2020 ~ Adventures with The LovedOne

Oh, 2020. You seemed so nice when we first met. You were fun for two months, then you turned ugly. Real ugly. A plague and a recession and wildfires and an election and continuing drought. Yes sir, you threw quite a bit of hurt at us! Yes you did! But we survived. And The LovedOne remained photogenic while social distancing from others kept her within camera range.

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Tule Springs Fossil Beds (Nevada) 22-Jan-2020

Tule Springs Fossil Beds, Nevada

Years ago, I was working at what was then the Nevada Test Site and we briefly contemplated moving to Las Vegas, Nevada. That was before it became the massive urban sprawl it is today. But even then we were looking at places out of town, up north near Mount Charleston. I recall leaving the Vegas city limits and driving north on I-95 through actual open desert before we reached the turn-off for Charleston. Well, those days are gone. I-95 now bisects a solid sea of beige box houses (with more being built) all the way out to the turn-off.

The Tule Springs fossil beds hold an abundance of large animal fossils, such as mammoths, camels, bison, ground sloths, and the Giant North American lion. When these beds were first discovered in 1933, Las Vegas and its houses were way off in the distance. Now they’re at the very edge of the fossil beds. Fortunately, the beds came under federal protection through the establishment of the 22,650-acre Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in 2014. That was back in those by-gone days when we created national monuments instead of eliminating them. 😥

At the southern end of the monument you can see the long trenches where, during the 1962 “Big Dig”, scientists uncovered an abundance of large animal fossils. We stopped by and took a few photos and were just happy that something had been done (for the moment) to keep houses from eating the pre-history of North America. 🙂

Streets and houses on the right, fossil beds on the left
The fossil beds, with Gass Peak in the distance
Clouds over Gass Peak
Looking south toward the 1962 “Big Dig”

Historic Railroad Trail (Lake Mead NRA) 20-Jan-2020

Historic Railroad Trail, Lake Mead NRA, Nevada

A broken foothold, and subsequent back injury, brought last year’s hiking adventure outside Las Vegas to an abrupt – and painful – halt. Now, with my back working again, we decided to return to Nevada to finish some of the hikes we missed last year. It should be noted that none of this year’s hikes involved climbing on wet, weak sandstone. 😡

We started with a leisurely stroll along the route of one of the railroads used to build Hoover Dam. Last year this trail was not fully open due to a failed tunnel. And the recreation area itself was closed due to an idiotically petulant 🙄 government shutdown. This time both the tunnel and the government were open, so having to wait a year actually worked in our favor. 🙂

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2019 ~ Adventures with The LovedOne

Another year passes and The LovedOne remains unconvinced as to her photogenicity. Her attempts to out-hike the camera were working…until…I bought a telephoto lens! Ha! Another (probably temporary) victory for technology!

JANUARY: We took advantage of direct flights to go hiking in the Las Vegas area. We got in several good hikes before a foothold broke off beneath me while canyoneering. The resulting back injury (since healed) limited our hiking for awhile. 😦

On the Fire Canyon Loop, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
On the Fire Canyon Loop, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

FEBRUARY: With my back still recovering, we contented ourselves with some short, local hikes. Things got more interesting when the weather brought gobs of snow to the hills near us.

After a snow storm on Roxy Ann Peak, Medford, Oregon
After a snow storm on Roxy Ann Peak

MARCH: Still coddling my back, we stayed with local hikes, seeking out ones that were longer but not overly rugged, like the Blue Grotto and the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail.

On the North Shore Trail to the Blue Grotto, Lost Creek Lake, Oregon
On the North Shore Trail to the Blue Grotto

APRIL: We had waited three years for sufficient runoff to allow us to run the Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon and a bad back wasn’t going to interfere with that. So, equipped with a generous supply of ibuprofen, we went with Momentum River Expeditions for a wonderful float down the Lower Owyhee.

Morning coffee below Pruitt's Castle on the Lower Owyhee River
Morning coffee below Pruitt’s Castle on the Lower Owyhee River

MAY: I had been invited to give a talk about Oregon Wilderness Areas at the Siuslaw Public Library, so we combined that with some hikes at and near the beach. Excellent weather and we were ahead of the summer crowds. 🙂

On the Oregon Coast at Fivemile Point
On the Oregon Coast at Fivemile Point

JUNE: The entire month was given over to a rafting trip (with OARS and our friends Wayne & Diane) celebrating the 150th anniversary of John Wesley Powell’s first descent of the Green and Colorado Rivers. In 28 days, we went from the cold, clear waters near Flaming Gorge Dam to the considerably warmer and murkier waters of Lake Powell. Truly a trip of a lifetime!

On the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam
On the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam

JULY: We had barely returned from our J. W. Powell rafting adventure when it was time to head East for our nephew’s wedding. After those festivities, The LovedOne spent some time at WEBS in Northampton, Massachusetts. Then, reeking with lanolin, we continued north for hikes in Acadia National Park and New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Standing in front of WEBS, Northampton, Massachusetts
There was NO WAY we were going hiking unless we stopped here first.

AUGUST: After two months of travel, we opted to hike locally. Classic Boccard Point in the Soda Mountain Wilderness and the Little & Big Duck Lakes in the Russian Wilderness were good choices. The decision to stay local was made easier by the lack of wildfire smoke this year (unlike the choking miasma that plagued the last two summers).

The brave hiker smile at Boccard Point, with Pilot Rock in the distance - Southern Oregon
The brave hiker smile at Boccard Point, with Pilot Rock in the distance

SEPTEMBER: We have long admired Theodore Roosevelt for his contributions to our National Parks and Monuments. So we did a hiking roadtrip that took us to Mount Rushmore, Wind and Jewel Caves, Devils Tower National Monument, Badlands National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and the Black Elk Wilderness.  

Hiking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Hiking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

OCTOBER: We spent this month doing a little local hiking and then I addressed a medical issue that had come as a surprise. This put a dent in hiking but opened-up an opportunity to visit some previously overlooked local attractions.

On the trail to Sugar Lake in California's Russian Wilderness
On the trail to Sugar Lake in California’s Russian Wilderness

NOVEMBER: We took a chance and went ahead with a long-planned trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas. Our timing was excellent as the weather was perfect for hiking and sightseeing. 😎 We did several short canyon hikes and then a longer one into the Chisos Mountains to see its unique forests and some of its wildlife – including two bears! 🐻 🐻

At the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park, Texas
At the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park

DECEMBER: Winter weather finally arrived, so we shelved plans for sneaking in some hikes at the coast (as we’d been able to do in December 2017). But the snow that dropped at higher elevations wasn’t quite ready for snowshoes. 😦 So we contented ourselves with reprising some of the classic lower altitude hikes near home. 🙂

Strolling into winter at Prescott Park, Medford, Oregon
Strolling into winter at Prescott Park

We didn’t hike as much in 2019 as in prior years – only 102 unique (based on either location or season) hikes, covering 576 trail miles, with 94,800 feet of elevation gain. But six weeks of raft trips, plus other adventures and a wedding, more than compensated for this ambulatory shortfall. For 2020 all we’ll promise are more adventures, some of which are sure to involve hiking. 😀

A heart drawn in the snow, Medford, Oregon

Fire Canyon Wash Loop (Nevada) 21-Jan-2019

For our fourth (and last) hike in the Las Vegas area, we drove northwest out to Valley of Fire State Park. The park, being a state enterprise, was not shutdown by the federal foolishness but a local power outage had disabled the visitor center’s gift shop. So we pressed on – to a hike we’d found on the Hiking Project that started at the Mouse’s Tank Trailhead and looped around cross-country to the Silica Dome parking area, with some interesting scrambling enroute. There’s an established trail through Petroglyph Canyon to Mouse’s Tank, a depression in the sandstone that collects water. Along the way we passed four big horn sheep that were so indifferent to people that they actually “posed” for us.

I’m ready for my close-up now…
Petroglyphs (with big horn sheep)
More sheep petroglyphs
Mouse’s Tank

A use trail took us up and around and down to below the tank and it was cross-country from then on. We’d downloaded the track from the Hiking Project and this proved invaluable in determining which canyons to follow to make the loop (there are many choices, most of them incorrect).

Scrambling in Fire Canyon Wash beyond Mouse’s Tank
The color and complexity of the rock formations was mesmerizing
This photo doesn’t do justice to the intricacy of this water-carved sandstone
More scrambling

The crux move on this hike is a 10-foot high sheer slab that we arrived at after scrambling down a cluster of boulders. It looked impossible until we noticed the narrow squeeze hole on one side of it. We were able – The Loved One, being more compact had an easier time of it – to squirm through that hole and thus circumvent the slab. 🙂

The 10-foot slab from below; squeeze hole is on the right
Doing the squeeze
The canyon started to open-up below the slab

Once past the slab, we went down the wash a bit and then had to climb a short pitch to get around another drop-off. Trivial stuff except that damp sandstone is a dubious climbing surface. I tested a piece as a foothold which then snapped when I actually pushed off from it. I fell backwards on to packed sand, landing on my butt and my pack. The sand landing was painful enough but my (supposedly faithful) pack joined in with blows to my lower back. The initial pain was intense 😥 but soon subsided somewhat. After checking to see that all my parts, while painful, still worked, we continued on with the hike. As irony would have it, from here on there was almost no need to climb anything. 🙄

The LovedOne easily climbs the short pitch that dumped me
Into the easy part of Fire Canyon Wash
The shapes and colors continued to fascinate
So red…
You can be lulled into staying in this easy wash but a sharp turn north into another wash is necessary to complete the loop
Turning north…
These rocks are actually fossilized sand dunes

After we made the necessary turn north, we entered a landscape composed of creamy white rock – what some would call silica sand. Coincident with this, our sunny day was overtaken by a fast moving cold front coming in from the west. Clouds arrived, the sun departed, the wind rose, the air temperature dropped, and an extra layer was needed. Near the end of the hike we had to climb up to the Silica Dome parking area, which is on a ridge exposed to the wind. Further layering ensued.

Entering the white sandstone near Silica Dome
A tiny (2 inch) red-spotted toad hopped across our path
Climbing out of the canyon to the parking area (and the wind)
Silica Dome
Weather heading east…

Because of my back, we passed on the short hike to Silica Dome and walked along the White Dome Road to our car at the Mouse’s Tank Trailhead. We’d planned two more hikes in the Las Vegas area but my back wouldn’t allow for those so we did tourist stuff (like visiting Hoover Dam, the Nevada Railroad Museum, and the National Atomic Testing Museum) instead. Two doctor visits and some x-rays put my lower back pain into the …not serious enough for an MRI, so rest, chew aspirin, and eventually it’ll go away… category. Well, we’ll see… Regardless, we’d recommend this hike if you want to do some easy scrambling and see a lot of stunningly colorful rock formations far away from the usual tourist areas. JUST DON’T TRUST DAMP SANDSTONE – THAT CAN LEAD TO A PAINFUL DISAPPOINTMENT! 😥


Sloan Canyon Petroglyphs (Nevada) 20-Jan-2019

Sloan Canyon, our third hike near Las Vegas, is home to the Sloan Canyon Petroglyph Site, a large collection of Native American petroglyphs. This site is within the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area just south of Henderson, Nevada. It used to require lots of gravel driving to reach it until the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) built a paved access road from Henderson and installed a visitor contact station (which was closed thanks to the shutdown o_O ).

We started from the Petroglyph Canyon Trailhead (after walking up the gated access road), went up the 100 Trail into the North McCullough Wilderness, then over two small dry waterfalls. The petroglyphs are concentrated in an area just past the second waterfall, so we could see a lot of them with minimal wandering around. This “rock art” was created by chipping-off the dark desert varnish (or patina) on the surface of the rock to expose the lighter rock underneath. It’s fun to speculate as to what they truly meant (or mean) but that’s really not for us to know. After enjoying the petroglyphs, we looped back via the 200 Trail, which gave us a view out over the seemingly ever-growing Las Vegas (now with a smog layer 🙄 ). This was an easy, fun hike (6.8 miles return) to a fascinating collection of petroglyphs. Kudos to the BLM for managing access to this important cultural site! 😀

Starting in to Sloan Canyon on the 100 Trail
The first dry waterfall – an easy walk-around
The canyon narrows
Scrambling up the second dry waterfall
The petroglyphs are etched in the desert patina on rocks above the wash
P4 (Frog?)
P5 (Snakes & centipedes?)
P6 (Lizard?)
P9 (Beetle & snake?)
P10 (Big horn sheep)
Continuing up the canyon on the 100 Trail toward Point 3970
On the 200 Trail past Point 3970
Las Vegas from the high point on the 200 Trail
Back to the trailhead (and the smog 😦 )

Redstone Peaks (Nevada) 19-Jan-2019

For our second hike near Las Vegas, we picked a short, but steep, cross-country route to the Redstone Peaks in the Pinto Valley Wilderness. This wilderness lies within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which was open despite the federal shutdown. But no fees were being collected and there were no rangers on duty if we’d needed help. We didn’t but it’s still a stupid way to run a government. 😡

We started from the Redstone Picnic Area and went southwest cross-country up one of the washes draining the northeast side of Point 950. After climbing around behind that point, we scrambled up a steep, loose slope to the top of the highly broken ridge. From there, we could see Lake Mead in the distance and four big horn sleep 🙂 grazing in the canyon below us. We traversed northeast along the ridge and then did a little more scrambling to the summit of a point MapBuilder Topo calls “Redstone Peak” (about 3,476 feet). Once there, we found a register, two witness marks (but no benchmark), and the remains of a surveying post. After taking in the huge view from the top, we scrambled down a different gully and then, more gently, wandered out across the desert back to the picnic area. Along the way, we passed through bulges of staggeringly bright orange-red Aztec sandstone, now brilliantly illuminated by the late morning sun. A short hike (3 miles return; 1,200 feet of gain), but a good one, with views and sheep!

Aztec sandstone in the early morning light
Coming around Point 950
Behind Point 950, with Lake Mead in the distance
Scrambling up to the ridge top
A little steep near the top
Climbing above where we saw the sheep grazing (they look like all the other bush dots until they move)
Arriving at the summit, with Lake Mead in the distance
One of the summit’s witness marks
Looking west toward snowy Charleston Peak
The picnic area parking lot (white dot in center) surrounded by orange-red Aztec Sandstone
Lake Mead
Back down the wash through the Aztec sandstone
Through the Aztec sandstone
Camel? Puppy?
So colorful
Looking back from near the picnic area; the arrow points to our “Redstone Peak”

White Rock Loop (Nevada) 18-Jan-2019

Allegiant Airlines now offers direct service between Medford, Oregon and Las Vegas, Nevada. We decided to give this low-cost airline a try so we could do some hiking in the Las Vegas vicinity. Our flights were great and the tickets cheap but they charge extra for everything else, so “low-cost” can quickly lose its “low” component. Still, they replaced four days of driving with two hours of flying so we think it was worth it. This is also the quick way to reach Death Valley, another favorite hiking location.

For our first hike near Las Vegas, we went with the popular White Rock Loop (6.4 miles; 1,100 feet of gain) in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area due west of downtown Las Vegas. We worried that this Bureau of Land Management (BLM) area might have been affected by the idiotic federal shutdown but, since this area collects its own operating fees, it was open. We did the loop counter-clockwise from the White Rock Spring Trailhead, so we’d have morning light of the colorful rock formations. We descended southwest on the Willow Springs Trail, visited White Rock Spring, and continued on down to the Willow Springs Trailhead. A short walk up unpaved Rocky Gap Road brought us to the La Madre Springs Trail, which we were on briefly until we could branch off on the continuation of the loop trail inside the La Madre Mountain Wilderness. That trail looped us back to the trailhead past a small intermittent creek (which had water in it thanks to rainstorms in the days before we arrived). The hike and the weather were both perfect, with clouds coming and going to enhance the sky. And, yes, some of the rocks are almost unbelievably red!

Along the Willow Springs Trail in the morning
White Rock Spring
Along the Willow Springs Trail
Along the Willow Springs Trail
Nearing the Willow Springs Trailhead, with La Madre Mountain on the horizon
On the Rocky Gap Road
Clouds over the La Madre Springs Trail
Continuing on the loop trail
Wispy clouds swept over us as we hiked
Clouds and red rocks
Clouds over La Madre Mountain
The intermittent creek that feeds White Rock Spring
Descending to the trailhead, with Turtlehead Peak in the distance

Wheeler Peak (Nevada) 16-Sep-2017

Wheeler Peak Great Basin National Park Nevada

Another goal for our visit to Great Basin National Park was a hike to the summit of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak. This is the highest peak in the Park and the second highest in Nevada, the first being 13,147-foot Boundary Peak [climbed in 1985] near the California border.  State boosters are quick to point out that, since part of Boundary Peak slops into California, Wheeler Peak is the tallest peak entirely within Nevada (so there!).  There is also some glowering when the uninformed confuse Nevada’s number two Wheeler Peak with New Mexico’s highest point [climbed in 1993] which is – wait for it – also named Wheeler Peak (good old George M. Wheeler sure got around).  Anyway, the climb of Nevada’s Wheeler Peak is a straightforward hike on a clear and easily followed trail, the only tricks being the weather and the altitude (the hike is all above 10,000 feet).  Fortunately, we were able to wait for good weather and we’d also spent a couple of days acclimating elsewhere in Nevada.

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Great Basin National Park (Nevada) 15-Sep-2017

Great Basin National Park Nevada

Another goal for our roadtrip to Nevada to escape wildfire smoke in Southern Oregon was a visit to Great Basin National Park, which is located about 60 miles east of Ely, Nevada. We’d tried this twice before, only to be turned away by lingering snow in one instance and crowds from a car race in another.  This late in the summer snow was not an issue and we were just plain lucky in avoiding conflicts with the car race, which was (yet again) running during our visit.  Because the weather was not initially supportive of a Wheeler Peak hike (the park’s highest point and the second highest point in Nevada), we spent our first day in the park touring and visiting some of its other attractions, like the Lehman Caves and the Osceola Ditch.

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Ruby Mountains Wilderness (Nevada) 13-Sep-2017

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

This hike was part of a hastily arranged roadtrip to Nevada to escape the wildfire smoke that was smothering Southern Oregon.  It was also an opportunity for me to visit a few localities I’d missed in years past, such as the Ruby Mountains Wilderness, which is located on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest about 30 miles southeast of Elko, Nevada. Continue reading “Ruby Mountains Wilderness (Nevada) 13-Sep-2017”