Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey
Words and pictures
My wife and I make at least one trip to Las Vegas every year, sometimes more than one. Usually those trips are co-scheduled with her family who fly in from Hawaii. In case you ever wondered where people who live in paradise go on vacation, it's Vegas. The clientele is so large that three of the local hotels, the California, the Main Street Station, and the Fremont have discovered a very fruitful revenue stream catering to vacationers from the Islands.
Normally, we engage in the usual Vegas-ish types of activities, gambling, entertainment, gambling, eating, gambling, sight-seeing, gambling... well, you get the picture. Until I discovered hiking this past two years, it never entered my mind that there was anything else to do. In preparation for this trip, which we coordinated with our middle daughter and her family, I searched for and found a book called "Hiking Las Vegas." The author, Branch Whitney, researched, hiked, and described over 80 different hiking routes in three areas, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area about 18 miles to the southwest, Mount Charleston about 40 miles due west, and Lake Mead about 35 miles due east. The hikes range from easy one-milers suitable for young children, all the way to double-digit highly technical Class 5's which usually involve ropes and pitons.
We arrived a day early and did the first hike by ourselves. This 4-mile out-and-back is called "The Muffins," named for a group of conglomerate rocks that somehow ended up atop Blue Diamond Hill. Since conglomerates always form at the bottom of things, their placement there is something of a geological mystery. To get to the trailhead, we drove out Charleston Road, which becomes Red Rock Canyon Road, past the Visitors Center to the Cowboy Trail Rides stables. I should have parked in the dirt area just off the highway, but instead drove on up to another parking area near the corral. This would later prove to be a mistake.
We got out of the car, geared up, and started out. This particular area is criss-crossed with abundant mountain biking trails, which carry quaint names such as "Boneshaker" and "Bob Gnarly." Hence, for the first-timer finding and staying on the correct path can be a bit difficult. I missed a trail fork just past a dry wash and we ended up walking, not towards the clearly visible goal, but into a deep box canyon.
Looked pretty simple at this point.
And that's definitely where we wanted to go.
But somehow we ended up here.
I don't like backtracking, so we attempted to bushwhack our way to the correct trail, stumbling over rocks and avoiding (mostly) some rather annoying light blue thorn bushes, all the while keeping a wary eye out for snakes. Despite our best navigational efforts, we ended up in that canyon, trying to circle around the ridge and approach the Muffins from behind. At one point, we left a trail and climbed straight up to a knife-edged ridge, hoping that perspective might provide us the proper direction. There was a trail there, but it dead-ended. The good thing was that we could now see, about a hundred feet below, the trail we should have been on. So down we went. The slope was steep, I would guess greater than 40 degrees, and covered with scree, a catchall term describing any manner of surface consisting of loose rock and dust. Cheryl navigated it quite well. But about halfway down, I slipped and gashed my knee and hand. Muttering imprecations to, and about myself, I continued my descent, eventually gaining the trail. From there, it was comparatively easy, except for the steep climb.
We finally gained the top, and the view was as promised.
Looking back the other way, the trail we had worked to hard to find was clearly visible on the land below.
After a rest, we turned and headed back. The way down was considerably easier to follow, so we were able to take a far more direct route. But it was now late afternoon on a Sunday, and I was concerned that we would now be car-trapped on the wrong side of a steel gate. Arriving at the parking area though, we found a note under the wipers telling us how to exit and how to re-lock the gate behind us. Nice folks.
Two days later, with our son-in-law in attendance at his conference, we took the kids to what was described as a short and easy 1-mile out and back along a combo trail, Lost Creek, and the Children's Discovery Trail.
This time, we entered the park, using our NPS annual pass, and drove along the scenic drive to Willow Springs Road. Up this way a bit was a gravel parking lot. From there, the trailhead was obvious and visible. With our 18-month-old grandson in a backpack carrier, and his 3-year-old sister bravely taking the lead, we headed out. The trail was level for the first couple hundred yards, but then started to climb and twist around some truck-sized boulders.
Elena, our National Geographic Girl
At one point we looked up to see a couple of technical climbers doing it the hard way.
Along the path, there were some lovely cactus blossoms in full bloom.
At the end of the trail, we dead-ended into a small box canyon. A small seasonal waterfall was still trickling over the edge of the rocks above.
We rested a bit, and headed back, this time taking the outer loop, giving us some different scenery to view on the way.
Lost Creek, aptly named.
I was a little unsure as to how the kids would take to the hike, but they managed very well. Elena especially, at three years old, took to the adventure like a veteran.
The third, and last hike we took during our stay was one that finally our son-in-law would be able to participate, freed from work by the end of his conference. We returned to Red Rock Canyon and drove to the White Rock Canyon road and took the bumpy road to the upper parking lot. We got out, geared up, and headed out. Unfortunately, the kids had already had a pretty active day, and they were in no mood for a desert stroll. They headed back to the car, and Cheryl and I continued swiftly uptrail. This was pretty standard stuff, a fairly straight and not too tough ascent for about three-quarters of a mile. At the top, we could look down on the top of the Keystone Thrust earthquake fault. Pretty interesting stuff for people who once lived in California.
The faultline runs down this canyon.
It was our first hiking foray outside the heavily forested Shenandoah region we were used to, and it proved to be both a challenge and entertaining. But we were very fortunate in that the whole week the Vegas area was visited by awesome weather, with temperatures ranging from the low 70's to the low 80's, a good 10 to 15 degrees cooler than normal. I don't think we could have made these hikes if the temps had been their normal mid-90's, something to think about for next time.