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.

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