This past Sunday Joie and I decided to go out on our own for a trail ride. I haven't decided if we're either incredibly brave, or perhaps a bit stupid. Probably a mixture of both. After all, we've only been on two other trail rides, both times with friends guiding the way on trails they know well. Did we go back to one of those trails? Of course not! We went inside the Red Rock National Conservation Area to try out a trail we hadn't even hiked on foot before.
Every time we go to Red Rock NCA, I can't get over the colors of the rock formations along the Calico Ridge. They are spectacular.
According to the volunteers at the visitor's center that morning, there are only two places to park a horse trailer in Red Rock NCA, either the lower parking lot for the White Rock Loop Trail, or just before the exit gate of the park. (On our last visit we had been told there were three horse trailer parking areas.) We decided to ride the White Rock Loop Trail, so that's where we parked.
I think Luke and Viking were as excited as we were to get out and into the amazing scenery of this area. We are ready to go!
As we were riding up the gravel road to the trailhead, we ran into some guys who were trying to get signatures for a petition. Apparently one of the big developers in Las Vegas is trying to get control of 700 acres next to the Red Rock NCA and turn it into commercial and residential development. This would displace the wild horses, burros, desert tortoises and a lot of other natural wildlife. It would also reduce the amount of hiking, biking and trail riding area. I can't even think about the resulting change in view. We signed the petition and the guys were nice enough to take our picture.
We found the trail after a bit of looking. Some of these trails are not marked well enough for my taste, and the park maps are not the best. As we finally headed around the north side of White Rock mountain, the rocks abruptly turned red again, which is so surprising. More clouds began to appear than I would have liked, but it brought the temperature down so it was nice and cool.
The rock formations are stunning. The
upheavals on the Earth's surface that
created these must have been
On the back side of White Rock mountain, we saw evidence of continued erosion. These boulders that have fallen from the top of the red colored peaks onto the light-colored base of White Rock are at least the size of cars.
The terrain is beautiful. A mixture of cactus, scrub and pine trees was like nothing I had seen before.
Upon reaching the vista point for the valley behind White Rock mountain, we both lost our ability to breathe for a few moments. THIS is just a few miles from Las Vegas?
You can see a bit of the trail we were heading for that goes around the smaller white rise in the center of the photo above. The clouds began to clear up, and made some interesting shapes...
When we neared the end of the 6 mile long White Rock trail, we came upon a fork, one way led about 1.5 miles back up the mountain behind White Rock and up to La Madre Spring. According to our guide map, the spring is likely to be flowing all year long. We just had to see it. And once again, we were not disappointed. The spring is said to have been a main water source for the southern Paiute Indians that lived in this area over 900 years ago.
The trail here was a bit rockier than I like, and the terrain quickly changed back to the more familiar dry brush. As we neared the spring, the trail became quite narrow.
The was a young couple on foot resting at the small pond created by the dam, so I led the way farther up the trail to look for an area we could have to ourselves. However, the trail became extremely narrow and treacherous. There was a sheer drop off on the right side of the trail that bottomed out at the creek bed about 20-25 feet below. I started to turn my horse around. Then it happened. Viking's rear feet went off the trail edge and began sliding down the loose rocks that formed the cliff, and he started to panic, scrambling to get a foothold. For a moment I thought of jumping off because it seemed if he did lose his footing, I would be crushed underneath him. His back feet had gone out from under him, and his rear end was down in the rocks. As a rider, I knew in a situation like this you don't want to interfere with the horse, you need to position yourself to give him the best balance and give the horse his head. For me, it was a bit like surfing, keeping my balance and just staying on. Right before the drop off into the creek, I took back control of him, made him stop moving and just stand still. We both caught our breath for a few seconds. Then it didn't take much urging to get him to scramble back up the rocky incline and to the safety of the trail. Woo hoo! An "E" ticket ride :) I was fine, and Viking only had some scrapes on his legs and butt. I wish Joie had gotten it on video.
When we got back down to the dam area, the couple that had been there were just leaving. We found a shady spot to tie up the horses to rest.
Joie and I sat and ate the sandwiches he had packed... Thanks, Joie :)
We also kept recounting the fall Viking and I had taken. What a horse - keeping his wits and saving me. I also have to say I'm a better rider than I thought. I don't think I even grabbed the saddle horn...
Then, out came my camera. There were a lot of grasses and flowers along the shores of the creek. There's a small dam that was built in the 1960's when the land was privately owned, and it causes a small pond to form.
I was oblivious to the fact that meanwhile, Joie was photographing me....
This was another area in which the combinations of plant life was unique. Here we find agave, beavertail cactus, and grapes. The grapes must have been planted when the area was privately owned, but they are still flourishing.
These unusual grasses seemed to be in bloom.
I think my favorites were the shooting star flowers bursting over the creek.
Eventually we had to head home. We still had miles to go. I found a natural step to help me back up on Viking :)
This rock formation seemed to be telling us to go north, back the way we came. We did not heed its advice.
While we consulted our trail map, the boys discussed the flavor of the brittlebrush...
We continued south down the trail until we reached Rocky Gap Road. It's a 4x4 road that led us to the Willow Creek Picnic area.
From there, according to the park map, we should have been able to catch the White Rock-Willow Springs trail which would lead us back to our parking area, traveling across the drier east side of White Rock mountain.
We found the picnic area, but had to travel on the paved driving road quite a way before we found a horse friendly path that led to the trail we were looking for.
This trail is another 4.5 miles. Although we thought we had brought plenty, we were running short on water, and it was much hotter on this side of the mountains. The park should really have access to water in the picnic area, but it doesn't. There were also a couple of spots with a little rock scrambling, so we had to get off the horses and let them work their way through. At this point I was too tired to take any photos...
Finally, we made it back to the parking area. My truck was faithfully waiting, and we had extra water for ourselves and the horses stored inside. Luke and Viking were extremely grateful.
All in all, I would say we traveled about 15 miles that day. Our horses were troopers, the scenery was magnificent, and it was another fantastic day. We did learn of a couple of places not the best for riding, but a lot of places that are.
(Photos were taken by myself (Sony Cybershot HX1) and my husband (Sony Cybershot DSC)