Monday, March 25, 2024

Northgate Peaks Trail, Zion National Park, October 30, 2022

Somehow managed never to blog this hike, from about 18 months ago.

First did this hike back in 2016. Hadn't necessarily planned to hike it again, but it became one of those, "I have time for a modest hike today, and don't want to have to hassle with the shuttle bus in Zion Canyon" sort of day.

The two longer hikes I'd like to take from up this way are Hop Canyon towards Kolob Arch, and the West Rim Trail. Those would be all day hikes. This one, by contrast, is only about 4.5 miles roundtrip if you just go to the overlook, or a bit longer if you decide to tackle one of the "gates."

From Utah Highway 9, take Kolob Terrace Road north. Alternatively, if coming from the west, you can take Pocketville Road north, through a residential area, and it will intersect into Kolob Terrace Road. Both are in the town of Virgin, Utah. From there, you head north about 12.5 miles, through some very scenic country with several other trailheads along the way. The last major signed trailhead would be for Hop Valley, although the Connector Trail (between the Hop Valley trailhead and the Wildcat Canyon Trail) crosses Kolob Terrace Road. There's a modest parking area at this trailhead, with a vault toilet but no running water. I've had no trouble finding room the two times I've been here, but it could just be a timing thing.

This trail initially heads south, out of the parking area, before turning east. Within the first 3/4 of a mile, the Connector trail comes in from the right, then the Wildcat trail shoots off and down, to the northeast. At that latter split, the Northgate Peaks trail veers to the south, staying above the rim. It's mostly level, and a mixture of grasslands and dwarf forest pretty much the whole way to the primary overlook.

That's where the "official" trail ends, at which point you could turnaround and retrace your steps back to the trailhead. Alternatively, you can take unofficial routes up the massive rocky protrustions on either side of the overlook. After you've turned around, the one on your right (east) is pretty straightforward, and does not require giving up much altitude before you scramble up the "gate." The one on the west would both require giving up more altitude, and have a much steeper and less protected approach.

The last time, I just walked back to the trailhead. This time, shortly after turning around, I noticed the path heading towards the east Northgate, and decided to explore. After a brief descent through a forested patch, I came out at the base of the stone dome. It was a good scramble up, but entirely non-technical, and not exposed. From the top of that gate, you've got a wonderful view the drainages for Left and Right forks of North Creek. Lots of exposed cliffs, some stained pink, others bleached white.

Once back down off the dome and on the main trail, it is again mostly flat and straightforward, back to the parking area.

I'd still like to hike Hop Valley and the West Rim trails, and possibly also the Connector trail. I looked up into Hop Valley years ago, when I hiked down in LeVerkin Canyon, and I've looked down it, from the Hop Valley Trailhead. It would be long, with cow patties and sand, but straightforward. The West Rim trail, I haven't decided how far I should go from either the top or the bottom, but it's something for a later trip to southeastern Utah.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Big Dune, Amargosa Valley, NV, March 10, 2024

After driving up to and hiking around Ubehebe Crater, we needed to drive back down to the Las Vegas Valley. Shortly after Beatty, NV, we passed a large brown sign, "Big Dunes." And we saw, yes, there were some large sand dunes to our west. So we turned off on the road the sign pointed, which turned out to be dirt/gravel/sandy. Putter along at between 10 and 12 miles per hour, for the most part, we slowly bumped our way down the road. There were no other signs, so we just stayed on the "main" road, which google maps says is Big Dunes Road. The direction to the dunes slowly shifted, from southwest to south of us, to a little east of south of us.

We passed an RV or two, of people camping or maybe just picnicking near the dunes. Finally, the road began curving to the south, albeit well west of the dunes. Total drive was probably about 30 minutes, at our very leisurely pace. Took it slow, so I wouldn't inadvertently drive into a sandy patch, where I'd be stuck.

We finally came to a sign, so we drove through the apparent entryway adjacent to the sign. The road was still fine for passenger vehicles. Then the road led to a wide, flat, hardenened area, with some signage and picnic tables. Beyond that, no roads (for passenger cars) were obvious, and the way became very sandy. I elected not to continue driving, parked, and started walking towards the dunes.

This soon proved to be the correct choice, as the sand got deeper and wider. This was dune buggy territory. Nearly the entire area is, in fact, designating as an ATV area, and we could see and hear vehicles speeding over and around the sand dunes.

Dune primrose was pretty common in the sandy soil, as we walked towards the dunes. Once it becomes complete sand, of course, there's nothing growing on the blowing dunes.

In part because it was an ATV area, I did walk carefully when I reached the sand, and did not try walking as far as I might have if I didn't have to worry about getting in the path of a recreational driver. My suspicion is they were probably annoyed by walkers, who were something else they had to worry about. But, practically speaking, they shouldn't be driving quickly over blind drops without a spotter, anyway. That's to keep themselves safe from collisions.

It was pretty windy, so even with the ATV leaving tracks, a lot of those tracks got at least partially obscured in short order. You could see streamers of sand flying over dune lips. But at ground level, it was not too windy to enjoy the scenery.

On the return trip, more so than on the way out, I observed more critter footprints in the sand than I had noticed on the way out. Lots of ripples in that sand, too.

All told, we probably spent about 45 minutes walking. The parking area was maybe 1/3 of a mile from the taller dunes, maybe a bit more. Relatively slow going over sand, of course. But level, except for on the taller dunes, so not particularly strenuous, at least not when the temperature is still spring-like.

Although I suspected the road would continue around the west side of the dunes, eventually leading us back to pavement, I decided to play it safe, and returned to U.S. 95 the way I came. I knew that was doable, and, again, didn't want to risk getting stuck in the sand. The drive back was shorter than the drive out, partially because I knew where I was going, and partially because I drove 12-16 mph back, somewhat faster than when I drove in, since I knew what I was going to see.

Upon checking maps after getting home, I see that I could have taken a paved road (North Valley View Blvd), about 3.5 miles south of Big Dunes Road, off of U.S. 95. Two miles on pavement south would have led me to a parking area. Depending on how far west I could safely drive, that would leave me 1-2 miles east of the dunes. That would mean two to three times the walking distance of the route we took, but a lot less slow driving on a dirt road. If your vehicle can handle deep sand, it's a drive up to and upon the dunes. If you think your vehicle can handle deep sand but are wrong, it's a really expensive tow.

This is the last of three short hikes I took over the weekend, which, collectively, total all of about three miles, so would qualify under my traditional definition of three miles off pavement to qualify for a hike.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley National Park, CA, March 10, 2024

This was the first day of daylight saving time, but I got up at my "regular" wake up time, and tried for an early start. Drove off early, with the thought of maybe returning to a less-crowded Lake Manly this morning. But after considering the amount of backtracking on the road this would involved, I elected to head north, to Ubehebe Crater, after first heading down the Beatty Cutoff road towards Badwater. Pulled over and took a shot down the empty road (see previous post), then turned right and made the very long drive to Ubehebe Crater.

For context, it's about 56 miles from Furnace Creek Visitor Center to Ubehebe Crater, and about 45.5 miles and about an hour driving time from Beatty Junction to the crater. Had we gone to Badwater, first, that would have added another 35 minutes each way.

The Ubehebe crater is large, about 1/2 mile wide, and 1.5 miles to walk around it. It and its neighbors formed just a few thousand years ago, when magma contacted subsurface water, leading to a series of explosions. In addition to Ubehebe, there are several other, smaller craters to the south, incluidng Little Hebe Crater. That one is obviously smaller, but more clearly defined.

I elected not to walk to the bottom of the crater. However, on the drive back, I stopped about 1/2 mile from the crater, to walk, explore and snap pictures among one of several dense patches of flowers I saw on the way up. I stepped carefully, either in sandy washes or rocky tops, or on occasional fused tuff, where nothing was growing.

It won't be a "superbloom," but there is a lot of stuff blooming, now. Probably won't last long as the summer heats up, though.

As a BTW, there are no restroom facilities at Ubehebe Crater parking area, but there are flush toilets at the Grapevine ranger station, back on Scotty's Castle Road. Scotty's Castle, itself, remains closed, likely for at least another year.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Lake Manly, Death Valley National Park, March 9, 2024

Made it up to Death Valley over the weekend. Drove up on Saturday, March 9. Stopped at Dante's View on the way in, to get a view of the Badwater Basin from above. Then drove around and down to Badwater, itself, to see "Lake Manly" from the water's edge. That's roughly an hour drive, from Dante's View, by the way. Well under three miles of walking for the day, with maybe a mile up to near the "peak" of Dante's View, and 1/2 mile around Badwater. So not an offical hike, by itself. But something worth blogging and seeing.

"Lake Manly" was one of several names given to the recurring terminal lake at Badwater Basin. During ice age periods, the lake is large and persistent. During more recent periods, it has appeared only rarely, after major water events, such as when the remains of Hurricane/Tropical Storm/Tropical Disturbance Hillary came through. Heavy rains returned in February of this year, expanding the lake and making it a sight to see. So we wished to see it. This'll be the first of three posts I'll make over the next week or so, from that trip.

From Dante View (no restroom facilities at the top, btw, but a vault toilet down the road about a 1/2 or 3/4 of a mile), I could see an area far below, where Badwater Road appeared to approach very close to the shoreline of Lake Manly. Later, as I drove south on Badwater Road, I could see an alluvial fan that appeared to pour right into the lake, meaning, a steep incline of dry land to the lake, and a possible dry approach to the water's edge. While I ended up parking near Badwater and walking out from there, my walk did confirm that I could have approached from that alluvial fan and reached the water a lot quicker.

It was crowded, but that was to be expected. Still, arriving as late was we did, I was able to park just 150 yards or so from the lot. Vault toilets there.

Kind of a party atmosphere, with many people trying for their instagram moment. You could walk along the narrow outlet from the Badwater Spring, over salty and mostly dry crust. The farther you walked, the more the dry spots thinned, and you'd be walking in toe-deep brine. Because this was normally a salt flat, you could walk hundreds of yards, while still having water only toe deep. Yes, great for a "walking on water" look.

Depending on where you stopped and how you framed your shot, you could get a bit of privacy and a wide open view over a smooth, glass-like surface, or an isolation shot, or a shot with posing people overlapping, as far as the eye could see.

The water is evaporating quickly. It was no longer deep enough (about a foot) for reliable kayaking, and the surface area was maybe 1/3 of what it was a month or so previous. But it's still a picturesque mirror for the desert and mountains surrounding the basin. If you just want to get to the water, I'd suggest parking 1/4 mile or so south of the Badwater parking area, just past mile marker 17. That's on the alluvial fan, that allows for a short, dry walk to the water's edge. For "walking on water" shots, maybe walk from the edge a bit further north and east.

The last shot was the next morning, driving down the Beatty Road cutoff. I was considering an early morning visit, but it would have required an addiitonal 1/2 hour of driving to Badwater, then turn around and heading north, towards Ubehebe Crater, which I hadn't been to, yet, and was a priority for me to see, this trip. So figure at least 90 minues later, and over an hour additional driving, for what was already going to be a fair amount of driving. So we elected to turn back towards Ubehebe Crater, forgoing a chance at a morning view of Lake Manly, up close.