Thursday, October 31, 2013

Valley Of Fire State Park, NV (Part One)

 

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Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest and largest state park, another beautiful area of red rock sandstone formations just 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas and 6 miles from Lake Mead. It reminded us a lot of Red Rock Canyon just west of Vegas where we stayed last week.

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We put our $10 admission fee in the envelope and headed for the visitor center to get some information about hiking and to check out the displays. There are numerous short hiking trails, but you are permitted to hike anywhere in the park as long as you stay off the arches.

Our first hike was to Mouse’s Tank, aka the Petroglyph Canyon Trail. The trail ends at a tank with quite a bit of water in it, and all along the trail the rock walls are covered with petroglyphs. They are easy to miss if you don’t look hard. Allegedly a Southern Paiute Indian renegade named Little Mouse hid out there in the 1890s. Not such a bad place to hide!

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Lake Mead NRA, Valley of Fire, NV

 Several people told us we should hike from wash #5 to get to an area called Fire Wave. There is actually a marked trail from a parking lot farther down the road from the wash, but this was more fun since we got to walk through a slot canyon along the way.

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Climbing up to the Fire Wave. We missed the easy way up.

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We guess the name came from the Wave in Arizona, but this is on a much smaller scale, though still impressive.

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We had a great surprise ending to our day at Valley of Fire. Stay tuned for part two.

Hike Through A Ghost Town: St. Thomas, NV

 

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Just inside the north entrance to Lake Mead NRA is a 3.5 mile dirt road leading to a trail and the remains of St. Thomas. The town was settled by Mormons in 1865, but was flooded by the rising waters created by Hoover Dam in 1938. It was first exposed during a drought in the late 1950s, but was once again submerged when the drought ended. It has been uncovered this time since 2002, and from the looks of things it’s unlikely the water level in Lake Mead will ever rise enough to cover it again.

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There isn’t much left but a few foundations, walls, and cisterns.

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It’s hard to believe this town was built at the confluence of the Virgin and Muddy Rivers, and the Mormons actually grew cotton here. There was no electricity or running water, and you wonder how they suffered through the heat of summer.

This was the largest ruins, and we figured out it must have been the old schoolhouse pictured at the trailhead.

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People have laid out artifacts in various locations, which consisted of lots of rusty stuff and pieces of glass.

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It would be nice if the park service put up some signs to let you know what you’re looking at, but they don’t even maintain the trail, so I guess that will never happen. With all the tamarisk overtaking what’s left of the town site, it may be hard to see much of anything in a few years.

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If you’re interested, you can read more about the history of St. Thomas here. And if you take this hike, do wear long pants. Your legs will thank you for it.

Had to post a couple pictures of Sophie the explorer, enjoying life on the edge. She would be down that canyon in a heartbeat if we let her loose.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lake Mead NRA

 

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We left Las Vegas Sunday, taking a leisurely 60 mile drive along Lake Mead Parkway to Northshore Road towards Overton, NV. The lake wasn’t visible until the last few miles of the trip, but the rolling hills and colorful rock formations made it quite a scenic drive. We unhooked the car at a picnic area and drove it down to Stewarts Point, a dispersed camping area we had read about. The road was a couple miles long, part of it being rough pavement, and the rest being a bad dirt road. Of course there is no information about it at all on the Lake Mead National Recreation Area website, but we found a lovely spot and were the only ones around, which seemed odd.

Guess we were so busy looking around on the first trip down that neither of us saw the “No Camping” signs. I noticed them as Jim was driving the Lazy Daze and I was behind him in the car. We decided to just ignore the signs, but then I looked closer and it said “meadow restoration area”, with the universal red circle with a line through it indicating no fires, camping or motor vehicles allowed, punishable by fine. We parked the rig and continued on the dirt road, which got progressively rougher, and came to a sign that said “Backcountry Camping, 15 day limit”. We were thoroughly confused, and then saw about a half dozen RVs. We stopped and talked to a couple people, one who was confused as we were, and another guy who said it was okay to camp anywhere.

We just decided to park before the road got bad and take our chances. We spent a quiet evening, that is until the wind started whipping up about the time we went to bed. It was a long night without much sleep, and the cats were so scared they pretty much laid beside us quietly all night long.

Calm before the storm.

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Whitecaps on the water yesterday morning, along with blowing dust.

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For fun, I called the Lake Mead visitor center and the young man I spoke with said there was no camping allowed at Stewarts Point. I told him I read about it on a blog, and he said if they camped there they did so illegally. But in the next breath he said primitive beach camping was allowed as long as you were at least 100’ from the lake, 1/4 mile from the road (but it’s also illegal to drive off road), and you had to be at least 100’ from any vegetation. Huh? Yes, he said, like you couldn’t be within 100’ of a cactus. Yesterday morning we went scouting out other sites, and when we drove back through the fee station Jim asked the ranger there if you could camp at Stewarts Point. She said, sure, anywhere along the lakeshore! So, our guess is it is okay.

Having said all that, we decided to move anyway, to a mesa right on a canyon, and really like this more remote spot, although we have no view of the lake. In fact not a single car has come down our road, where we had quite a few vehicles driving around Stewarts Point to look at the lake. There is a national park sign stating a 15 day camping limit, so we guess we are still in Lake Mead NRA, although we are outside of the fee area. Debbie left Las Vegas yesterday and joined us on the windy mesa.

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If you continue another mile or so north you come to Snowbird Mesa, where there are dozens of RVs.  There are no signs, but from what I could find out this is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation, and there is no stay limit. Apparently the locals call it Poverty Flats.

This is the view right outside our door. You can barely see the RVs on the ridge on the other side of the canyon.

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We are just a few miles from Valley Of Fire State Park, a place we have never been, so we intend to do some hiking there. But there is endless hiking right from where we’re parked. Although it’s much cooler today, the wind has stopped and It’s so nice to be away from the big city and out of a campground. We’ve gotten spoiled by all the nice boondocking sites we’ve stayed in this past summer and fall.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Natural Side of Vegas

 

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We aren’t fans of big cities. Too many people, too much traffic. We’ve stopped in Las Vegas twice before to do some shopping on the way to California and stayed in RV parks on Boulder Hwy. Convenient but noisy, and we couldn’t wait to take care of business and get out of town.

This time around we stayed at the Red Rock Canyon Campground, managed by the BLM.

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What a better choice. It is located just 5 miles west of a really upscale part of town, but has the feel of being miles from civilization. And it was only 7 miles from our Pensacola neighbors, whom we visited with the other night.

This is dry camping only, and no RV dump, which may be why there were so many tent campers. Actually it appeared most of the people camped there were climbers, as this is one of the big attractions to the Red Rock area. There is a water spigot and trash bins next to each restroom (vault toilets), and a recycling bin near the exit. We paid $7.50/night with the senior pass. The downside is we had no internet. With the booster we got a poor 1X Verizon signal, so we could barely load or even open an email. It was a good excuse to take the computers to Panera Bread for breakfast.

Our first night in town we stopped by to see our former neighbors, Kelly and Cindy and their gang. Two years ago when we were back in Pensacola, Cindy was about to give birth to baby #4, so we had never even met the latest addition. They let the kids stay up past their normal bedtime to visit with us. What an energy filled house they have! Can you even imagine four kids between the ages of approximately two and nine? Along with a yellow lab and a black German shepherd? They are such a nice family, and the kids are all very outgoing and happy,  just like their parents. It was really great to see them again. We forgot to bring a camera, so this picture from the phone did not turn out well. I decided to play with it and liked it better this way.

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The next day we went over to Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area, just two miles from the campground, to drive the 13 mile scenic loop and go for a hike. This is such a beautiful area! We were here once many years ago when I came to Vegas for a meeting, but did not remember much about it.

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The woman at the visitor center suggested a couple hikes that were about 2 to 3 miles round trip, so that’s what we did. We started with the Calico Tank trail.

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This is a fun trail, with lots of rock scrambling involved to get all the way to the tank.

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The woman at the visitor center also said “some people” scramble up behind the lake if they want a little longer hike. Jim decided we were “some people”, so we did, too. From there we could see the big city and the Strip off in the distance.

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Our second hike was to Ice Box Canyon. Another rocky trail, with about a ten degree drop in temperature once we got into the canyon, hence the name.

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Looking out from behind the enormous rock walls.

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The next day we did some whirlwind shopping. Trader Joe’s, Best Buy, Walmart, REI, Big 5, Home Depot, Kmart, Petco, Total Wine, the Subaru dealer, an RV parts place. We also stopped at a DIY car wash, and Jim changed the oil in both the Lazy Daze and the Subaru. We’re glad to have all that out of the way for awhile.

Friday was a day of rest from chores, which meant going back to Red Rock Canyon for another hike. This time we did the 6+ mile White Rock loop in a different section of the park, rated as strenuous. For a change, we think they overrated this trail as we considered it a moderate hike. Almost 1000’ elevation gain, but nothing overly steep, and no rock scrambling.

We just loved the various colors of the rocks and how they contrast with the vegetation.

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Today we moved 25 miles to the unnatural side of Vegas, to Road Runner RV Park, where we stayed the last time we were here. For $16 it’s not a bad place to spend a night. Plus we needed to do some laundry, dump, and fill our water tank before heading to Lake Mead, and wanted to do a few things online in case we don’t have internet there. This is where Debbie has been staying while getting her new coach batteries and making sure everything is working properly, which it seems to be. Tonight we went out for dinner at Sammy’s Pizza and Grill. Besides the excellent food and beer, it has a great d├ęcor and atmosphere, a place we would definitely go back to again.

Staying at Red Rock gave us the best of both worlds, getting to spend time in nature with close proximity to everything we needed from the big city of Las Vegas. And no, we did not set foot in a casino!