Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
Distance: 8 miles
Traveled: White Rock Trailhead along White Rock Loop Trail, side trip to La Madre Springs
“Any dangerous animals out here, ranger?”
“Just tourists.” (Laughter; tell the truth, they never believe you)
– Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
After experiencing yesterday how overcrowded Red Rocks can get on a weekday afternoon, I raced out of our hotel room at 6:30am to try and get to there as close to sunrise as I could, to hopefully find a bit of solitude before the weekend masses arrived.
I made my way up the White Rock Loop Trail just as the rising sun was hitting the rocks. It was blustery, and despite being in the desert, I found myself bundled up deep in layers of clothing, a hat, and gloves – armoring myself against the bitter wind. I had the trail to myself, which was just as I was hoping it would be.
I decided to walk the loop counter-clockwise, as I had heard the views were better when walking this direction, and after finishing the hike in this way, I would definitely agree. If starting from the White Rock Trailhead, definitely go counter-clockwise.
Making my way around White Rock Mountain, I admired Turtlehead Peak in the distance, which I had hiked yesterday.
I walked toward the mountains of the La Madre Mountains Wilderness, feeling so much gratitude to be hiking on dry, snow-free, ground amongst the desert landscape again. I truly love the desert, and though I refuse to submit myself to it’s summer torture, it is definitely my place of solace the rest of the year. The wide-open space, and endless sky of the desert, beckons me to walk – and keep on walking.
Walking around White Rock Mountain, I kept my eyes peeled for Bighorn Sheep. I had heard they tended to spend time in the area, and knowing how statuesque and camouflaged they can be when standing still, I stopped several times to scan the rocks for them. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any on this trip. Hopefully, if you end up there, you’ll have better luck than I.
Curving around the backside of White Rock, the view into the canyon truly opened up. I was in awe of the landscape.
This view was more proof of Edward Abbey’s plea for people to get out of their cars and walk:
“What can I tell them? Sealed in their metallic shells like molluscs on wheels, how can I pry the people free? The auto as tin can, the park ranger as opener. Look here, I want to say, for godsake folks get out of them there machines, take off those fucking sunglasses and unreel both eyeballs, look around; throw away those goddamned idiotic cameras! For chrissake folks what is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare? eh? Take off your shoes for a while, unzip your fly, piss hearty, dig your toes in the hot sand, feel that raw rugged earth, split a couple of big toenails, draw blood! Why not? Jesus Christ, lady, roll that window down! You can’t see the desert if you can’t smell it. Dusty? Of course it’s dusty – this is Utah! But it’s good dust, good red Utahn dust, rich in iron, rich in irony. Turn that motor off. Get out of that piece of iron and stretch your varicose veins, take off your brassiere and get some hot sun on your old wrinkled dugs! You sir, squinting at the map with your radiator boiling over and your fuel pump vapor- locked, crawl out of that shiny hunk of GM junk and take a walk -yes, leave the old lady and those squawling brats behind for a while, turn your back on them and take a long quiet walk straight into the canyons, get lost for a while, come back when you damn well feel like it, it’ll do you and her and them a world of good. Give the kids a break too, let them out of the car, let them go scrambling over the rocks hunting for rattlesnakes and scorpions and anthills – yes sir, let them out, turn them loose; how dare you imprison little children in your goddamned upholstered horseless hearse? Yes sir, yes madam, I entreat you, get out of those motorized wheelchairs, get off your foam rubber backsides, stand up straight like men! like women! like human beings! and walk – walk – WALK upon your sweet and blessed land!”
Seeing Red Rocks through the windshield, or from the parking areas at viewpoints along the road (which I’m willing to bet is the extent of the park that 80% of the visitors experience), does not even slightly show you the true beauty of the park. To truly see this park you have to walk. The short walk from the trailhead to this overlook into the canyon is enough to leave any soul satisfied.
This is the high point on the trail, and from here it’s all downhill into the canyon (though, of course, you still have to climb back uphill on the last stretch to the parking lot).
The walk down was so beautiful and peaceful – and I still hadn’t seen another person. Once I was behind the rock, the wind disappeared and I was able to shed a few layers.
The trail was surrounded by pinyon pine and juniper, and was such a lush landscape compared to the vast Mojave Desert just on the other side of the rock formations.
I was still keeping my eyes out for bighorn sheep, and wild donkeys. A couple times I’m pretty certain I heard the sounds of either wild donkeys or wild horses coming from somewhere nearby, but the brush was pretty dense and it was tough to see anything beyond where I was.
About a mile down the trail, I pulled off-trail for a bit and scrambled to the top of a boulder with a beautiful view of the canyon to sit and have a snack and take in the views.
I decided to the side-trip up to La Madre Springs because I had heard from people it was well worth the extra mile to see it. It’s one of the few reliable water sources in the area, and the areas population of bighorn sheep, deer, big cats, wild horses and donkeys all depend on its supply, especially in the sweltering summer months. I had been warned that the trail was a bit of a climb, though I really didn’t find it that bad. It’s definitely uphill, but not steep at all. What I did notice about this side-trail was that its very exposed. The trail follows a 4WD road, and I felt I was lucky to catch it on a January day – as in the warmer months this would be a hot trudge.
Overall, I wasn’t very impressed with the springs. Hiking along roads isn’t my preferred route, and the springs itself is dammed. Most people turn around at the springs overlook, but not being satisfied I decide to head up canyon following the springs for about another .5 mile. The area beyond the overlook was a nice reprieve from the desert, with the lush vegetation and the sound of flowing water.
Heading back down to resume the White Rock Loop, I was lucky enough to cross paths with a herd of deer, likely leaving the springs. I decided to leave the trail and follow them for a bit to get some photos. They stopped in an area that must be their usual stomping grounds, as deer tracks were everywhere along the landscape. It was neat to see these desert mule deer, without any winter coat, looking so slender compared to our mule deer back home in ColoRADo with their fluffy winter coats.
While stopped to watch them and taking photos, I scrambled up some rocks for a better view and noticed a barbed wire fence out of the corner of my eye. It struck me as odd since I was so far off trail, and walked down to it to find that it was actually protecting an open mine shaft. Oh, the cool things you find just off the beaten path.
I took a route down toward where I knew I could re-connect with the White Rock Loop (and avoiding the ugly 4WD road).
The trail soon joins up with Rocky Gap Road, another 4WD road. It was also at this point that I started to meet up with the rest of the tourist population of Las Vegas. People everywhere, trucks driving the road kicking up dust as I walked by, parked cars everywhere. Needless to say, not my favorite section of the trail.
The trail passes through the Lost Creek Trailhead before turning northward back to the White Rock Trailhead parking lot. Walking through the Lost Creek parking lot area, I knew I was smart getting there when I did. People were fighting over parking spots, and cars lined the road for as far as I could see.
Turning northward, and finishing the loop, I found myself once again on the wide open desert. The trail passes right along the base of White Rock Mountain, and then starts dropping down toward a wash.
I opted at one point to leave the wash and instead just walk across the desert for the last mile or so to the parking lot. That’s the nice thing about the desert – you can just walk. As long as there is a clear point on the horizon, you’re not likely to meet any surprises you can’t navigate to get there. So, I opted to carefully steer through the low, scratchy, desert landscaping – avoiding trampling any plants or sensitive soils. I was surprised at how much deer poop I saw as I walked. I imagine the deer must head out here during the cooler evening hours, and then retreat back to the shade and cover of the piñon pine and juniper in the canyon to wait out the hot days.
Arriving back at my car, the parking lot was a zoo. Ugh. Seeing the endless line of parked cars along the single-lane dirt road to the trailhead parking lot, and the dusty line of cars, idling, waiting for a space, cemented by assumption that the only time to find solitude in this park on a weekend is at 6:00am.
I left and sat in a traffic jam to leave the park, and when I turned left on 159 to head back to Vegas, I passed by a line of traffic to get into the park nearly 2 miles long. It was ridiculous. Let that be your take-away if you are like me and despise crowds….don’t come to Red Rocks on a weekend during the day.