Saturday, January 30, 2016

Hike Report: Willow Springs/White Rock Hills Loop, Red Rock Canyon Park

In October, 2014, Donna and I visited Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area just west of Las Vegas (see "Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area"). Unfortunately, I left the camera in the hotel room that day and did not get any pictures of this beautiful place. We decided at that time that we wanted to return to the park some day, and we really wanted to do some hiking out there. Yesterday, we did return, and we took one great hike.

It was a beautiful day for a hike. We arrived at the park just before 10. We stopped at the Visitor Center near the entrance first to get some information about the trail we planned to hike. The Visitor Center is a great source of information, with displays both inside and out. Take time to tour this facility; learning about this area only makes your visit that much more enjoyable. For more information about this park, visit these links:
 On the second site above, be sure to visit the hiking page.

The Visitor Center near the park's entrance

Donna at the Calico Hills

Our hike today would be in these mountains. We would enter through a canyon in the left of this picture, hike on the backside, then come back around on a trail in the foreground of this picture at the foot of the mountains.
Our target for the day was the Willow Springs parking lot. We would start there and hike the Willow Springs/White Rock Hills Loop. We were advised to walk the loop trail in a clockwise direction. We started off heading northwest following the Rocky Gap Road shortly after 10:00 AM. Beginning elevation was 4,545 feet. About a quarter mile into our trip, we realized we had left our hiking poles in the truck. We would miss those poles on today's hike.

Trailhead, with trail heading up the canyon.
About a half mile or so into the hike, we came to our first trail junction on the backside of the mountain where we had started. We followed the trail north away from Rocky Gap Road. For me, this next 2 to 3 miles of the hike would be the most beautiful and dramatic. We would gradually climb in elevation, eventually reaching a height of about 5,460 feet, a gain of roughly 900 feet from our starting point. We would pass through full-sized trees on the slopes, and patchy snow would be visible at the higher elevations, especially on the north slopes.

This is where we turned off Rocky Gap Road. We were on the back side of the mountains now, heading north.

The summit is beyond the colored spires in the center of the picture.
Keep your eyes open. About a mile or so into the hike, there is a trail junction. Our trail turned off at a right angle and headed down into a canyon. The other trail continues up a slope towards La Madre Spring. The junction is an easy one to miss, especially if you are looking up at the beautiful scenery.

Lots of trees on this section of the hike. Donna is barely visible ahead.

This picture was taken from near the summit. It looks back along the trail we have hiked. The small knoll in the center of the picture is where we split off from Rocky Gap Road. If you click on the picture and enlarge it, you can see portions of the trail.
Our target was the summit on a saddle near the high point of the mountains. As we wound our way through the trees, our target slowly but steadily grew closer. All the time, we were slowly climbing in elevation, and our aging legs were growing tired. Donna began questioning why she married me, which she often does on these hikes.

Looking east from the summit. In the center, you can see the tops of the White Rocks.
Eventually we reached the summit and were rewarded by views in both directions. The hardest part of the hike was now behind us, and we began the long descent down to the White Rocks parking area. On the previous 3 or so miles of the hike, we had seen only 2 couples. One couple was ahead of us and continued on the La Madre Spring trail; the other was a Japanese couple we met near the summit. On the slope from the summit to White Rocks parking lot, though, we encountered almost a dozen people.

On the hike from the summit to the White Rocks parking lot, you break out of the mountains with great views to the east.
At the parking lot, we found the trailhead for Willow Springs. The sign said it was 2.2 miles. This section of the trail skirts the base of a line of mountains. For the most part, it is a gentle downhill slope. At just over a mile, the trail dips into a draw, and there is a long climb up from there to a hill. Once atop the hill, though, the first parking area at Willow Springs is visible, so you know the trip is almost done. There are some trail junctions along this section of trail, so be alert. We were told the final stretch of the trail was a good place to spot mountain sheep, but we saw none on our hike.

Looking south. Our starting point was one of the canyons in these mountains. So now we walk along the base of these mountains to return to the truck.
Close up of one of the mountains.

Easy to see how the park gets its name.

At the very end of the hike, you'll probably encounter numerous people exploring the rocky area along the base of the mountains. Most are only walking out a short distance, so you'll encounter most very close to the parking area.

Finally, the mouth of our canyon. A parking lot is visible at bottom left. Our truck was parked farther up the canyon.
This is a great hike, but it did tax our abilities. Total distance was 6.34 miles, with the first 3 miles climbing steadily for 900 feet. Most of the trail is rocky. This has several affects. First, you have to watch every step, and this slows you down. It also leaves your feet quite sore after 6 plus miles. And it is a bit dangerous, with quite a bit of slipping and sliding. If you don't plant your feet firmly, you can sustain injuries.

The trail itself is very clear. There are places where the trail has been rerouted, so watch carefully to be sure you are on the right trail. There are also a couple of false trails. If you look ahead, though, these should not be a problem. Signs are not plentiful, but they are where they need to be.

Typical of the signs you can expect to find along the trail. Most are in better shape than this one. But they do a good job of indicating direction and distance.



2 comments:

  1. Hey Keith,

    Love the article. Me and my partner are coming to America in a few months and looking to do some good hiking around Las Vegas. Would you say the Willow Spring trek is one of the most scenic in the area? I had heard the Havasupai falls was also a good trek..?

    I actually run a trekking site myself (trekkinginnepal.org). Would be great if you could check it out and link to us if you think your readers might ever find it useful! I've already added you to my favorite blogs page - http://www.trekkinginnepal.org/our-favorite-hiking-blogs-of-2016/

    Kind regards Keith,

    Mark

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  2. Mark,

    Thanks for your kind words. I really don't know much about hiking this area as I'm only a visitor here. We simply were looking for hikes in the immediate Las Vegas area, and the Havasupai falls hike would be probably 2 hours from here. Red Rocks is just west of the city limits, so it is pretty convenient. Right now, weather is bad here, but when it clears, we hope to get out and hike the historic Railroad Tunnel trail.

    I visited your site. You are doing some serious trekking here, far beyond what Donna and I aspire to. My hikes are minor league stuff at best. We just hike to see some of the back country and to keep our old bodies fit.

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