Friday, June 1, 2012

Offroad: Five Canyons Trail

Forty-three miles and a full day will get you out of Mesquite and into the mountains for a great loop around the five major canyons in the Bunkerville Range of the Virgin Mountains; plus a picturesque valley thrown in for good measure.

This is a ride which can easily be done without trailering from Mesquite. It loops from Water Tower Lane in Bunkerville to North Valley before running into the Parashant via the 4,900 ft Lime Kiln Canyon and returning via White Rock Road. It also happens to be what we think is the very best get-acquainted "sampler" ride one can your visitors on.

Although there are roads and trails going up all the canyons which can be navigated by 4-WD vehicles, the trail as shown in the free map accompanying this post is best taken on ATVs, side-by-sides and single tracks due to width, camber and turns. None-the-less, it really is considered beginner level (well, one part is a "strong" beginner level due to incline). [A free Google Earth file of this route is available at: Google Earth Trail File Offroading Home.]

We were notified that a neighbor back up in Utah was coming down to Mesquite for a weekend with their friends and they wondered if there were a couple of rides that they could take which would be good for beginner level riders and would still get them to where they could "see something." That's the first question I usually ask any guest who comes to visit: "which do you get the most enjoyment out of – riding or seeing something?"

You see, the "butte" has LOTs of things to see, and most all of it requires a vehicle to get to; but, places to just do extreme riding – not so much. People who want to climb to the top of everything they see should go down to the riding area next to Nellis near Vegas. Gold Butte has trails that you MUST stay on. The surrounding area is nearly all protected.

For our ride we wanted to begin with somewhere we could see desert, mines and mountains – and for good measure, we wanted to show them our favorite valley: North Valley. The fact that we could ride to all that without needing to trailer was sheer bonus.

Water Tower Trailhead

In the last post we showed you a map of the route from Mesquite to Bunkerville via the back-roads. It was actually something that we had heard others used all the time but we had never been on. We scouted it for possible use on this ride and it turned out to be just what we needed for two reasons. First, it allowed us to ride from "headquarters" without trailering.

And second, for those who do trailer, it can be used to return back to where you parked so that you don't need to back-track almost your entire trail. Instead you can make the trip into a loop. So, get yourself to Water Tower Lane on Riverside Road in Bunkerville however you like and load up for a full day, forty-three mile journey up 3,400 feet into the mountains. Bring a lunch!

There is a small area where you can park just after you turn off Riverside Road and the trail winds up the butte in front of you. Actually it looks more like a road at first. Once you are up on top, you can easily follow the trail running around the reservoir then south, directly toward the mountains. You'll be going across East Bunkerville Flats and heading for the Bunkerville Range of the Virgin Mountains.

North Valley

The first year we snowbirded to Mesquite, Dad and I spent much time surveying the trails in the mountains to "see where this one goes" because we hadn't met anyone yet who rode. We went up all the canyons and "accidentally discovered" a "secret" passage-way from the flats into the mining area behind the mountains. It was a hidden canyon right out of something Zane Grey or Louis L'Amour would write about.

The main canyon looks like it has a blind ending until you ride to within 20 feet of the back and find that another canyon enters at a ninety-degree angle, completely obscured from vision. We now know that "Hidden Canyon" is what may people call "the Seeps" – although I've never seen anything seeping.

The one big issue with riding the flats is that there is really no way to ride east-west along the foothills. You must come nearly all the way back down to Riverside road before you find a east-west trail. Back that first year, we found ourselves up at Hidden Canyon and really wanted to find that illusory east passage. Taking a little traveled trail we found that it only went east for a few yards before it turned south into the mountains – so we took that and found ourselves in an entirely unexpected valley between two portions of the mountain range.

It was only a very small trail, but it wound through old growth Joshua Trees and had some of the best scenery we had yet seen. Later, after meeting area riders, we were able to tell them of the North Valley – as opposed to the South Valley, where they normally rode.

On this trip we'll be visiting the upper portion of North Valley and right now we are looking for the major landmark: a rusty old railroad engine which has been converted into a stock tank. When you find it, remember it; because we'll be coming back to it. Continue on ahead and eventually the trail sharply turns west and into North Valley.

Within yards, a side trail turns to the right (north) over to several things to take pictures of. Keyhole Rock is obvious at the end of the cliff. A short hike will take you into the keyhole and a vista of the Virgin River Valley. As you climb you will notice many "petro-droppings" (petrified lake-bottom 'ooze') which color the rocks, and an alcove full of barrel cacti known as Ray's Cactus Garden. On the ridge-line above you are Hanging Cave and Skyline Arch.

Back on the trail, head east a little further to the edge of a substantial drop off into the lower portion of the valley. This is the farthest we'll go on this trip; but, if you continued down the slope you would eventually come out near the Seeps where we first discovered this trail.

At the drop-off there are also several places to focus your cameras. On the right there is a large outcropping of Aztec Formation Sandstone, identical to that found to the west down in Valley of Fire State Park. Directly ahead is Gunsight Pass and the cliffs to the left are known as Knife-blade Cliffs, both named for reasons that are very obvious.

Hen Springs Ravine and Cabin Canyon

Back at the railroad engine… this time head east behind the engine and you will see a trail which looks like it is going to head along the ridge line and down into the ravine – because that's what it does. Hen Springs Ravine has steep sides until you ride along the ridge about 1.6 miles when it dips down into the wash and you can turn east.

You can follow that trail straight east until it joins Cabin Canyon road, or do like we did and take the trail up the other side of the ravine to join it a bit closer to the mountain. Watch carefully for the trail which is a bit obscure – GPS waypoint #1 on the accompanying free map. The ride along both sides of the ravine is quite picturesque. At GPS waypoint #2, the trail is a bit off camber and steep; but, to continue on the normal way quickly turns into a complete wash out – as we already found out, for you. So, you best to go down at this point and you shortly join Cabin Canyon Road.

Turn toward the mountains (south), past GPS waypoint #3, and you will arrive at an area which can serve as a rest stop for lunch. After all, there are large cement picnic tables and a concrete slab to park on. The volunteer fire department created all the rock work and dance floor many years ago for people to rest of an evening and cool off. Today, however, it is a little run down as there is a bit less sense of community in Mesquite than there was back then.

When you're sufficiently refreshed, run back down to waypoint #3 where there is another trail heading east along the foothills.

Indian, Middle and Lime Kiln Canyon's

As you travel eastward along the mountains you will pass Indian and Middle Canyons. There are short trails running into each of them, which are quite enjoyable; but today we've got a lot more to see before it gets dark.

Your trail will run east then dogleg north until you come to a "T" intersection. To the left runs back to Cabin Canyon Road and to the right: White Rock Road, leading to Lime Kiln Canyon and our next stop – the "fish tank."

It's not really a fish tank of course, it's a stock tank; but, it's very large and filled with by a constant trickle of water being piped in from up the canyon. And, it's been the home to many, many goldfish (or carp) ever since we've been stopping by.

It's such a local landmark that when a year ago a fire completely emptied and decimated the tank the locals, independently took it upon themselves to "re-plant" it. Each without telling anyone else they were going to do it. That year we were there several times. First, to see it empty and smelly. Then, to see it slowly refilling but devoid of any moss or plant covering.

Before I left for the season, I determined to take a couple of Walmart fish up there to see how they would do; but, found that someone – a LOT of someone's, had already beaten me to it! There were probably over fifty of many colors and sizes. This year there must be a hundred in there; so, PLEASE, if you're thinking about it – there's really no need any more.

Someone must have graded the canyon road this year because you pretty much could drive a city car almost all the way up to the pass. Of course it is a back-country road, but as dirt roads go – just sayin'.

You'll know that you're at the top when your jaw involuntarily drops open. They don't call it the "Grand Canyon" for nothing. This is that Parashant Arm, the tail end of the canyon. Much more easily navigated.

Only about 1.7 miles down from the pass is a turn off to Red Pocket Tanks, which is where we are heading next.

Parashant Grand Canyon and Red Pocket Tanks

The trail up to the tanks is a pleasant one. Much of the way you are under a canopy of scrub oak, pinon and cedar. There is a fairly large catchment basin almost near the tanks which, this year, has given way and washed out.

A quick turn around some trees and you come upon a cattle corral at an area of red slick-rock. That's Red Pocket Tank. You may not see the tank until you climb up on the rock. It's a pleasant place for a rest and photos; but, watch your back because every time we've been here, there has been a lone long horn bull that gives us the evil eye.

To return home, merely go back over the pass the way you came and follow White Rock Road north until you come to Riverside Road at the Riverside Bridge. To the right is Mesquite and if you've trailered to Water Tower Lane, you just need to cross the road and follow the canal road through Bunkerville to Main Street. Water Tower is directly across the road (Riverside) from Main Street.

Learn A Little More

We've heard from the irrepressible Victo Borge before. He's back again, this time with information about where Beethoven got his inspiration for his famous "Minuet in G."

Victor Borge - History of the Piano


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