By Tom Pfaendler
Just how far is eleven and a half miles?
Well, let’s see; if you were standing in front of the volcano at the Mirage and started walking south along Las Vegas Boulevard, you would end up at the airport… that would be the Henderson airport across from Wheeler RV. A much better choice for a nice long walk would be the Grand Circle Adventure at Red Rock Canyon!
The idea of hiking the “Grand Loop” can be a bit intimidating at first, but it’s really just a long, enjoyable walk through the desert. Don’t worry, it doesn’t take a marathon athlete to do this; all it takes is a little planning. Keep in mind that the hike will take six or seven hours to complete, so a morning start is probably a good idea.
A hat and sunscreen are essential items since you’ll be in direct sun all day. Your feet will be doing a lot of work so make sure that you’re wearing good comfy hiking boots. Remember to pack a light lunch, and of course LOTS of water, about a gallon per person ought to be about right. Pick up a handy trail map at the front desk of the visitor’s center, and be sure to take advantage of their indoor plumbing before you begin… the next restroom is about six miles away. OK, now that you’re prepared, let’s go hiking!
Since this is a loop trail, you can start near the southwest corner of the tortoise habitat and go in either direction. Both ways are fine and provide somewhat different views so it’s entirely up to you. My preference is to take the south fork and hike clockwise around the loop. This route takes you west for about three miles on an old jeep trail past the Moenkopi ridge and through Red Rock Wash.
This bumpy, rutted road was once the main drag out here, and part of it is still in use today as Rocky Gap road. Nature is reclaiming some of this jeep trail after several decades of non-use. It’s interesting to think about the impact that was made from this road and how long it takes the desert to recover.
If you’re out here in the morning light you’ll have a spectacular panoramic view of the Wilson Cliffs, but for a special treat, look downward along the edges of the old road to find delicate cryptobiotic (living) soils that are forming there. Hiking Tip: you can usually see and experience much more when you hike slowly and quietly. Always take plenty of time to connect with and enjoy being a part of your environment, that way you can get the most out of your time on the trail.
A good photo stop would be at the unique “high-point” view of Ice Box Canyon, and then it’s on to the end of the old jeep trail where it finally intersects with the scenic loop drive. You’ll need to cross the perilous scenic loop drive four times during this hike, so please use extreme caution. Once you’ve crossed the road the trail continues north toward the Willow Springs junction and then follows the beautiful foothills of White Rock Mountain.
You may find a secluded spot for lunch down in the wash among the pine and juniper trees, or maybe take a short side trail to White Rock Spring and enjoy a picnic on the park bench next to the “Guzzler”, a small watercress filled catchment that is vitally important to all of the wildlife in this area. After lunch, it’s a short walk up the hill to the halfway point, the White Rock parking lot and long awaited restroom!
We’ll continue with part two of the Grand Circle Adventure next month. Until then, I’ll see you on the trails!
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