Mojave Desert Adventure Part I
We arrived at Las Vegas International Airport mid morning January 9th where made our way down Las Vegas Boulevard in order for Apryle to get a tetanus shot she had scheduled the night before. While starting a fire she was stabbed with a rusty piece of metal and thought it was prudent to get the vaccine. After a brief wait in the car, I decided that was enough of the city for me and we made our way west to Red Rock Canyon. The skies were overcast and there was a light drizzle, which actually made for a pleasant contrast to my previous adventure in the scorching desert of Red Rock Canyon.
We pulled into the Late Night trailhead and then continued on the gravel Black Velvet Road until we reached our starting point at the Black Velvet Canyon trailhead. There was standing water in many of the draws that created a claylike mud which clung to our shoes making them increasingly heavy with each foot stroke. However, once we reached the narrow trail that ascended into the canyon the soil consistency transitioned to packed sand with loose rock.
The plant life was an interesting and welcome change to the Pacific Northwest flora. Blackbush, Mormon Tea, Burrobush, Creosote bush, Banana Yucca, Mojave Yucca, Joshua Tree, Cholla Cacti, and Beavertail Cactus dominated the landscape as the high desert funneled into the rocky narrow canyon. The canyon was a striking contrast to the desert and featured more burly shrubs such as Desert Holly and Shrub Live Oak. There were also a few Ponderosa Pine and low growing Pinyon Pine and Juniper that clung to the narrow ribbon of crystal clear water that tumbled down over the boulders.
The backdrop of the canyon featured towering beige sandstone walls and spires punctuated by dark craggy recesses in the rock and layers of red clay. We reached the terminus of our hike up the canyon when we were cliffed out by an 8 meter boulder and a inconspicuous pool that was so clear I nearly walked into it not realizing the pebbles were beneath the water. We picked our way back over the boulders and down into the desert where the light drizzle increased to a slightly heavier rain.
Before we continued westward to our hotel in Pahrump, we drove north into Red Rock Canyon where Apryle dropped me off at South Oak Creek trailhead. At this time the temperatures were in the upper 40s and the rain was steadily falling while the sandstone cliffs were shrouded in a dense cloud. The desert more closely resembled the Peruvian rainforest than the American southwest. The wide stone trail lead to a steep winding trail to the summit of the Knoll. The red rocky soil nearing the top of the Knoll was dotted with juniper, manzanita, and barrel cacti.
After descending the Knoll the rain began to pour and the temperatures dropped. Fortunately I was able reach the North Oak Creek drainage, where the paralleling trail was fairly flat and lead to the trailhead where Apryle was waiting. North Oak Creek was much deeper than expected and like every other stream I had seen in Red Rock Canyon, it was crystal clear. This riparian area contained the greatest volume and diversity of vegetation I had ever seen in the desert. I reached the car and was thoroughly satisfied with day one of our winter desert adventure. We checked into our hotel in Pahrump and prepared for the second day in Death Valley National Park.