Red Rock Canyon
On Saturday morning I was through the hotel lobby at 5:30 am, heading out for Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The gamblers were still busy in the casino at that hour. The Canyon, which is just a few miles out of Las Vegas, provides a wonderful contrast with the unreality of the Strip. Red Rock Canyon is a large desert valley surrounded by rugged, multi-colored mountains. There is a 13 mile scenic loop-drive with trailheads regularly spaced along the drive. I was first planning to climb Turtlehead Peak, a five mile up-and-back hike with 2,000 feet of elevation gain. The beginning of the hike was relative level through the desert. As I began to climb, Wayne from Minnesota caught up with me and we began to hike together. It was early, and we were the first hikers on the mountain. To get to the peak, you first have to gain the ridge below the peak, ascending through a steep, rugged ravine. The way up was rocky and the trail consisted of difficult to follow, braided, social trails which varied in steepness and the extent to which they involve scrambling. Wayne was a good hiking partner of similar age, and we were able to match our climbing pace well. After reaching the ridge, the climb was less difficult. From the top there were expansive views of the Canyon and back to Las Vegas. The steep climb down was difficult but it was easier to enjoy the flowers on the way down. The large Yuccas were in bloom and the Mojave Cactus had purple-pink flowers. There were many other smaller yellow, pink and purple flowers. The dessert was in bloom.
After saying goodbye to Wayne at the trailhead, I drove to the trailhead for the White Rock trail, which is a six mile canyon loop. This was a gentler desert hike. The counter-clockwise direction resulted in a gradual climb up a broad canyon with sculpted stone mountains on either side. The trail climbed to a highpoint and then dropped gradually through juniper scrub that was increasingly tall and dense as the trail descended. The trail turned to the Willow Springs picnic area with its tall Cottonwood trees. The trail continued on, climbing gradually through a beautiful dessert environment with a variety of flowers, including the tissue paper-like primrose and bright yellow flowers of various types. Near the trailhead, there was a group of desert mountain sheep, approximately 150 feet off the trail.