By Tom Pfaendler
One of the great things about First Creek Canyon is that you don’t have to drive around the 13-mile scenic loop to get to it. But you’ll soon find that there are many great things about this hike, including a hidden waterfall! To get to the trailhead, drive west 4.2 miles past the visitor’s center on highway 159. Look for a dirt parking area carved alongside the road and a small sign announcing First Creek Canyon. Take extra caution to lock and secure your car, since it will be exposed to the highway for a couple of hours. This is an easy 3-mile hike and is suitable for the whole family.
The trail begins at an X-shaped burro gate designed to keep these beloved critters off of the highway. This is burro country and you are more than likely going to see some out here. Just remember the rules; no feeding or petting, these guys can kick, bite and spit! Once through the gate, you’ll cross a rocky wash and be on your way. The well-defined trail winds through the open desert, slowly making it’s way toward the canyon that is being cut by First Creek and then beyond to the rugged south side of Mt. Wilson. This area is widely used by the trail-ride folks, so don’t be surprised if you cross paths with a dusty-looking cowboy leading a rag-tag group of tourists on horseback.
Like Area 51, First Creek Canyon is home to a very well known secret: the waterfall. But most people will never see it because it’s quite well hidden. Of course, you’ll be able to find it because I’m going to tell you how to get there. After hiking for a mile or so you’ll notice that the trail comes much closer to the canyon. At that point, you’ll want to head toward the first big pine tree that you see growing along the canyon rim. Next to this tree you’ll find a little unmarked trail leading into the canyon, toward a couple of big diamond-shaped composite rocks, and then downward to the waterfall.
For the high-tech hiker, this trail head is located at N36° 04.827’ W115° 27.920’. After a quick descent, you’ll find yourself deep in a rocky grotto that is covered with delicate green ferns and tall shady trees fed by a large pool at the base of a waterfall. This is a very serene spot, a complete departure from the dry desert environment just above and a nice preview of more good things to come a little farther up the trail.
Once you’ve had your fill of the renewing “waterfall energy” and picked up any litter that might have been lying around, you can retrace your steps and head back up to the main trail. A little farther west you’ll come to a sign marking the end of the official trail and the beginning of the wilderness study area (WSA). Here, the trail forks. The South route goes up to the top of a ridge and continues west toward Mt. Wilson.
This is a popular area for rock climbing and you can usually spot a few people dangling from the cliffs. The North fork will lead you along the creek with several opportunities to stop and explore. Just pull up one of the big rocks in the middle of the streambed and relax under a canopy of trees. Sit quietly and listen to the water bubbling around you. Close your eyes and feel the cool air brush against your face. A dragonfly lights on a moss-covered stone. The sun glints off of the rippling water. It’s amazing, that this lush green place can exist here in the middle of the desert.
Of all the trails at Red Rock, I’ve hiked this one the most frequently, probably because of the easy access, but also because of its great diversity and beauty. And there’s something about a waterfall in the middle of the desert that is unexpected and delightful. During the spring months when the water is flowing and the desert is blooming, First Creek Canyon delivers a solid eight boots out of ten on my “Hikeometer”.
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