Thursday, March 1, 2012

Offroad: Mormon Mesa Point

In order to explore the Mormon Mesa a little more, Gordon, Hugh and I took to the offroad once again and headed south. OK… Gordon had convinced Hugh to go find two mines which were on his mine database, but which no one in recent history had seen. Then somehow we ended up on the trail without the coordinates to the spots so went sight-seeing instead. And I'm glad we did.

The view from the top gives the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon a run for their money; but, I digress. Hugh calls any trailhead in the area, except the water tower, "riding from the girls trailhead." So, once again, we staged at the water tower parking area on Ben Franklin to begin the days ride.

Up and over the Flat Top Mesa is a beautiful ride, in and of itself; but, for me at least, I've already "got the tee-shirt" on that ride so it can be a bit of an impediment to getting to the "real" destination on the other side. Recent weathering and wear has made opening and closing the gates at the top on the steep grade quite an adventure; so, if you're smart you'll make a side-by-side carrying two people go first. The "spare" can climb over to the gate and open it to let everyone through then close it after.

Once up and over and down into Toquop Wash we, as usual, traveled to the turn-off just after the I-15 bridge. The water in the river seemed to have come up a bit from our last ride. But that's the way of the Virgin which also seemingly changes it's route every year, probably as much based on how much obstruction the invasive Tamarisk is giving as the amount of rain up north.  [A free Google Earth file of this route is available at: Google Earth Trail FileOffroading Home.]

The trail runs westerly(ish) into Half-way Wash when it turns definitely south. If you download the free map from the above link and load it into Google Earth you can see where our GPS track stopped on the banks of the wash where we could see a definite trail continue through the bushes on the other side of the river. That's half-way wash, no one seems sure of "half-way to where" but I'm guessing it's from the old settlement of Mesquite to the (once) thriving town of St. Joseph down on the Muddy River in Moapa Valley.

Like I said, we were looking awfully hard for remnants of mining activity all along the banks but didn't see any all the way down to the (former) gun club. We reconoitered for a while at the club and commiserated that it looked like thieves had nearly demolished the thing within the past four years in their lustful greed for anything metal - like fireplace boxes, roof trusses etc. Hugh remembers seeing them when he first began riding in the area.

Immediately after the club, the trail climbs up Huntsman Hill to the top of the mesa. Straight ahead the fairly nice dirt road runs up and over into Overton where the club had lunch at Sugar's Diner a couple weeks ago. To the right runs north along the east rim of the mesa to I-15 (we'll come back to this going home) and to the left is where we wanted to explore.

Almost immediately you realize that you are on the east side of the mesa as you are confronted by panoramic views up and down the Virgin River and the valley it has carved for itself. Time after time the trail winds within spittin' distance of the edge where you can see all of the 700ft down to the waters edge. If you time it right you can be looking down on the eagles playing in the updrafts below you - a bit of a challange for the dramamine-impaired.

You will pass several different trails running in all directions, a legacy of many years worth of native american and spanish wanderings as well as pioneer-time miners and ranchers. We were able to make a small loop around to the point where everything comes into view.

Grand Canyon is, well, grand and you look across its vastness; Bryce Canyon is full of red rock formations in unique patterns. Put them together and you have the vista's before you on the point. Which, of course, is why our map for this ride contains all the "photospot" icons. I've downloaded all of the panorama photos we took into Google Earth's Panoramio, which should show up on the general globe shortly. Zoom in close to the icons and you should see them. If not, check the box next to the "Offroading Home Photos" label in the legend on the left of the screen to make a second copy of them show up.

Of course, right below you from the point (looking slightly west of due south) is the historic town of St. Thomas. It was a thriving settlement on the river where oar from the mines, cattle men, farmers and travelers congregated. Now days it is at the whim of the Lake Mead water level which has let it see the light of day for the past couple of years. With binoculars you can see old fountations off toward the edge of the lake.

To the west are the beautiful flaming red rocks of the Valley of Fire. The peculiar red color comes from the high level of iron contained in what is known as the "Aztec Formation" - a sandstone layer of ancient rock which has been exposed to the surface in selected areas in the region.

AND, to the southeast is the Gold Butte! The place where all the battles about whether or not the Sierra Club and Harry Reid will let seniors visit are taking place. I've placed flag icons on the Mud Wash, Narrows, Devil's Fire and Gold Butte area's so you can get your bearings better in the map I mentioned. All you need to do is look for the folder entitled "Panorama View" and double-click on it. You'll also need to make sure that the checkbox next to it is checked.

At once you'll see that the screen will zoom in and turn around until you are looking directly at the Gold Butte area. From the end of the point you can look directly across the lone island of land on the southeast and see a brilliantly red line of red mountain in the far mountains - that's the Devil's Fire/Kurt's Grotto area. Unseen on the far side of the mountains, a little to the right is the town of Gold Butte and to the left (almost due east) is Whitney Junction.

By the time we had argued about where things were, taken photos and had lunch - it was starting to get a little dark and time to head back to civilization. We back-tracked up to the cattle-guard at Huntsman Hill but really didn't want to go, yet again, back down the wash; so, we kept on going straight. I mean we could see the FAA's VOR machine up there in the distance so how far could it be?

We passed that bunch of idiocy, which some call "land art," known as the "double negative." We missed it the last time we were here, and would have done so again except that it sort of sprung up in our faces. Somebody took a bull-dozer (no kidding) and dozed a trench off the side of the cliff and sold (or gave) it to a museum as "art." As we have thought on it some more, our guess is that someone had bought some good-for-nothing land and came up with the scheme to inflate its value with the scam so it would be worth much more deducted off their taxes!

We did want to see the "Old Spanish Trail" which was supposed to be marked up there along the way. You can see on the map that we did find it. Someone has erected a cement marker but you need to walk around next to the cliff to actually see the old trail coming up out of the wash. It honestly looks way too narrow and steep and misplaced to me to be a useful trail, but who knows what the land looked like back then. No matter how you figure it - it wasn't easy riding that trail!

We went on and on getting farther away from the VOR without finding a crossing. That fact (and the fact that once we cross the Nevada border most of us have no idea which direction we're going) made us think we would end up in Las Vegas; but, in actuality, we were heading due north. When we got nearly to the I-15, we saw why we couldn't get across - there was a huge chasim from the river clear up to the road.

However, old Hwy-91 was a treat to ride on easily back to the VOR where we could dive under the freeway and hence to the truck stop. The Old Spanish Trail came along up there as well before it dove down the wash toward old St. Thomas.

In all, a great day seeing things we didn't know were there - the best kind of ride. If I were to do it again however, I think it would be better to trailer at least to the gravel pits in the wash west of Mesquite if not all the way down to the truck stop. And, we think we might.

Learn A Little More

Continuing on in our series of old videos, today I thought we could use a laugh now that (suprise, suprise) the congress gave Obama his own way (again) today. Dean Martin used to have a weekly TV variety show where new actors/comedians, like Foster Brooks, were highlighted. This one features Foster as an airline pilot.

Dean Martin, Foster Brooks - "Airline Pilot"

[[ Guess that's what I get for linking to YouTube. Apparently they acquiesced to someone claiming "rights" of a low-quality, off public airways, recording of the "Roasts" that people used to do. ]]


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