Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Offroad: Five Canyon Loop Trail

When one has been riding the off-roads of an area for several months one gets a bit nostalgic when it is time for one to migrate once again back up north. Such is the case with this ride taken at the end of the 2011 riding season (sorry, I just noticed that one or two rides hadn't been posted yet) around the "Five Canyon (or maybe six) Loop".

The 2011 offroad riding season in Mesquite Nevada was an odd one by almost any standards. It rained more water and longer than any of the four previous "snowbird" years so we almost spent more time indoors than on ATVs in the desert.

It warmed up later in the season and we were still riding with jackets through March when we took this loop ride around nearly all of the canyons in the Bunkerville Ridge south of Bunkerville. There were at least five or maybe six if you count Hen Springs Canyon.   [A free Google Earth file of this route is available at: Google Earth Trail FileOffroading Home.]

Water Tower Lane Trailhead

We trailered down Riverside Road to Water Tower Lane (watch carefully for a tiny, faded sign) where there was enough room to unload. There is a water tower on the hill above; but, this spot's real claim to fame is the massive earthen retaining dam in front of you, barely recognizable from this close.

There is a gate, which is rarely locked, across the road winding around and climbing to the top of the plateau. There you can see the fenced in dam and always (as far as we have seen) empty retention area.

Following the trail toward the distant mountains you will see that it forks at the far end of the reservoir. We'll take to the east to begin with, but we'll be returning to this point from the south later this afternoon.

If you're following on the free Google Earth map, you can see that the trail winds a bit but persistently points you to the southeast hills above Scenic Arizona. At the wash coming out of Indian Canyon you'll cross over to see another water tank and buildings adjacent to a heavily traveled road: Cabin Canyon Road.

Cross on to the main road for almost a mile then another trail runs due east - the one you want to take. As they say, "keep on keeping on" for another 2.15 miles to reach the Whiterock Road (or Lime Kiln Canyon road) and turn south.

Lime Kiln Canyon

At the entrance to the canyon, a point where you can actually drive to in your car, there is a very large, metal stock tank where most everyone I know stops for a breather.

There are trees and bushes enough to provide refreshing shade and the water gives the perception at least that it is a lot cooler. The locals call this the "fish tank" owing to the large numbers of "planted" Koi and goldfish inhabiting its mossy depths and keeping the bug population in balance.

A fire left the tank bone dry, and its former inhabitants dead, about a year ago to the dismay of many, many visitors to the site. The firemen did save the area (mostly) and the cattlemen did restore the plumbing from the spring to refill it but for months it sat bereft of our ichthyological buddies.

In a "last visit," March of 2011, I noticed that someone (a rider I presume) had brought two Comet gold fish to play in the water and learn how to avoid being slurped up by the "white man's buffalo" [cows]. Our first ride this season (Nov 2011) surprised us by revealing over 100 of the little gold fellows! It seems like more than one rider had felt the need to "multiply and replenish."

Parashant Grand Canyon

Rejuvenated, if you desire, you can head up the canyon through the trees. The canyon walls become steep and loom over your head with hues of red and brown and display a coating of the Pinon-Cedar biome that it nurtures with it's cooler and wetter climate.

It's only just over three miles to the "great reveal" of the Parashant Grand Canyon and is often, but not always navigable. Visiting when you can see show on the mountain tops usually means that there will be mud and ruts and runoff and you should ride somewhere else in order to preserve the road for others.

Taking our own advice, for this ride we decided to run around to all of our other favorite canyons instead. Head back down the road the way you came and turn back west on the trail that brought you to this road.

Middle Canyon

The first wash you come to will be coming out of Middle Canyon and there will be a trail which turns south toward it. That's the one we took. It only goes up about one and a half miles before it becomes "extreme" riding over steep, narrow, rocky, transmission-dropping terrain.

Some time back Gordon and I took it in his side-by-side and he was able to show me all the skills he has honed over years of driving caterpillar's. Even planning for twice as long as we thought it should take to get to the Santa Cruz Mine and down into Cow Canyon, it took us double that still and had dad, who had the sense enough to ride around the normal way to Cabin Canyon, about bored out of his skull waiting for us.

Middle Canyon is another Pinon-Cedar biome but it is also filled with scrub Oak and lots of wildlife - squirrels count, right? Depending on how you take the ride it is also a great place to have lunch.

Indian Canyon

Going back down the trail watch for another trail going off to the west (left) which runs along the foothills. In just over a half-mile you'll drop down into another wash. This one comes from Indian Canyon.

No real trail goes up the wash so we didn't attempt it, but it is another significant drainage across the flats which make travel a bit of a challenge as we shall talk about in a minute.

I've tried to find the derivation of the canyon names around Bunkerville without much success. Lime Kiln comes from the mine of the same name one would suspect. Middle is, well… in the middle of someones scope and Indian may be from some early Indian encampments that the settlers noticed; but, who knows? If you do, write me and I'll post it.

The next canyon however was named because it was the only one around here where someone had built a bonifide log cabin that everyone could reference in their stories and tales: Cabin Canyon.

Cabin Canyon

However, don't go looking for it now cause it's long gone to the weather, fires and insects. But there are still enough citizens of Mesquite who tell me that there used to be a cabin up there that I believe them.

Continuing west from Indian Canyon you will eventually come to another graded dirt road, Cabin Canyon Road. Turn south and follow it to an area that Mesquit'ers once had great plans for.

About a mile up the road you'll come to several weathered cement picnic tables and a large cement pad. There are paths with rock steps which you can tell took several strong men more than a little work to build.

Actually, it was the Mesquite firemen who built up the area for citizens to use for dances and picnics and general "cooling off" activities. The fact that they built it doesn't surprise me, it makes sense; but, I don't understand why they would let it go to ruin. Perhaps, like the wonderful Frehner cabin up Elbow Canyon, it was only on land leased from the BLM who wouldn't renew the lease so they could neglect it and shut it down.

At any rate, this year (2011) we could hardly get to it for all the heavy run-off in the creek. There was more water in it than we had seen in five years of riding but surprisingly it didn't make it very far down the flats.

It was getting late and we still wanted to climb up the mesa and see the North Valley. Problem is that there's a ravine in the way: Hen Springs Ravine. You can see it on the accompanying map. It's an obstacle that needs circumventing one way or the other.

Hen Springs Canyon

At the time, the only sure way we knew how to go was down Cabin Canyon road to the tanks we had passed on the way up. So that is the way we went. Afterwards, I found another slightly more obscure trail on the satellite image (later verified) which would have avoided about five miles of back-tracking.

On the accompanying map the alternate trail is shown in purple and it runs along both of the ridges of the ravine… a nice ride.

No matter which way you go, you'll know that you're at the mouth of Hen Springs Canyon(?) when you see the steam engine boiler! Yep, that's what it was only now it is a rusty, re-purposed stock tank.

The trail runs south a bit until would fall off into the ravine then turns west into North Valley. The canyon in front of you is impassable even on foot but it runs from Hen Springs up in South Valley through the passage between two high walls and into Hen Springs Ravine – what else could it be called besides Hen Springs Canyon, although I don't find it labeled so on any map.

North Valley

This picturesque little valley is nearly the first one we found when we began snowbirding in the area. We came at it from below when we were trying to find a passage from the West Bunkerville Flats into the East Flats area (there aren't any except way down by Riverside Road.)

Shortly down the trail you'll see another trail running to the north (right) over to the cliff's where people like to stop and stretch their legs, have lunch and/or take picture's.

"Keyhole Rock" – is obvious for its shape in the cliff. A short path leads to a great view of Bunkerville/Mesquite along the Virgin River and good photos. On the cliff rocks there are deposits of petrified lake bottom "ooze" – "petro-droppings," if you're a local, because of their "dropping-esq" brown-yellow color and their complete adherence to the supporting rock.

Look up along the skyline and you'll see: "Hanging Cave," "Eagle's Nest," and "Skyline Arch," from left to right. And just to the left of Keyhole Rock is an alcove full of barrel cacti that looks like it had been planted and cared for – "Ray's Cactus Garden."

Further along the valley trail you'll come to a sudden and fairly steep drop-off a bit dangerous for two-wheel drive ATVs or those with worn tires or bad brakes. The un-noticeable, but severe wash-boarding causes much of the problem by causing you to bounce airborne both coming and going.

At the ledge, which is as far as we went on this ride, you can see the old growth Joshua Tree forest in the valley below. On the hills to the right is a prominent outcropping of the Aztec Formation Sandstone so prevalent down in Valley of Fire.

Directly ahead of you is "gunsight pass" for obvious reasons and the hills on the left have all been turned on their edge and sharpened to a point – "knife-blade cliffs."

There you have it – a "five canyon ride" (or six if you went up to parashant). All that remains now is to go back to the trailhead and you do that by going back to the steam engine and heading straight as an arrow ahead down the flats. That trail will take you directly back to the retaining dam I pointed out when we started.

Learn A Little More

Hans Rosling say's he was only four when he watched his mother do her first load of washing in a washing machine and they had even brought in close family members for the affair. In his talk given at a TED conference he describes very entertainingly just how the washing machine can be/has been used to define world populations. You'll like it.

The Washing Machine Defines World Populations


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