Thursday, January 28, 2021

Middle-West Section of Bowl of Fire, Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Hiked Friday, January 22. This was from the same starting point as my last hike, at the 18.2 mile point of Northshore Road. The difference was the weather was cooler, and so the hikers were practically non-existent. I also had a greater comfort level with the area, and confidence that I could wander and get back, safely, having already done so, once.

I left the Los Angeles area at a decent hour. My goal was to get to the trailhead by around 2:30pm, which would mean about three hours before darkness. I figured that would give me plenty of time to get to the actual Bowl of Fire, explore the area, then get back to my car.

I succeeded in getting to the trailhead on time. This time, I was surprised to see no other cars parked along the road at this pullout; on Sunday, there were 7-8 other cars in the area. I was in the area again the next day, by the way, and, on a Saturday, there were only 3-4 other cars. So I think just the cooler temperature versus the previous week was a good part of the smaller turnout.

The second shot in this post is looking west, along Northshore Drive. The third shot is looking north, from the east end of the small butte (or just a thin hill?), where the well-defined trail that started at the pullout ran, quite clearly.

I still haven't figured out where the "official" trail goes, from there. I think I'm supposed to head a bit west, in a small wash, before turning back north, towards the broader wash. But the red sandstone of the mid-western section of the Bowl of Fire is visible, ahead, so figuring out which general direction you want to go is easy, even when sticking to washes as paths.

I eventually came a cross a well-defined trail, again. From the wash, it rose above and to the left of a larger wash, as I approached the read rocks. When I reached that crest, I was clearly in the Bowl of Fire.

Colorful, pock-marked sandstone was everywhere. My horizontal progress slowed to a crawl, as I found rocky or sandy paths to wander up, down, and around the remarkable sandstone to be found, here. I felt like a kid in a candy store, taking in the views, framing shots, and seeing where to go, next.

There was no way I would be able to see it all. But I tried to take in what was before me. Looking up, looking left and right, then back from where I came. I couldn't get enough.

I think I took over 200 pictures on this rather short hike. The lighting wasn't great -- it was mostly overcast, and threatened rain (and actually did spritz, a little). But the views were still jaw-dropping.

So, while most of my walking on this hike was across open desert, to get from the road to the Bowl of Fire, at least half of my time, and the vast majority of my picture-taking, was in the actual Bowl. I wandered around this portion of the Bowl for probably 90 minutes. By contrast, my AllTrails recording indicated just 4.1 miles of walking for my entire hike. So, based on my typical pace, only about 30-35 minutes of actual walking in each direction to get to the bowl, and the rest of the time was shooting photos, and walking, yes, but very slowly, and only between long stretches of photography. That's a pretty high ratio of not-hiking to hiking!

Given the hundreds of shots I took, both with my dslr, and my phone, obviously I am posting only a tiny fraction of what I saw. And, the amazing thing is, this is only a small fraction of the entire Bowl of Fire. The entire Bowl is about three miles long. I doubt I covered more than 1/2 mile of horizontal distance, once I reached the Bowl.

From where I turned around, AllTrails indicactes a path about another 1/2 to 2/3 of a mile west, with two shorter spurs, up different drainages. Meanwhile, further down from where I turned around, I could have caught the "main" trail, which would have headed north, then east, along the actual "Bowl of Fire Trail." That trail is indicated as running 5.4 miles, to the Northshore Summit trail trailhead.

I have hiked from that trailhead a number of times, but always turned around at the "summit." However, the next day (Saturday, January 23), I hiked from that trailhead, and continued on down, to explore the far eastern section of the Bowl of Fire. That will probably be the subject of my next post.

Just as a preview, it was about 3.2 miles from the trailhead to the start of the sandstone, so figure about two more miles of Bowl from where I would turn around the next day to where I turned around on this day. So add that to the half-mile or so covered today, and the 3/5 or so of a mile further west, that's the previously-mentioned 3 miles or so of Bowl.

Without a four-wheel drive and high clearance, or, at least, a car shuttle, seeing it all in one day would be a long haul.

Funny thing about this Bowl of Fire: I never remember hearing about it until this year. Now, at least on the Explorers of the Mojave Facebook page, I keep seeing posts from there. Were they always there, and I just never noticed? Or are more peope visiting? My suspicion is the latter, though I can not be sure.

As for me, I do "have" the Lake Mead NRA Trail Illustrated/National Georgraphic map. That is to say that I bought it and consulted it in the past, but, as for the past few weeks, I can't figure out where I left it. I have seen "Bowl of Fire" indicated on the map. But I do not recollect any hiking trails indicated to access it. Also, it is not mentioned in the hiking handout provided by Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

As a result of the relatively low profile of this area, it is lightly-visited (though, as I mentioned earlier, apparently increasing in visibility). There are some really fragile rock fins that, had anyone walked over them, they would not exist. There is also a lot of cryptobiotic soil in the area, indicating that it has not all been trampled by off-trail walkers.

That's one of reasons why I try not to go off trail, and, if I do, I try to stay on firm rocks or sandy, non-crypotbiotic soil. Walking over vegetation or crypotbiotic soil can leave a trail that will last for years. And, as noted earlier, walking over some very fragile rocks would irrepairably change the texture of those rocks.

My lesson from these visits here is that there is usually a less damaging trail to take. When I'm too tired to seek out that alternative, I usually just wind up turning around and going back. That's definitely what happened the next day. On this day, it was not so much the tired factor as the time factor: If I didn't start heading back to the car, soon, I'd get stuck out there, in the dark. While I do have a headlamp, that's a lot more useful to stay on a trail, and less helpful if you're off the trail.

The skies also threatened rain, and I even got drizzled on, a bit. But I knew I wasn't that far from the car, and if I just started walking, I'd be back before hypothermia (or even real discomfort) set in.

The other nice thing about turning back before you need to rush is that you can still be on the lookout for photo ops. The greenish rocks and reddish sand here really caught my eye, even as I was walking back to my car.

On the drive back into town, I caught some pretty heavy rain. First, heavy rain in the distance, while I was dry. Then, heavy rain. Then, no rain, but very wet road. Then, more rain. I doubt the accumulation was much, but it's always a little exciting when it rains in the desert.

As previously noted, just 4.1 miles of hiking. Easy afternoon. And I only saw one other hiker on the trail, so successful social distancing, again!

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