By Tom Pfaendler
Last month, I left you stranded about six miles out, halfway around the Grand Circle Adventure in the White Rock parking lot. I know it’s been a long wait and I hope that you didn’t run out of food, but with this edition of Boot Tracks I can now tell you how to get back to the Red Rock Canyon visitor’s center. Hopefully, you’ve got about a half-gallon of water left over from part one of this little trek, so slap on a fresh coat of sunscreen, grab your hat and let’s go!
We’ll begin by hiking south a half-mile along the gravel road that leads from the parking lot toward the scenic loop drive. If the careening, gravel-spitting SUV’s on this road don’t scare you, then the evil scenic drive crossing is waiting just ahead. You may recall my warning last month about the kamikaze drivers on this road. You’re not paranoid; they really are out to get you, so please be careful.
Once you get across the road you’ll quickly leave civilization behind as the trail drops down into a surprisingly tranquil desert meadow with several varieties of flowers and cacti. This portion of the trail is lightly traveled so you’ll find that it’s quite natural and undisturbed for the next couple of miles. The path takes you over several hills and valleys in miniature basin-and-range topography. It’s interesting to see how everything adapts to its environment from the tops of these ridges to the lush washes below. Except for one more hair-raising scenic loop crossing, it’s pretty nice out here, and chances are good that you’ll have this portion of the trail all to yourself.
As you approach the Sandstone quarry area from the west, look for the soil to suddenly turn dark grey. This is a clue that the area was once an agave roasting pit. For some reason there are several trails at Red Rock that bisect these ancient cultural sites, so when you cross one please tread lightly to preserve what’s left of these irreplaceable historical records. Once you arrive at Sandstone Quarry you’ll probably be overrun by crowds of people and a seeming crush of humanity that will completely shatter the serenity of the previous hour’s hike. But, this is a popular recreation area, so try to enjoy the good vibes from all the happy people while you rest your legs for a while.
The trail picks up again near the entrance to the Sandstone Quarry parking lot and leads you east along the edge of the Calicos. The up close and personal view of these red sandstone mountains is really impressive, and at certain times of the year you’ll even see several small tenajas, or natural water tanks that have formed in the rocks holding their precious cache of rainwater. If you enjoy petroglyphs, Calico II features a table-sized stone literally covered with the ancient rock art. As pretty as the calicos are from the scenic drive, it just doesn’t compare to the rich experience of hiking down in the canyon, right next to them.
Between the Calico II and Calico I parking areas, the trail becomes a little braided and difficult to follow. You’ll need to use your best route-finding skills to find your way through the rocks and to stay on the proper trail. Once you climb out of the canyon and up to the Calico I parking lot you’ll have a choice of routes for that last mile back to the visitor’s center. You can follow the “official” trail to the east, or cross the scenic loop drive and take the somewhat nicer Calico I trail toward Moenkopi and then back to the visitor’s center. Either way the distance is about the same and frankly by now your legs won’t care. By this time they’ll just want to go for a long soak in the nearest bubbling hot tub.
So, you’ve done it! In one outing, you’ve experienced more of Red Rock canyon’s diversity than most visitors can even imagine. You can be very proud of yourself for accepting this personal challenge and hiking “The Big One”. It probably won’t be today, but you’ll hike this trail again. How far is eleven and a half miles? Just a spin around the Grand Circle Adventure. I give it seven out of ten boots!
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