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.

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