Sunday, August 4, 2013

Offroad: Lower North Valley & Seeps ATV Trail

To the south of Mesquite Nevada, in fact to the south of Bunkerville, is a large, flat, sandy bajada known as Bunkerville Flats. It is divided into east and west portions by the substantial Nickel Creek Ravine and is the unassuming portal to a "magical" valley – which is where we are going to ride today.

North Valley! Ahhh, dad and I have fond memories the first time we "explored" it – only about six years ago now. We were snowbirding "in the warm" (Mesquite that year) and had my ATVs with us. Simple, little, meek things that enabled us "old codgers" to get out from under-foot and see the world.

No Mesquite Area Maps Available

The problem, back then, was that we could find no accurate maps of the area. And when I looked on the internet there were only a couple references to anywhere near us, and they were in regards to some enigmatic petroglyphs without specific locations – except to say something like: "looky, looky what I found and am not going to tell you where."

Later I found that both of the web-sites actually falsified their locations in the deliberate attempt "to keep out the riff-raff." Oh, of course, it was under the guise of conservation rhetoric; but, obviously exclusionary none-the-less. One of the web-master/owner's got huffy when I pointed out that a more mature way to "protect" the site from looters, if that was his true goal, would be to NOT PUBLISH IT ON THE WEB in the first place!

He didn't like it when I challenged him that it was one thing to just not mention something and quite a different personality flaw to deliberately fill the internet with lies.

So, dad and I were faced with the challenge of "just going out and seeing where trails would take us." I quickly purchased our first GPS – a Magellan from Cabella's – Christmas present for dad. It, as it turned out, had substantial usability issues for dad and I was delegated as the navigator from then on out.

The thing was unusable for me too and quickly went back to the store, with no small amount of haggling I might add. I then bought a Lowrance XOG from Bass Pro and haven't looked back since. It is an easy use device with a large screen which fits in a shirt pocket and, with the myriad of criss-crossing trails, has saved our bacon more than once. [Too bad Lowrance no longer produces or supports it.]

Bunkerville Flats

Over the season, I began collecting our GPS tracks, then compiling them into maps, then sharing them with other riders, then writing about them on my snowbirding blog. Eventually so many people asked for them that the maps took over the whole thing.   [A free Google Earth file of this route is available at: Google Earth Trail FileOffroading Home.]

An area we couldn't seem to get enough of was what Mesquitians (Mesquite locals) called "Southside Flats" and Bunkervillians (Bunkerville locals) called "Bunkerville Flats." We really started wanting to ride without needing to trailer so far AND to be able to find a trail that went east-west clear across the flats.

There was one, sort of, the Power Line Trail, that ran along riverside road on its north edge, but pretty much no others anywhere else that we knew of.

We had ridden a trail between the road and a true hidden canyon in the Bunkerville Ridge of mountains – later we found that it was called "The Seeps." But hadn't found anything that ran along in front of the mountain. SO, we set out to find one.

The Seeps

The ride from Riverside Road across the flats to the south is a great ride in itself. From the satellite you can see the ripples of hundreds of little alluvial fans pouring off the mountain and coalescing into the bajada. It's typical desert fare: sand, sage and cacti. But the small to medium sized gullies and ravines give it character and interest.

They provide a sanctuary of sorts for cacti and other plants to thrive and there are whole mini-valleys of very large Joshua Trees and Mojave Yucca.

At the mountain base the trail heads southeast into an opening crack with sheer cliffs looming on each side and winding just enough so you cannot see around the next corner. All at once, towering directly in front of you is the "back end." It is clearly a blind canyon and dead end; until, you get within ten or fifteen yards of it and see the "hidden" canyon sneaking abruptly back and west.

No sand here, clearly a rocky wash that is much more difficult to navigate over. It continues upward until the other side of the visible range where it opens up into a place we had been to before and knew as the "abandoned mine area." We also knew it as "south valley" which is a unique valley area running east-west inside the larger rumpled topography that is the Bunkerville Range.

An area inside the hidden canyon is frequently wet from drainage and is what is known as the Seeps. We just call the whole passageway through it: Hidden Canyon.

Lower North Valley

The South Valley and Mine Area weren't the object of the day so we back-tracked and decided to follow a tiny trail we had seen running eastward at the corral when we had entered the canyon.

It ran along the foot hills for not even a mile before it ended in a slight ravine with a cattle trail running north-south in both directions. A bit disappointed we followed the one into the mountains again and were more than rewarded for our efforts. The entrance through the mountain wasn't nearly as steep and it opened into a hidden valley, of sorts, nestled along another "crack" in the mountain range just like we knew South Valley was.

The thought occurred to me that "I can't wait to see this GPS track on Google Earth and tell where we are" but it was only fleeting because we turned a corner and ran into a whole mountainside full of Barrel cacti. We've since seen the Barrels in planting groups but this is massive.

The trail undulates through an old growth Joshua Tree forest and we could see in the distance that we were in a lower portion of the valley and we would need to climb to a higher level if there was a way.

There were a few grazing cattle that seemed very watchful of us and the trail we were following looked like it was very seldom used by anything with tires.

Gunsight Pass

Descending into a slight depression we were surprised by a vista which opened up through the mountains on the north. We could see down upon our flats and that day could see clear to Bunkerville.

This was clearly the drainage system for this area but there was no passable trail through it that we could see. Smack dab in the middle of this mountain pass was a spike of persistent rock dividing the sight in two.

This must be "Gunsight Pass" we thought. It could be nothing else. We were to find that a little higher up along the trail the appropriateness of the name was even more evident.

Aztec Rock and Upper North Valley

Continuing along the trail we came to the foot of the cliff blocking the way to the upper portion of the valley; and the trail continued right up it – but it was steep.

We stopped for a breather in the midst of Joshua Trees (Yucca Brevifolia) which were so tall they were over our heads and nearly so thick that they made a canopy over us.

We could clearly see Gunsight Pass behind us and were excited to find a large outcropping of the Aztec sandstone formation which is so prevalent in the Valley Of Fire State Park over by Moapa.

In the afternoon sun it shown a brilliant red and was capped by a small yellow band of the Chinle sandstone. This sight is unique in all this area. You've got to travel all the way down onto Gold Butte before you see any "color" like this, so we felt that we had discovered a real treat.

In all our discussions with local riders during the season not one of them had ever mentioned this North Valley before. And, the appearance of the trail made us feel like real explorers. That year, we continued on up to the upper valley and found that it went out another pass onto the east side of the flats.

So, we did find an east-west passage of sorts; just not one that could be easily used from the Bunkerville side.

But, that was then and today's ride was the last ride of our season before migrating back north out of the heat and taken just for nostalgias sake. The trail up the cliff has a lot more erosion on it these days and nearly bounced me over backwards before I turned around and came back down on my small two-wheel-drive.

Knife Blade Cliffs

We know that there's a lot more to be seen up on top, but for today this was enough and we didn't even feel cheated.

Turning around we saw a sight that we hadn't noticed like this before. The sun was producing shadows which highlighted the entire mountainside on the south in relief as if to cause them to shout out "see, this is why we're called Knife-Blade Cliffs."

I know that Peter Jackson claims that he's got Middle Earth down in his hemisphere but it could be only that he's never had the fortune to see these.

Our return was back the way we had come and was truly no hardship. It's always like a new ride because you see the back side of everything and with completely different shadows. We'll be back to discover it all over again.

Learn A Little More

Some time ago I found this video by "The Piano Guys" - I think out of St. George. They seem to run a music store and compose music. I resisted posting this because the video that I found was overpowering with their commercials to the point that it was terribly distracting.

Today I found this copy and think that it fits right in with this post - without all the commercials.

Desert Symphony - The Piano Guys


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