Sunday, September 27, 2020

Around Mission Hills Trailhead, Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, NV

 Hiked Friday, September 18, and Saturday, September 19, 2020.

The summer heat has peaked in the Las Vegas Valley, so rather than dealing with 115 or so as a high, it's only in the low hundreds.  Makes it a little easier to start a hike in the afternoon.  So I drove up from the Los Angeles area, unpacked, and hit the trail around 5pm on Friday, hiked for about 90 minutes, then returned, the next morning, for more

The Mission Hills trailhead is located at 295 W Mission Drive, in Henderson.  It is easily accessed from U.S. 93/U.S. 95/I-11 (Yes, it's all those things; Waze takes a really long time to say that all, as you're driving!). If coming from the Las Vegas Valley, take Exit 20, Horizon Drive, then turn right at the top of the off-ramp.  Two lanes turn right.  If you're in the left of those two lanes, swing over to the far left turn lane; if in the right off ramp lane, you should be able to go into the second left turn lane, but keep an eye to be sure the person in the left lane goes where they're supposed to go.

Then turn left at the light, which is not more than fifty yards from your offramp.  After the left, you'll be going more or less south, on Horizon Ridge Parkway.  After about a 1/2 mile, the light will be Mission Drive.  Make a right there, and head to the end of the road, another 1/2 mile or so.  Parking will be on your left.

Incidentally, the offramp you just got off on is called a "diverging diamond interchange."  On the way to the trailhead, it'll be pretty normal.  The return drive will be a little trickier.

A nice overview map of the geography of Sloan Canyon and the trails is here.  As you can see, the Mission Hills Trailhead is at the northeast corner of the conservation area.

There are multiple trails starting off here.  Oh, there's also a flush toilet here, and a trailhead map, but it pretty much just shows the McCullough Hills Trail.

I had hiked on the McCullough Hills Trails once before, from the other end.  So, long-term, I'm going to want to hike this trail going this way, to meet up with where I got from the other end.  It's supposed to be eight miles each way, and I think I went more than half way from the other side, so it'll be an easy eight miles or less, to finish the trail.  But that's in the future.

For the Friday evening hike, I mainly followed the Trail 601 signs, and wanted to get far enough to look out into the undeveloped portions of the national conservation area.

The Bobcat and El Dorado fires were still burning (and are still burning, now, btw), and the smoke and ash were visible in the sky.  The sun shined a pinkish color, and the color of the McCullough Hills, around me, were also more pinkish than normal.

So were the cactus.  The color became more prominent as the sun set.

The hills to my southeast were intriguing.  It looked like there might be steep, direct routes up to their tops.  I thought I might try to reach them, the next day.

However, those apparent trails were less obvious the next day. So, instead, although I did approach those steep mountains and explored one of the "coves" at the base of the hills, 

Friday night, I probably only walked about three miles, out and back.  Enough to get a good stretch, though.

The next day, I started out along the 601 trail, again.  It parallels the McCullough Hills trail, and intersects it on a couple of occasions.  But other parts, it runs alone, sometimes along powerline right of ways, and other times up wide and sandy washes.  It was slower going than I had hoped.

Eventually, I did take a use route that took me up along a ridgeline a ways.  I passed a rock-outlined heart, along the way.

But the trail did not go all the way to the top of the mountains, as I had hoped.  I ended up going back down the way I came, then headed into the "cove." A sign outside a gate said the area was closed to camping, hunting, or shooting, but did not appear to prohibit entry.  So I climbed over the gate and walked to the end of the dirt road.  Again, several use trails did go up some ways on those hills, but the trail was steep and it did not appear obvious that I could safely ascend them to the top, so I backed back out, and returned to trail 601.

Along one washy section, I eventually determined I had lost 601.  I decided to "shortcut" back to that trail.  In retrospect, it may not have been a shortcut.  Took 601, past several additional trail junctions (most with names rather than numbers, and on wood signs rather than the woven plastic or metal "stakes" of the regular BLM trail markers).  Eventually re-intersected with the McCullough Hills trail.  Since that one seemed likely to be more direct, wider, and less hilly than 601, I followed that back the last 2 1/2 miles or so.

Got back to my car feeling pretty tired, but happy for the chance to get some walking in.

I'm thinking I passed or was passed by fewer than ten people (a number of them on mountain bikes).  I kept my mask on the whole time (except when drinking), on the idea that it might also help with the particulate pollution.  Some hikers similarly masked up, while other hikers and mountain bikers did not.  Few enough encounters that I felt safe, either way.  As noted at the start, while cooler than a few weeks previous, it was still pretty hot.

Hiked about three miles on Friday afternoon, and at or near 9 miles on Saturday.  Hard to be sure, as I did not start my All Trails "recording" to measure the land covered until after I reached my "Heart Mountain summit."  It was 7.2 miles of recording travel, and I'm guessing about 1.5 miles to reach that summit.

Oh, I forgot to wrap up the "double diamond interchange."  On your return, the interchange is right after you've made a right, from Horizon Ridge Parkway.  Traffic will probably back up there.  On a double diamond interchange, right after the light, you need to cross over from the right side of the road to the left.  That means you'll then have an uncontrolled entry on to US 93/US 95/I-11 North, on your left.  The crossover may disorient you, so pay attention. Otherwise, as noted, you'll go head-on into approaching traffic!

If you did not turn on to the northbound freeway, you'd then have to crossover, back to the right side of the road, on the other side of the freeway. As noted, potentially confusing, if you haven't driven on one, before.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Willow Springs Trailhead to North Peak, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, NV

Hiked Saturday, August 22.  Approximately 12 miles total, out and back.

This new blogspot interface still has me confused; no idea why, but my pictures are again disaplying in smaller size, where you can click them and see them larger.  I couldn't tell if this would happen as I wrote, but, after having "published," I can see the result. The text is not going where it was before, though.  Weird!

First shot is a panorama google made, automagically for me, by stitching together a couple of shots.  Not sure when it decides to do this, but it's an interesting capability.  It's near the end of the hike. That's the view from the saddle, where you'd decide whether to drop down and go forward, to Bridge Mountain (in front of you), or turn left, and go along the ridge line, to North Peak.
The trailhead is at the Willow Springs picnic area.  It's about seven miles along the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area scenic drive.  Turn off the main road at the sign, indicating Willow Springs.  Multiple trailheads, here.

At the end of the pavement, the road continues as gravel, starting out smooth, then quickly becoming high clearance/4wd, only.  This is Rocky Gap Road.
Left side of the road is Rainbow Mountain Wilderness Area.  Right side of the road is La Madre Mountains Wilderness Area.

If you do have high clearance/4wd capability, you can drive up this road about 4.4 miles to the saddle, where the road would then descend, towards Lovell Canyon.  There's a small, not entirely marked parking area there, on the left side of the road (if coming out of Red Rock) to park, and begin your hike.
From the saddle, it's a short 1 1/2 miles or so to North Peak, or six miles roundtrip to summit Bridge Mountain.  But if you're walking, especially on a hot day, you'll be pretty beat just going the nearly five miles and 2,000 feet or so to get to the "trailhead."

Starting from Willow Springs trailhead, All Trails gives a total distance of 11.8 miles and 2667 net altitude.

You start the hike at about 4,500 feet, so you'll be topping out at about 7,300 feet.  Doesn't quite match up with the altitude they give, however.

The main point of this is that it's a relatively high-altitude hike for Red Rock.  That makes it significantly cooler than most Red Rock hikes.

Most of the way on this one, you're hiking in juniper/pinyon pine forests.  

You're also going along a couple of washes so where the washes cut along the road, you'll get some nice western redbud blooms in the spring, and some color in the fall (from the redbud, some desert willow, and wild grape).
Poking above the trees, lots of impressive rocky outcroppings.  And, of course, the La Madre Mountains tower to your west.
The unpaved road climbs persistently higher, giving you nice views in all directions.
Scattered clouds as my hike progressed.  By the time I headed back, the increasing heat triggered the formation of cumulonimbus clouds, and even a few drizzles.

The picture below is just of some redbud seed pods.
More views of the La Madre Mountains, below.
There's one recurring area of at least some water on the way up.  Neat little flowers along the bank.  A couple of columbine, mixed in.

There were also some impressive Ponderosa pine, tucked in near where the water emerged.  Later, when looking out towards Bridge Mountain, I saw a few pockets with Ponderosa Pine scattered below me, and on Bridge Mountain, itself.
Just a few more columbine in my little pocket of watered growth.
I'm not 100 percent sure, but I'm saying the yellow flowers near the watery area was goldenrod.
This is along the mostly-level run, a brief resprite from the climbing, before making the final bit up to the saddle that overlooks Bridge Mountain.
Thunderclouds were building.
Nice old rocks, and the clouds, again.
Mormon tea, on the approach to that last saddle.
Rocky Gap road is out of this shot, to the right.
Wider view, looking over to Bridge Mountain.
Moderate zoom on to Bridge Mountain.  The nature bridge appears small, almost dead center.  The opening is 30-40 feet across.  Never made it up there, because the approach is pretty exposed, with a highly likelihood of a fatal end, should you slip.  It's so tiring just to get to the start of that climb that I never managed to psyche myself up for those last few pitches up.
Interesting how the soil just "ends," and the ground cover almost completely stops as you approach the edge of the escarpment.
Pocket of water, with greenery and a few Ponderosa pine, among the exposed sandstone.
This was my most challenging hike in a while.  Decent length, significant climb, very high temperatures, at least at the start.  I was hoping this would be the first of many hikes, but wildfires have closed California national forests, and the current (September 11) air quality would keep me from wanting to hike for now, anyway.  Still have one or two more older hikes to blog, though.