Monday, February 14, 2011

Offroad: Mesquite - Canyonlands, Virgin River

This second offroad excursion in the 2011 snowbird year was taken out of exasperation with the continual bad weather over the previous month. Rain and cold had precluded riding our ATVs for what seemed like an eternity so we bundled up at the first sign of the sun in weeks for an afternoon ride into "the Canyonlands."

We also wanted to see what, if anything was left of the trails along the Virgin River which was doing its SECOND "100 year flood" in five years.   [A free Google Earth file of this route is available at: Canyonlands-Virgin River.]

Tecnhically, I supposed, the Canyonland trails are on Gold Butte, but the area is only 4 miles past the Riverside Road turn off, and still connected to the West Bunkerville Flats riding area. Most locals don't consider "riding the Butte" to begin until you at least round the gap at the Little Virgin Mountains along Clives Landing.

The Canyonlands is a beautiful canyoned area which can easily be ridden in a spare afternoon from Mesquite. The pullout for your trailer is only about 4 miles from the Riverside Road turnoff to the New Gold Butte Road in Bunkerville. The Virgin River is on the right, the Canyonlands on the left.

The red sandstone has been carved over at least thousands of years into finger canyons running up into the butte as well as a Hoodoo or two. The trailhead on the map is shown in the north end of the area at a BLM "designated trail" marker.

There are three "canyons" where washes run off the bluff and into the flats area. The first on (on the north) runs the farthest eastward and is along the north rim. This year it has been severely eroded by the runoff and is quite rocky.

About half-way up the trail, on the north side (left) you can notice that the red, eroded canyon walls have received a patina of mud which seems to have washed over them from above. Someone has found that it can be carved and has begun something like ancient "Petra." I mentioned about finding it on a ride last year and wondered if it had been added to – it hasn't. In fact, it looks a bit worn down by weather compared to last year.

Even further along the wash jogs back and forth such that every turn is a new reveal of red rock and weathered formations. At the canyon end the walls loom high overhead with at least three different "pour spouts" coming from little streamlets up on the bluff that I'm sure make quite a spectacle when water is flowing during spring rains.

Back to the main trail near the road, a second wash runs eastward over on the southwest side of the area. That trail soon forks into two. The trail to the north (left) runs up a wash through high canyon walls until it comes to a drop-off in the wash which is impassable except on foot. A foot trail does continue on for several hundred yards with high canyon walls on either side and places for cisterns after desert rains. A great place for a rest and a snack.

The other trail at the fork, the one on the right, runs southward into an alcove which is the first one we found several years ago and called "autograph cliffs." The back of the canyon is a rounded "amphitheater" type area and two years ago contained a fairly large fire-ring and a discarded sofa. Someone had spent nights "lounging in comfort" in front of their fire – telling ghost stories no doubt.

You could tell it has been frequented for many years by all the "autographs" and dates scratched on the mud patina of the walls. The carvers seemed to fancy themselves Egyptologists of sorts because they carved "name cartouches" with symbols from the Egyptian alphabet. I recognized them from a class I took in college years.

Back at the main trail, you will now be on the south side of the Canyonland area and will see that the trail runs back out to Gold Butte Road. If you desire you can cross the road and take some of the trails along the Virgin River. We did and immediately found that the river, in its current state, had some of the trails under-water. In fact, what had been a secluded and peaceful place to have out lunch just a week before, was now a raging torrent– and we were photographing it on a good day after the worst was over.

I am two with nature.”
Woody Allen
We watched as parts of houses and other artifacts bounced along the river on top of standing waves of about 3-4 feet in height. Whole sections of Tamarisk-covered river bank were torn off right before our eyes and joined the rush toward Lake Mead.

However, there are several trails which run a little higher along the river and have been used for many years as "dry-camping" spots. Some of them have been kept in fairly good shape because they are "powerline" access roads. There are a couple of corrals place in strategic places, probably reminiscent of the more active cattle days.

There are trail segments which run back to the Gold Butte Road further south, and "frontage" trails of sort along the shoulder which you can ride back to the trailhead. Of course if your rig is "street legal" you could ride the road for a bit assuming you didn't mind the noise your tires make on asphalt.

The next wash to the southwest from the Canyonlands is known by the locals as "the Pinnacle," because of the obvious hoodoo-like pinnacle carved right in the middle. We posted some photos of it on Google Earth a couple years ago so you should be able to see it using the map for this ride available with the link above. There are a few trails which run back into the area but they are only washes, very rocky and really don't provide close access to the formation.

All of this ride can be done in an easy afternoon from Mesquite – as we proved, and when you ride it may be more sunny, a little warmer and a whole lot less full of… river!

Learn A Little More

You know, it seems like it's been way too long since we were able to turn on the television and see variety shows like that done by Dean Martin and go to movies starring John Wayne. Just for grins, ask your kids (or grandkids) who they were and watch their eyes glaze over in blank stares.

I'm glad that someone has had access to the old recordings and has posted them on You-Tube for us to look at whenever we get a bit nostalgic. In this clip Dean (who had seven children) asked John (who just had a late-life little girl) what he wanted his daughter to learn.


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