Tuesday, December 31, 2019

North View, Maze Loop, and Windows, Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Hiked Saturday, December 14, 2019. This'll be my last post of the year. Not the last hike of the year, and not the last hike I need to blog. But this was a good hike, and a new one, to me.

Settled on this one after a combination of looking over my Trails Illustrated JTNP map, reading a bit on line, and the alltrails app. I upgraded to the "pro" level a week or so previous to this trip, so I could download the maps to my phone and follow along in the app.

Even the base version can direct you to the trailhead, however.

The trailhead is about 2 miles past the West Entrance to JTNP, on the left side of Park Blvd. There's no signage for the very small parking area for this trailhead. Only room for about five cars in the dirt area. I expect on peak times, you've got to park on the road.
A few hikers and a few families were goofing off near the trailhead. However, on the rest of my hike, beyond the first and last 100 yards, I think I saw all of about four other hikers. That was really surprising, considering the great hiking weather we were having.
According to my Trails Illustrated map, it's 1.3 miles on the North View trail to the Copper Mountain viewpoint spur, .1 mile on the spur to the viewpoint, then back .1 mile. 1.4 more miles on the North View Loop to the Big Pine trail, .2 miles on the Big Pine Loop until you hit the Maze Loop, 1 mile on that loop until you reach the Window Loop, 1.9 miles on that portion of the loop until your re-intersect with the Maze Loop then 1.2 miles back to the parking lot. So 7.2 miles total for the whole outer loop complex.
The North View portion, in particular, was pretty spectacular. You walk adjacent to the rock piles and fractured mountains that are pretty common in JTNP, but you're on dirt, so you don't need to boulder hop to see the mountains up close. Many steep cliffs on this north end of the park.
The actual maze loop would have taken me on a couple of trails that bisect the mountains that I walked around on this outer loop. Not sure when I'll be able to, but likely I'll want to hike those sections, too.
During my 100 hike years, I did quite a bit of hiking in Joshua Tree, and had walked pretty much all of the trails listed in the park newspaper. What I'm discovering is that there are a LOT of other trails that aren't in that newspaper. So I think I've walked about four new trails to me in JTNP in just the past three months.
I mentioned the alltrails app, earlier. I'm not entirely sure about its overall utility. I think I've previously noted it's sort of crowd sourced, in that the actual trail descriptions are generally very weak, but some of the trail reviews are very detailed. The added feature (with the "pro" upgrade) of downloading the maps was helpful. It basically lets you track yourself in real-time on your smart phone, in case you ever start wondering if you're heading the right way.
The directions to the trailhead is also helpful in those situations where the start point is not obvious as you're driving on the pavement. You get the warning ahead of time for turns and stops, then know when you're there.
A drawback is that some of the "trails" aren't even trails. They may be cross country routes, and they may not be well-defined, at all. They may list paths that require technical skills to actually climb or rappel a section. So far, then, this strikes me as a helpful planning and hiking app, but one you'll probably want to supplement with separate research before striking out on a trail.
In the case of North View, Maze and Window Loops, the reviews were very helpful in letting me know what to expect. For example, while some sources (and the ranger at the entrance station) talked about how easy it is to get lost on this trail, I (and some trail reviewers on alltrails) found the trail and signage to make the route pretty obvious.
The trails do cross many washes, but the signage and rocks make it pretty clear when you're supposed to cross the wash, and when you're supposed to walk along the wash.
First hike of decent length in a while. I enjoyed my time in the desert. Looking forward to more hikes this winter!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Liberty Bell Arch, River Overlook, and Arizona Hot Springs, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, AZ

Hiked Saturday, December 21. This was my third time hiking the area, the first, in 2013, then again, in 2014. I tried again last spring, but the lot was full when I tried to go, so I had to pass.

The NPS flyer for this hike can be downloaded here.

This is a rather popular trailhead, though the vast majority of hikers are heading to the hot springs, and not the arch or the river overlook. On this day, I passed a total of four people on the segment heading to Liberty Bell Arch, but probably 25-30 people coming or going to the hot springs.

The trailhead is adjacent to U.S. 93, just four four miles south of the O'Callaghan-Tillman Bridge. If heading southbound from Henderson/Las Vegas, you can either take the I-11/Boulder City bypass around the town and over the bridge, or take the shorter (and, if traffic is light, quicker) business route through town. The two routes separate near Railroad Pass, and come together again near Hoover Dam Lodge. However, getting on to I-11 from either end seems to be confusing to some, as there have been several wrong-way driver incidents along this very short section of I-11 (I-11 itself is very short -- eventually, it may run from Canada to Mexico; in the medium-term, it's intended to run from Phoenix through Las Vegas, then on to Reno. For now, it's just the short segment from the southeastern end of the Las Vegas Beltway to over the O'Callaghan-Tillman Bridge).
From the trailhead, you walk under the highway, and along the broad, sandy wash of White Rock Canyon. At .4 mile, a trail heads to your left, and makes its way up the ridge, before eventually dropping down, into Hot Springs Canyon. I did that segment after finishing the hike to the river overlook, then backtracking back to here.
On the right, around this area, is a very clear trail/old jeep trail, that heads to the right. That's NOT the one you want to take to get to Liberty Bell Arch.
Instead, continue within White Rock Canyon. It narrows and weaves, with occasional rock to walk on, but most just walk over the sand and gravel, with tall conglomerate rock or sandstone walls on either side.

A half-mile after the split for Hot Springs Canyon, there's a sign for Liberty Bell Arch, but the sign is up on a hill, about eight feet above the wash floor. It's a fairly prominent sign, but less obvious if you're not looking up and to your right as you walk the wash. I assume it's up there so it doesn't get swept away during the periodic floods down the wash.
Climbing up on to this trail gives you a nice view up and down a portion of White Rock Canyon. You then sort of level off, and walk a bit up a smaller wash, before soon climbing to a prominent dropoff. As you approach that high point, there is evidence of past mining around you.
From the high point, you have outstanding views is all directions. Primarily, in front of you, the trail towards Liberty Bell Arch is clear. It takes a few switchbacks and route picking to get down to join that trail, but you can see where you're trying to get to.

The arch opening is sort of perpendicular to you at this point, so you probably won't see the opening until you're somewhat closer.

Lots of twisty mountains to look at, and more that you'll see from the overlook, now about a mile away.
It's only about 1/2 mile from the overlook to the arch. The trail does not approach super close to the arch, but the view is quite nice. Use trails get closer, but I saw no need to do go there.
Continuing another 1/2 mile past the arch brings you to the river overlook. You'll likely see kayaks in the water, or beached. across the river. Waterfowl will sometimes fly up or down the river, far below.
The photo at the top of this post is from that overlook, as are the next six after the arch. The one looking upstream includes a portion of the O'Callaghan-Tillman Bridge.
You can see a bit of fall color was still hanging around the river bottom at the end of the third week of December.
I've got a mixture of DSLR (Nikon D3500) and Samsung S9 cell phone shots in this post. I have to admit that the Samsung's .jpegs seem better balanced in terms of color and sharpness. They needed much less tweaking than the Nikon shots. Of course, the Nikon files are a lot larger, and, if I shot RAW, processing could certainly bring out more detail.
However, I generally don't want to process much anyway. Too much processing and the image no longer looks like a picture, nor, sometimes, even what I saw with my own eyes.
After taking my share of pictures, I then backtracked to White Rock Canyon. Once there, you have the option of walking down canyon, which will take you to the river, and to a trail that loops around to the mouth of Hot Springs Canyon, where you could then walk up to the springs from the river side.
Alternatively, you can walk up canyon, then look for the trail to Hot Springs Canyon, which will now be on your right. It's a relatively obvious trail, but I do not recall seeing a sign to indicate where this trail went when I hit the junction. There does appear to be a sign post there, however.

You've got to gain some altitude, first. At the "brink" of the canyon, before a rather rapid decent into Hot Springs Canyon, you've got another nice view to enjoy.
That view is a photo below, with the Creosote. The one here is the last of my shots from the river overlook.
All of the remaining photos except the last one were from inside Hot Springs Canyon, either coming or going. The only one of the actual springs is a few shots down.
There were short stacks of sandbags in the canyon bottom, creating several small pools of warm water for bathers. Because of the pools, it would be impossible to walk up or down through the spring area without walking through water deep enough to get pretty wet.
That also means you can't make a loop hike of this without removing your boots and probably tromping through many occupied pools.

Still, hiking to the springs from either end pretty scenic. The other way, you get to stand at the edge of the Colorado River, downstream from Hoover Dam. Often many boats are in the water. This way, you get to walk down Hot Springs Canyon, which seems more dramatic than White Rock Canyon. Both washes are impressive, but I think this one is more so.
Incidentally, I was at the top of the drop into Hot Springs Canyon around 3pm, and turned around to head back around 3:45pm. That was at a moderate pace, with stops to take pictures.

Heading back at 3:45pm, I was sure it would be pretty dark by the time I got back to my car. But I figured there was a good chance I'd be out of Hot Springs Canyon and walking up the broad and sandy wash of White Rock Canyon before it got that dark (I was). Nothing to trip on, once you're on the sandy surface.
I also had a headlamp, if I really needed the assist. But I did not.

Despite the fading light, I still took plenty of pictures on the return leg, and found the canyon very impressive.
One neat thing was this mesquite tree, which sprouted on the leeward side of a bit of sandstone, protected from the gouging force of a full flood, and doing quite nicely.
One thing I couldn't do was see clearly where the trails re-merged. It was easy to know which way to go, of course. Once out of the depths of the canyon, I could see U.S. 93 traffic easily. That's the last shot in this post.
Funny thing was, when I got back to the highway (around 5:20pm), a large group was sort of milling around, on the east side of the highway. I thought maybe they were trying to pose for a flashlight, headlamp, or cell phone-illuminated group photo.
One of them hollered to me if I knew were I was going, which I thought was a weird question. I said that I did, and I was heading under the highway, to my car.
Apparently, no one in their group remembered walking under the highway at the start of the day, and they were lost, maybe 200 yards from their cars.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Lucky Boy Loop/Vista and Desert Queen Mine, Joshua Tree National Park, Friday, December 13, 2019

The last few months, I've been fiddling a little bit with alltrails.com. It strikes me as a sort of a crowd-sourced hiking app. The blurbs in the actual description tend to be really generic and not very helpful. But the directions to trailheads can be helpful, and some of the reviews of trails are very detailed. Alternatively, some "trails" aren't trails at all but sometimes roads and sometimes cross-country, unmarked routes, sometimes with very difficult terrain.
I think this was only the second time I used it to try out a trail. I'm pretty sure the first time was to the "Noah's Ark" trail, near Cedar City. I haven't blogged that hike yet, either.

Based upon the distance, the description, and the existence of an actual trail, and that I am pretty sure I never walked this trail, I choose this one.
From the North Entrance (Twentynine Palms, you stay on Park Blvd approximately 5 miles past the split to Pinto Basin (you drive towards Yucca Valley and the West Entrance). Desert Queen Mine Road is on your right. It's listed as "DQ Mine Road" on the Trails Illustrated map of Joshua Tree NP, and as Dessert (sic) Queen Mine Road on All Trails. It's a narrow dirt road, no problem in my Prius, but narrow enough that if you run into traffic, one of you may need to back up, or stop at a spot to allow two cars to pass each other.

8/10ths of a mile up this road is a small parking area on the right, with room for 3-4 cars. I started here. The trailhead sign is in the first photograph, above.
According to the sign, Lucky Boy Loop is 3.8 miles, plus an extra 1/2 mile if you go to the vista and back. It also includes a 1/2 mile along the dirt road, from the larger parking area for Desert Queen and Pine City trails, and the smaller lot you're parked in, here.
This trail starts out without a lot of flare: Just typical Joshua tree, with the namesake tree common at the start, and mixed with yucca, elsewhere. Mostly relatively flat, with just a few shorter inclines, to a vista that is also somewhat non-prominent. You have a nice panorama to the south. And, apparently, there is an unmaintained and non-evident trail that continues down from the vista into the Split Rock loop trail. By the map, it cant be more than 1/4 of a mile down there, but I didn't look super hard and did not see the linkage.
After returning to the loop and continuing to the north, the mostly flat path climbs a bit, and there are some impressive rocky areas that are adjacent to the trail. A nice mixture of pinyon pine, juniper, and yucca and Joshua tree are evident in this section..
After a relatively short such section, the trail returns to the sandy flats and washes for the last bit to the larger parking lot. In fact, you parallel the dirt road (which remains out of sight, but not out of sound) for the last 1/4 mile or so.
Once at the larger parking lot, and with just a bit of sun remaining, I walked 1/4 mile or so on the Desert Queen Mine trail, to an overlook of what appears to have been a huge mining operation. Then I returned towards, first the larger parking area, then walked along the road, back to my car. Snapped a nice shot of some clouds and the silhouette of a young couple, heading towards the overlook.
Walked the last half mile as the light quickly faded. Brilliant Venus shone, low to the southwest.
All told, about 4.4 miles for the day. It was enough to hit my fitbit step target, but not much more.

Overall, I'd describe this as a nice, but not outstanding, hike. Nothing spectacular, but definitely nice. On the day I hiked, I saw maybe four other hikers on my loop, compared to a lot more than that on just the short segment of the Desert Queen trail and parking area I hiked.