Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hiking in Las Vegas: The Countdown to Summer

If you love hiking at Red Rock like I do, you probably know that the time to enjoy mild temperatures is rapidly coming to a close. The searing temperatures of summer will be here soon.

I’m determined to take advantage of every bit of spring before Nature turns the broiler on, so this past weekend I got out for hikes on both Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday: A Great View

On Saturday, I took the team (my son and our dog) to a trail near 13 Mile Campground (also known as Red Rock Campground). We’d decided to climb a small hill there (about 200 feet, according to the topo map, although I thought it looked higher than that). Saturday was cool and windy, which we were glad for not long after we set out.

The trail starts at an abused patch of desert filled with uprooted yuccas and dog droppings, but beyond that the trail leads uphill and into the desert. The land gradually gains altitude with three hills that gently increase in height. At the crest of the first hill, there’s a great view of Red Rock’s cliffs and Calico Basin.

Atop the second hill, a four-foot rock cairn greets you.

And at the very top—which is composed of volcanic rock (in sharp contrast to the sandstone found throughout Red Rock)—the Strip rises far to the east, the massive buildings tiny in the distance.

When we got back to the car (two hours later), Gigi, our dog, was worn out. She climbed in the backseat and laid down without waiting for water. The look on her face was plain: “That was great, but I’m bushed. Bring the water to me.” (She’s kind of a princess.) She gulped down three bowlfuls, then belched and went to sleep. Ah, to be a dog.

Sunday: Bouldering in Ash Canyon

On Sunday, my son and I decided to leave Gigi at home because we wanted to do some rock scrambling. Gigi believes (incorrectly) that she’s a mountain goat (or perhaps a Big Horn sheep), so she had to stay at home because I don’t like broken legs.

My son and I went back to Ash Canyon, where we’d had to turn around the week before (due to Gigi the Goat Dog and my whole anti-broken-leg stance).  This time, my son and I bouldered up the wash until we had to go up and around.

Once upon a time, in my previous life as an uber-prepared hiker, I would have had a trail guide with exact directions. Not anymore. I’d done a cursory Google search, so I knew we had to climb out of the wash eventually, but I couldn’t remember if it was the trail on the left or the right side of the canyon.  We chose the left.

By the time we encountered an imposing shelf of sandstone that made me say, “Sorry, but I’m not climbing up that,” we were both ready to turn around and come back.

“I think we should only hike one day of the weekend,” my son commented. “I’m kind of worn out.”

“Probably,” I said, thinking about the chores I had waiting at home.

But the day was clear, the skies a brilliant blue against the red rocks, birds were singing, and the trees were budding. I decided it would have been a shame to have wasted such a day on chores.

“We live in a beautiful place,” my son said several times on the way back.

“Yes, we do,” I agreed. “We certainly do.”

Have you been out to enjoy the desert while the weather’s still nice?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Calico Basin & The Rock Scrambling Dog

For some reason, I assumed that dogs possessed a natural instinct about how to safely navigate rocky terrain. I thought they had some inborn dog wisdom about behaving sanely around heights.

I was wrong. From what I observed on Sunday, my dog thinks she is a mountain goat. 
In the early afternoon, we (my son, the dog, and I) set out for a hike from the Sandstone Road Trailhead in Calico Basin. The area is heavily visited, which normally is something I avoid, but Gigi was delighted. She’s an extroverted canine. “New people? New dogs? And hiking!? If only you’d brought Beggin’ Strips, the day would be perfect!”

Gigi led us up the wide gravel trail toward Ash Canyon. We saw a photo shoot going on just off the trail, with the model (who was wearing black stiletto heels, a sequined bra, and extreme short-shorts) perched atop an impressive chunk of sandstone. In the distance and up high, rock climbers were hanging off the cliffs (which in comparison looked much harder, except for the high heels).

We continued past a rock labyrinth (the largest one I’ve seen so far in Red Rock), through a marshy area, and headed up Ash Canyon.
When a bit of light bouldering was required, I laughed when Gigi hopped over rocks. I mean, she looked adorable. I think I said something out loud to that effect.
When the bouldering got tougher, I climbed up, looking for a way around the boulders that were too high for Gigi. I stopped at a slab of sandstone that I wasn’t sure any of us could get around. “I don’t think we can get through this way,” I told my son, who was also checking out other routes.

Gigi must have thought I said, “Come this way!” because she charged around me, clambered up the rock, then slid down the sandstone like she was in some Canine X Games event.

“Yeah, I can see how she can’t get through this way,” my son commented.

“How’s she going to get back out of there?” I asked him. After surfing down four feet of sandstone, Gigi had landed in a pocket of scrub trees and gravel.

“Good point,” my son said.

Gigi was cheerfully unbothered by her position, and she managed to scramble up and out after a couple of tries. But had she learned that her lack of opposable thumbs (or hooves) was a major disadvantage when it came to rock scrambling? Nope. She soon was trying to scale the rocks ahead of us.

After having visions of carrying an injured dog back to the car (a 50 pound dog, by the way), I decided we needed to turn around.
Once we were on level ground, we met up with two other hikers on their way back to the trailhead. Gigi trotted happily in front of us. One of the hikers told me, “She reminds me of a dog I had named Foolish. He hiked with me in Alaska.” The hiker had seen Gigi trying to tip-toe along the side of a drop-off while we were still in the canyon.

Back at the car, Gigi the Goat Dog had a big drink of water before stretching out in the back seat and falling asleep. After finding out that all my assumptions about dogs and rock scrambling were wrong, I was just relieved that we hadn’t incurred any vet bills.

Do you hike with your dog? 

Monday, March 04, 2013

Finding Sloan Canyon

Over the weekend, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather (70°, sunny, a few photogenic clouds—a glimpse of spring) to drag my hubby out of the house to go find Sloan Canyon.

A co-worker of mine had told me that Sloan Canyon was easy to find, with “plenty” of signage. “I used to go there for school field trips,” he told me. 

What my young co-worker should have said was that there IS signage at Sloan Canyon. Plentiful? Not so much.

This is the turn-off to Sloan Canyon. That marker is the first “signage” we spotted after leaving paved roads.

From what I’ve read, Sloan Canyon’s limited accessibility is no accident. The area holds rare petroglyphs and striking volcanic rock formations. Because of the increase in vandalism and theft in areas like Sloan Canyon, the BLM keeps information about the canyon to a minimum and isn’t planning to increase accessibility much.

This weekend I didn’t get to see the petroglyphs in Sloan Canyon, but not because of the remote, rugged road or the rock scrambling required to reach what’s been described as “the Sistine Chapel of rock art.” No, I didn’t get to see that part of the canyon because my three hiking companions each quit on me, even the dog.

The first one to stop hiking was my husband, who had major surgery just a few months ago. About 40 minutes into our hike, we encountered a rocky obstacle on the trail. He sat down and announced he was done for the day. Absence totally excused.

Right after I lost companion #1, my teenage son made his own announcement. “I’m hungry and I don’t want to go any further,” followed by, “Can we stop somewhere on the way home and get something to eat? Can we leave now? Aren’t we done hiking? Haven’t we looked at enough rocks?” And so on and so forth.

So I left those two at the outcropping and continued on with Gigi, our dog.

Soon, Gigi’s tail was drooping, her head was hanging, and she was giving me that look, the one that says, “Can we go home now so I can sleep on the sofa until tomorrow?” (We later found Gigi had a paw injury—apparently not uncommon as we ran into a couple with a dog who also had an injured paw.)

I regarded the canyon in front of me. I wanted to keep on hiking. However, it was obvious that on this day I wasn’t going to see much more of Sloan Canyon.  At least I could say I’d found it. The petroglyphs would have to wait for another day.

Gigi and I turned around. At the outcropping, the tired and hungry (and bored) males were tossing pebbles at each other.

Before long, we were in the Jeep, headed home.

Have you been to Sloan Canyon?