a narrow canyon, heading in from the left. I saw a marker some distance up this side canyon, so I thought this might be the way to go. In retrospect, looking at my completed AllTrails recording, I "should" have stayed in the main channel. Nonetheless, both paths would eventually lead to where I was heading.

The marker in this side canyon told me I was crossing over into a Wilderness Area. So, apparently, the main wash (also a jeep trail) runs along the Wilderness boundary.

My side canyon "ended" at a dry falls. It would have taken some skill to scale the actual drop. But, just a few yards before the falls, ways out of the canyon were easy to manage. As always, I attempted to stay on either sand or hard rock as I climbed out and about. Didn't want to damage any cryptobiotic soil, nor the plants, strugging to grow in small patches of soil among the sandstone.

It's a wonderland of rocks here, similar to what I saw on my hike to the middle-western section Bowl of Fire. As the previous day, then, my horizontal progress slowed to a stop, as I explored the eroded sandstone around me. Lots of zigzagging, again, trying to minimize my impact on the land before me, but also to position myself for lots of picture-taking.
After an hour or so, while covering only about 1/2 mile of horizontal distance (lots of picture taking), I was starting to feel a little tired, too tired to keep looking for low-impact routes onward. Also, a fair distance to return awaited, and I knew it would end with a pretty substantial climb out of the washes and up to Northshore Summit. Didn't want to be too tired heading backout, as that would increase my chances of slipping.

So I retraced my steps, seeing familar waypoints along the way, and adding them to my AllTrails recording.

Incidentally, this time, I not only brought an external "spare" battery to recharge my phone, but I also brought a cord to plug it in! This let me record on AllTrails for the entire trip. On several previous trips, concern over draining my phone battery too quickly meant I only recorded the return leg. I will need to make a spare battery a regular part of my hiking gear.
As another aside, the second photo on this post? I thought it looked like the same sort of stone that held ancient footprints on previous trips. I have no idea if I'm seeing actual footprints here, or just some semi-regular, pecurliar erosion marks. But I took a photo, just in case.

As with all of my Blogspot posts, clicking on the photos in the posts produces a much large version of the picture to view. Much more detail to be seen, that way.

According to AllTrails, my entire hike was 7.15 miles, with an elevation gain of 846 feet. I didn't venture far beyond the start of the red sandstone start of the Bowl of Fire. Had I gone another 1/2 mile or so further west, I'd have (in theory) crossed my January 10 hike. Two miles past that would have reached my hike from the previous day.

Northshore Summit trailhead has an actual parking area, and a vault toilet. That's in contrast to the Mile 18.2 trailhead used on the previous two hikes into Bowl of Fire, which had neither.

As I think I mentioned in a previous post, I had never even heard of "Bowl of Fire" until a few weeks ago. Since then, I've been seeing lots of posts about it on the Explorers of the Mojave Desert Facebook page. Not sure if it's become more widely known, or if I just never noticed those posts before I knew where it was. Either way, some pretty dramatic scenery, and a bit off the beaten path. On this hike, I didn't see any other hikers, once I got away from the trailhead. For four hours of hiking, that's pretty amazing. So, no problem maintaining proper social distancing.

Still some pretty extensive areas of Bowl of Fire I didn't get to. May try more of a thru-hike next time, with less time photographing, just to get a sample of the rest of the area.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Middle-West Section of Bowl of Fire, Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Hiked Friday, January 22. This was from the same starting point as my last hike, at the 18.2 mile point of Northshore Road. The difference was the weather was cooler, and so the hikers were practically non-existent. I also had a greater comfort level with the area, and confidence that I could wander and get back, safely, having already done so, once.

I left the Los Angeles area at a decent hour. My goal was to get to the trailhead by around 2:30pm, which would mean about three hours before darkness. I figured that would give me plenty of time to get to the actual Bowl of Fire, explore the area, then get back to my car.

I succeeded in getting to the trailhead on time. This time, I was surprised to see no other cars parked along the road at this pullout; on Sunday, there were 7-8 other cars in the area. I was in the area again the next day, by the way, and, on a Saturday, there were only 3-4 other cars. So I think just the cooler temperature versus the previous week was a good part of the smaller turnout.

The second shot in this post is looking west, along Northshore Drive. The third shot is looking north, from the east end of the small butte (or just a thin hill?), where the well-defined trail that started at the pullout ran, quite clearly.

I still haven't figured out where the "official" trail goes, from there. I think I'm supposed to head a bit west, in a small wash, before turning back north, towards the broader wash. But the red sandstone of the mid-western section of the Bowl of Fire is visible, ahead, so figuring out which general direction you want to go is easy, even when sticking to washes as paths.

I eventually came a cross a well-defined trail, again. From the wash, it rose above and to the left of a larger wash, as I approached the read rocks. When I reached that crest, I was clearly in the Bowl of Fire.

Colorful, pock-marked sandstone was everywhere. My horizontal progress slowed to a crawl, as I found rocky or sandy paths to wander up, down, and around the remarkable sandstone to be found, here. I felt like a kid in a candy store, taking in the views, framing shots, and seeing where to go, next.

There was no way I would be able to see it all. But I tried to take in what was before me. Looking up, looking left and right, then back from where I came. I couldn't get enough.

I think I took over 200 pictures on this rather short hike. The lighting wasn't great -- it was mostly overcast, and threatened rain (and actually did spritz, a little). But the views were still jaw-dropping.

So, while most of my walking on this hike was across open desert, to get from the road to the Bowl of Fire, at least half of my time, and the vast majority of my picture-taking, was in the actual Bowl. I wandered around this portion of the Bowl for probably 90 minutes. By contrast, my AllTrails recording indicated just 4.1 miles of walking for my entire hike. So, based on my typical pace, only about 30-35 minutes of actual walking in each direction to get to the bowl, and the rest of the time was shooting photos, and walking, yes, but very slowly, and only between long stretches of photography. That's a pretty high ratio of not-hiking to hiking!

Given the hundreds of shots I took, both with my dslr, and my phone, obviously I am posting only a tiny fraction of what I saw. And, the amazing thing is, this is only a small fraction of the entire Bowl of Fire. The entire Bowl is about three miles long. I doubt I covered more than 1/2 mile of horizontal distance, once I reached the Bowl.

From where I turned around, AllTrails indicactes a path about another 1/2 to 2/3 of a mile west, with two shorter spurs, up different drainages. Meanwhile, further down from where I turned around, I could have caught the "main" trail, which would have headed north, then east, along the actual "Bowl of Fire Trail." That trail is indicated as running 5.4 miles, to the Northshore Summit trail trailhead.

I have hiked from that trailhead a number of times, but always turned around at the "summit." However, the next day (Saturday, January 23), I hiked from that trailhead, and continued on down, to explore the far eastern section of the Bowl of Fire. That will probably be the subject of my next post.

Just as a preview, it was about 3.2 miles from the trailhead to the start of the sandstone, so figure about two more miles of Bowl from where I would turn around the next day to where I turned around on this day. So add that to the half-mile or so covered today, and the 3/5 or so of a mile further west, that's the previously-mentioned 3 miles or so of Bowl.

Without a four-wheel drive and high clearance, or, at least, a car shuttle, seeing it all in one day would be a long haul.

Funny thing about this Bowl of Fire: I never remember hearing about it until this year. Now, at least on the Explorers of the Mojave Facebook page, I keep seeing posts from there. Were they always there, and I just never noticed? Or are more peope visiting? My suspicion is the latter, though I can not be sure.

As for me, I do "have" the Lake Mead NRA Trail Illustrated/National Georgraphic map. That is to say that I bought it and consulted it in the past, but, as for the past few weeks, I can't figure out where I left it. I have seen "Bowl of Fire" indicated on the map. But I do not recollect any hiking trails indicated to access it. Also, it is not mentioned in the hiking handout provided by Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

As a result of the relatively low profile of this area, it is lightly-visited (though, as I mentioned earlier, apparently increasing in visibility). There are some really fragile rock fins that, had anyone walked over them, they would not exist. There is also a lot of cryptobiotic soil in the area, indicating that it has not all been trampled by off-trail walkers.

That's one of reasons why I try not to go off trail, and, if I do, I try to stay on firm rocks or sandy, non-crypotbiotic soil. Walking over vegetation or crypotbiotic soil can leave a trail that will last for years. And, as noted earlier, walking over some very fragile rocks would irrepairably change the texture of those rocks.

My lesson from these visits here is that there is usually a less damaging trail to take. When I'm too tired to seek out that alternative, I usually just wind up turning around and going back. That's definitely what happened the next day. On this day, it was not so much the tired factor as the time factor: If I didn't start heading back to the car, soon, I'd get stuck out there, in the dark. While I do have a headlamp, that's a lot more useful to stay on a trail, and less helpful if you're off the trail.

The skies also threatened rain, and I even got drizzled on, a bit. But I knew I wasn't that far from the car, and if I just started walking, I'd be back before hypothermia (or even real discomfort) set in.

The other nice thing about turning back before you need to rush is that you can still be on the lookout for photo ops. The greenish rocks and reddish sand here really caught my eye, even as I was walking back to my car.

On the drive back into town, I caught some pretty heavy rain. First, heavy rain in the distance, while I was dry. Then, heavy rain. Then, no rain, but very wet road. Then, more rain. I doubt the accumulation was much, but it's always a little exciting when it rains in the desert.

As previously noted, just 4.1 miles of hiking. Easy afternoon. And I only saw one other hiker on the trail, so successful social distancing, again!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

South-East of Bowl of Fire, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, NV

Hiked Sunday, January 10, 2021. Took advantage of the MLK holiday to take a short vacation in the Las Vegas area.

This area lies north of Northshore Drive, the main road that runs well-back and above the (surprise) north end of Lake Mead. Among several potential access points are the Northshore Summit Trailhead, the Callville Wash jeep trail, and a pullout along Northshore Road, at about Mile Marker 18.2, on the north side of the road. This one is the second pullout west of the Northshore Summit trailhead, and the larger of the two pullouts.

The dirt road can be driven by jeeps or likely any four-wheel drive, reasonably-high clearance vehicle, for most of the distance. Being in a Prius, I'd have had to park near the bottom, and walk in the jeep trail.

I opted for the roadside pull-out, as it seemed to promise the shortest walk, did not share as much of the approach with the jeep trail, and would not need a significant climb to get back to the car, at the end.

There's room for 8-10 vehicles at the pullout. About six cars were there when I arrived, mid-morning.

My AllTrails "map" indicated just heading more or less northerly from the parking area. And there was a very distinct path leading straight north. It headed just east of a narrow butte. From there, the trail decended a bit towards a wash, then became indistinct, with several equally-plausible paths heading in various directions.
I tried using the map on my AllTrails app, but it wasn't working right. It kept showing me off the trail. When I walked in the direction where the app indicated I was pointed towards the trail, the little indicator kept showing me moving away from the trail. But reversing direction did not get me any closer to the trail, either. Much later, after having moved quite some distance from the road, the location indicator still showed me right next to the road.

Something wasn't working right. So I shut it off for a while, and just walked on my own, from there.

I went down (left) a broad wash for a bit, then went up (right) the other fork of the wash, which seemed to be heading in the direction I wanted to go. After about 1/2 mile, I saw what looked like a path leaving the main wash and heading north. But there were several vehicles parked near here, so I figured that's the way they went. Since I wasn't 100 percent sure where anything was, since I'm generally trying to maintain social distance from people, and since any direction would be new to me, I kept going up the wash, some more.
With each split, I took the broader wash, slowly weaving my way to the northeast. The sides of the wash were, in places, green, white, or red. One section of wall had the interesting formation on the pictures a few shots up, with what looked like shale intrustions into silt and conglomorate material.

Eventually, my weaving led me to a narrow gap, between high sandstone walls.

The sandstone is a brilliant red. It's "Aztec sandstone," the same formation as visible at Redstone (within Lake Mead NRA), Valley of Fire State Park, and parts of Red Rock Canyon NCA.

Like those other locations, the sandstone was pock-marked with holes. I saw some indication that some of the higher holes were used by ravens to nest.

Collapsing pieces of cliff, or boulders, washed down during storms, filled the bottom of the box canyon. But I had no difficulty making my way upstream, except for the occasional what-may-have-been catclaw mesquite or acacia. Shaped like catclaws, those plants had thornes that dug into my clothes when I was lucky, and into my fingers when I was unlucky. I had long pants and a sweater on. Hate to think what I'd look like if I were wearing shorts!
Came across a natural bridge or arch. Not sure if was formed by erosion through a solid piece of sandstone, or if the long, thinner piece just fell from above, leaving a narrow opening, near the base. Smaller, eroded windows were in the sandstone on the other side of the canyon.

As I gained altitude, the progress slowed, and I had to spend a bit more time picking the path of least resistence. At one point, I picked a path, then, reaching for a handhold to pull myself up, almost put my hand on a jawbone.

From that point, forward, I found many bones on rocks and on the ground, all of which were likely desert bighorn. I found one small skull, with nubby horns, so probably a young one. I found one leg bone, with hoof and fur still attached, which also looked like it was desert bighorn.

Most parts were just legs, and I assumed that was either road or other kill, brought back up by ravens to feed themselves or their young in the nests, above, then discarded into the canyon.

But the ribcage and spine section? That looked too big for ravens to move. So either the small sheep died in the canyon, or was moved by something bigger than a raven. Can't say what.

There was a fair amount of scat, which I assume to be desert bighorn scat, so they definitely do wander into this canyon. And, after rain, water would undoubtedly flow and pool within this canyon. So it's possible a mountain lion made a kill here, or the animals may have died of other causes here, then were scavenged.

Eventually, I reached a terminal wall: Too tall to climb. There was a deep plunge-pool at the base, so you could certainly imagine the force of water, flooding down the canyon after a storm.

It smelled in there, too. Don't know if that was the smell of rotting flesh or of accumulated urine and sheep poop. But there was both lots of visible poop and several visible bones in that plunge pool.

Turnaround time. From there, I decided to trigger the "record" function on AllTrails, so I could at least, after the fact, figure out where I was (assuming the GPS was functioning correctly). Based on the recording I got, I think it did right.

According to my recording, I walked four miles back, and "gained" about 60 feet. I also lost about 500 feet, which I obviously had to gain on the way in. So fair climb up the canyon, and a slower climb walking up the wash on the way in, and the reverse, going back.

Once out of the canyon, I retraced my steps, except without the uncertainty of which way to go. I walked down the wash, which widened as I descended and it was joined by tributaries. When I found myself parallel to the east end of the small butte, I left the wash and made a beeline for that, and was on the trail, in no time.

Good walk. Figured out precisely where I was from the recording. Between 8 and 9 miles of total walking, and close to 600 feet of gross altitude climbed. I will need to return again to visit the actual Bowl of Fire, rather than this "Bowl-adjacent" side canyon.

I've had a few other hikes that I have yet blogged. Will need to return to those later, too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Juniper Flats Backcountry Board to Fan Canyon Overlook, Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Hiked Sunday, November 9, 2020. One of several hikes from last year that I hadn't gotten around to blogging. This one was inspired just by looking at my Trails Illustrated map for Joshua Tree National Park. Saw a trail indicated on the map that I had never walked on before, and decided to do it.

According to the map, this would be about 5.1 miles, out and back, starting at the Juniper Flats backcountry board, and ending at an overlook into Fan Canyon. I was assuming a decent view into the Coachella Valley would be had.

From the West Entrance to Joshua Tree, turn right at Keys View Road, and proceed about one mile. The parking area is on the right.

There is no toilet at this backcountry board.

From the backcountry board parking area, there is a well-defined, no-longer open jeep trail that heads straight on out. Or, there's the actual trail, which starts at the other end of the parking lot, and heads east, before bending to the west.

Because the old road was more obvious, and easier to maintain social distance, I took the old jeep trail.

The trail is somewhat sandy in spots, but relatively level. By contrast, the trail, from what I could see, would be firmer, but required a slight gain in altitude. Couldn't actually see it, since I was below the trail's altitude, so I'm not sure how far away it went from the road. But I was satisfied with the scenery of my road route, and walked that way.

There are relatively few trail splits along the way, and each split I had to choose also had a sign. Some of the signs had a map. I also had my Trails Illustrated map, and the All Trails app on my phone. Having a backup, in addition to the signage, just provides a bit of redundancy, to reduce possible "Am I still on the right path?" anxiety.

Because, I spent the night in Yucca Valley, I got a reasonably early start. It was windy and cold. No snow flurries, like the previous night, but I was happy to discover I had Kleenix in my backpack, because my nose ran pretty continuously on the way up, due to the cold.

The turn on to the Stubbe Springs Loop, towards the Fan Canyon overlook, was the less obvious of the options at that junction. Yes, there's a sign, there, but it's a narrow trail compared to the jeep trail I was on.

You zig-zag among the Joshua tree, climb a bit, then head up above a wash, with large, grass-covered, previously-burnt juniper/pinyon pine forest.
The last junction, for the .3 mile segment to the Fan Canyon Overlook, is out of a sandy wash. It's signed, although one of the two signs there was laying down on this day. Without signage, it would also be less obvious.

Slight incline out of the wash, and on to the edge of the Coachella Valley. There is no signed "end of trail," so you just get to the edge, and then decide if you want to go a bit left or right to look for a better view.

The canyon view is somewhat obstructed by various outcroppings, and the clouds that had not yet broken left the view grey. Still, not a bad end to the trail.
On the return trip, I just followed by route in. Had I instead completed the Stubbe Springs loop, that would have added two miles to my hike, and ten miles seemed enough for the day. Indeed, as I trudged along the sandy trail, I was feeling pretty tired, and was glad not to have gone the long way.

The clouds finally broke on the way back, and I warmed up, some.

The drive home was a slow one. I had forgotten that Sunday night drives back from the 10 almost always backed up until at least the truck scales, and sometimes until the 10/60 split. I filed away this information, and determined that future weekend trips, I'd limit myself to a shorter hike on Sunday, to beat the traffic back into town.