Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hiked 2013.009 -- Liberty Bell Arch Hike, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Arizona

(Picture 1: Liberty Bell Arch from above and to the south).

Hiked Sunday, February 17. Got a relatively early start. From the beginning, the goal was to hike this trail this weekend. I came across it, not in one of the books I recently bought, but, via a bit of random Internet searching.

Looked very doable, a nice payoff, and something different from my previous hikes in Nevada.

(Picture 2: Informational Kiosk).

To get to the trailhead, take U.S. 93/95 south. When US 95 splits off, stay on US 93. This is the "new" way into Arizona. Previously, all traffic on this highway had to slow for the bottleneck at Hoover Dam. Now, the main road is a two-lane divided highway, while the dam is a turnoff from the highway. I may explore that area next time I'm in town, depending on the temperatures we're seeing then.

(Picture 3: Wash after crossing under highway).

The freeway from Las Vegas and Henderson flies to the southeast, at least up until Boulder City. There, the freeway and divided highway end, and the road becomes a business route through town. When you reach historic Boulder City, you'll also reach the only semi-tricky spot on the road: To stay on US 93 through town, you need to make a 90 degree left turn at a light. Yeah, I'm pretty sure you're actually heading north for a while. But that's what they've done.

(Picture 4: The wash gets briefly narrower).

I'm still not sure how the Visitor Center thing works. There's one in Boulder City, at 601 Nevada and another one further down off of US 93, as you're making a rapid descent towards the lake. I thought the sign at the lower one said they were closed, and I should go to the one at 601 Nevada Way. However, when I went there, that facility was dark. Maybe the ranger was taking a lunch break? Don't know, but it was an annoying delay, costing me at least 20 minutes to divert, discover it was closed, then get back to where I was.

(Picture 5: Some remnants of a mining operation).

After passing through Boulder City and a brief period with 25 and 35 mph speed limits, the highway becomes divided again as it heads down the aforementioned hill. The lake shimmers blue, contrasting with the red rocks of the desert.

The new bypass bridge, named after a former Nevada governor and a professional football player who gave up the easy money to volunteer to serve in Afghanistan, has high guardrails to deter peeking at the dam. If you take the earlier turnoff to Hoover Dam, there's a parking area where you can access the pedestrian walkway on the north side of the bridge, for a bird's eye view of the dam. I was too tired to do that.

(Picture 6: Liberty Bell Arch from near the mining remains).

After crossing the bridge, you're in Arizona. You're looking for the White Rock Canyon Trailhead. It's at the 4 mile marker. If you're coming from Nevada, you'll need to get into the left lane to access the left-turn lane into this parking area.

It's a pretty large parking area, but it was nearly full by the time I got back form my hike. However, when I started (around 9am, I think), I was only about the fourth car.

(Picture 7: Arch from the south and below).

At the south end of the lot is an informational kiosk with maps of the trails you can access. The vast majority of hikers head for the hot springs. At least they did when I hiked: I only saw four other hikers on my trail between the split and the end.

A slightly annoying thing about this trail head is that there are no directional markers. It's not a major issue, in the sense that there's a map on the kiosk side, and the trail clearly passes under the highway. Still, exactly which route are you to take? With a signed dirt road heading to the left and a signed historic bridge in front of you, you might be tempted to go someplace other than directly under the highway. Resist that temptation: Go under the highway.

(Picture 8: Different view, same arch).

Now what? Keep going down the wash. It's a wide wash with many worn paths. Moot point, since the wash eventually narrows and your path will become more obvious. Just head down the wash. Pay attention to the fact you are descending, which means your return hike will end with a climb. Also, if you're taking the Liberty Bell Arch Hike, there will be essentially no shade after you leave the slot canyon, in about 1/2 mile. This is not a good hike for the peak of summer. For mid-February, however, it was perfect.

(Picture 9: Looking downstream from the overlook).

After the wash narrows, you've got some zig-zagging between occasional high walls. If there were heavy rain upstream from you, you'd be in deep doo-doo. So, in addition to not doing this hike in the heat of summer, don't do it if there's a fair chance of rain someplace upstream from you.

(Picture 10: Waterfowl, flying upstream, above the Colorado).

After about 100 yards of sometimes tall walls around you, the walls fall away for a brief section. You want to look to the right side of the trail. On the day I was hiking, there were a couple of small cairns (rock piles) marking the divergence of the Liberty Bell Arch trail from the White Rocks Canyon trail.

(Picture 11: Liberty Bell Butte).

Up about fifteen feet, and you're walking along another wash bottom. After about 1/2 mile, I came to another fork in the trail. I chose the left one, though I was not sure if it was the correct choice. This route climbed quickly, eventually leaving me with a distant view of Liberty Bell Arch, but from the side. The opening was only visible by the light that shined on the wall to it's north.

(Picture 12: Desert Bighorn).

Closer to where I stood were the remains of an old mine.

My question here was how to get from where I was to where I wanted to be. Eventually, I did discern a faint trail that made its way down the steepish dropoff near where I stood to a much more obvious trail below. I zig-zagged my way down a canyon, giving away quite a bit of altitude as I made my way to the west. It was probably a mile of dropping down into the canyon and working my way west. Then it was up a rise and heading towards the arch.

(Picture 13: Another bighorn).

I actually walked by it pretty quickly, because I thought the trail was going to zig back towards the base. Instead, it continued around the ridge. So I went off-trail, and eventually decided to head up to the top of the butte that the arch was attached to.

(Picture 14: 3 Sheep).

Because it's a volcanic cap to the butte, it is actually easier to get to the top than a casual look would suggest. That doesn't mean you couldn't hurt yourself if you're not careful. And, depending on when you go, you might end up killing a lot of seasonal plants on your way up. In retrospect, I shouldn't have gone. But it's too late, now.

(Picture 15: Full frame shot of hikers and landscape. The next three are various crops of that same picture).

Nice views from there, or even from below. Interestingly, you can still look all the way back to US 93 and see where you came from.

After enjoying the sense of conquest for a few moments, I worked my way back down to the trail and followed it further west. It leads to a mesa that overlooks the Colorado River. WAY overlooks, as in what must be over 1000 feet. To get some idea of the distance down there, I've got a picture of large waterfowl flying upstream, taken with my telephoto lens zoomed to 210mm. Not sure what kind of birds they are, but I'd figure they must be at least three-feet long and with a 3-foot wingspan.

(Picture 16: Hikers).

Here, the Colorado is blue or green, clear, and definitely not red.

Upon the deep blue water were a number of kayaks being put in. That's what flushed the waterfowl into flying upstream. I could hear the sound of their wings slapping on the water as they lifted off.

I also saw what must have been HUGE fish down in the tailwater below. I mean practically kayak-length, swimming in large schools. Far below, yet many times longer than the waterfowl I mentioned above. I'm figuring 10 feet long, which seems impossible. I'd think the only freshwater fish that large are sturgeon, and I don't think there are supposed to be any of them here.

(Picture 17: Hikers).

Unfortunately, my longer telephoto was not handy, though, at this distance, the evidence would probably be marginal. After all, look at my waterfowl pictures from this distance. I'm assuming they're swans, but who can tell from this distance?

After retrieving my longer telephoto lens, but with the fish-like objects no longer visible, I shot some pictures of what were probably flocks of swans. It was an unusual, bird's eye view of them.

(Picture 18: Hikers).

I also shot plenty of pictures of the landscape around me. Directly to my south, there was a deep canyon that I would have to explore on a later trip. This is the one you'd head down if going to the hot springs.

(Picture 19: Lizard).

The return hike was not as difficult as I expected. Heading back up towards the mining remnants was pretty easy. From there, it was up the canyon, also easy.

Upon rounding a crest, I heard the sound of hoofs on rock. I looked up to see a couple of desert bighorn, eyeing me suspiciously. I clicked off a few shots with my 18-55mm.

(Picture 20: Sheep and Mountain).

They stuck around, still watching me. So I eased on down, and tried to be casual and non-threatening as I swapped out the 18-55 for my 55-210 telephoto. Looked up. They were still there. So I fired about a dozen shots off. They were still there. I debated if I should wait until the hikers somewhere behind me caught up, so I could point out the sheep. But I figured if I was still there, the appearance of two more hikers would likely cause them to leave. So I continued on my trail, which passed about fifty yards away from them.

The sheep continued eating, so I kept turning back and taking more pictures.

When I got to the other side of the ridge, I saw three more sheep, which I also photographed.

(Picture 21: Desert Moon).

Once past the sheep, I was on the very short side wash that soon runs into White Rock Canyon. In fact, you can start hearing the voices of folks heading towards the hot springs almost as soon as you get back on the side wash.

The slog up the main wash to the highway was a little slow going. Despite the short distance, walking on sand tires you out quicker than normal. Still, all done in about 3 1/2 hours for the six or so miles of walking.

(Picture 22: Gully).

OK, bunch of "throwaway shots," just to illustrate the hike. The last few shots on this blog are just a series: The original, uncropped shot, looking east from the overlook, then various crops, trying to decide how best to fit the hikers into the perspective of the landscape. I liked the original shot, but they're so small, you can only see them if you're looking for them. After that, I've got a lizard shot, another desert bighorn shot, a desert moon shot, and an unusually "green" gully, due to recent rains.

[Man, I used to like the way the pictures were embedded before; gotta figure out if I can use that old layout, still!]

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