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Thread: Turtlehead Peak & Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

  1. #1
    Senior Member JohnL's Avatar
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    Turtlehead Peak & Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

    Shortly after dawn on Saturday May 28th, I left the comfortable confines of our room at a Las Vegas hotel, drove out to Red Rock Canyon and hiked up Turtlehead Peak, a ledgy limestone outcrop on a low ridge beneath the towering La Madre Mountain Wilderness Area. Red Rock Canyon has some fine examples of red and white sandstone outcroppings as well as uplifted limestone mountain masses. It was a clear and sunny morning, relatively cool (low 80ís) with a slight breeze blowing in the park when I started up the trail at 7:30. I reached the top at 9:15 where there was a pleasant breeze and it was 68 degrees. Turtlehead Peak is a very popular hike and I encountered about 20 other hikers along the way.

    Turtlehead Peak rises just over 2000 feet above the trailhead near the old sandstone quarry and tops out at 6323 feet. The 2.5 mile trail is minimally marked and there are numerous side trails that go up the wash (dry stream beds where runoff occurs) and into adjacent canyons, one of which I mistakenly took. Once out of the wash, the trail is clear as it gradually ascends the open shoulder of a moraine and works its way into the mouth of an open gully that takes you to a saddle on the ridge below the peak. The gully is quite steep, the footing is loose and there is a profusion of alternate trails up the gully. The gully trail gains about 800 feet in less than half a mile.

    Once on the saddle, you can see into Brownstone Canyon where there are more red and white sandstone outcroppings. Another 500 feet of climbing through Pinyon Pines, juniper bushes and blackbrush will get you to the top. The summit is broad and open with steep cliffs on the south and southwest sides which provide spectacular views of the entire park and of Las Vegas, some 15 to 20 miles away as the crow files. The La Madre Mountain massif to the north and the Sandstone Bluffs to the southwest dominate the skylines. To the southeast is the Calico Basin, a profusion of red, white, and lavender sandstone hills.

    Despite being in the desert, there is an abundance of wildlife and plant life. I could hear birds singing at all times during the hike and wildflowers, flowering bushes and cactus added lively colors (yellow, orange, deep purple and white) to the earth toned landscape. One particular bird really got my attention at the summit. It was a small bird, black and gray, with tapered swept-back wings and a scalloped tail. It would dive past me on its way down the cliffs with a sound like a sword slicing through the air. Ffffhhht. Several times it swooped up from behind and startled me as I was taking photos. I also saw numerous small lizards and a couple rabbits along the trail.

    Leaving the parking lot, I made my way amongst the numerous trails in the wash but got sidetracked into a side canyon which dead ended atop a small cliff. I happened to see three hikers a short ways off and figured they were headed up Turtlehead so I scrambled down and made my way over to their trail. I kept them in my sights but did not catch them until I got to the saddle, having stopped so many times to take photos. While at the saddle, my camera gave me a telltale beep-beep-beep and I figured I needed a battery change. I put my spare in the camera but got the same result. I was incensed and heart broken. I had charged both batteries in the hotel room and they should have been fine. I would have to go to the top without being able to get any summit photos.

    On my descent, I noticed that the pocket on my camera bag (a small fanny pack turned forward) was open and the baggie with the spare battery and memory cards were missing. Again, my heart dropped. I was about 15 minutes below the saddle and I would have to backtrack to see if anyone had spotted my lost items. I started up and a minute later I stopped and as a last resort I checked my backpack. There was the baggie in the bottom of the pack. I felt a twinge of relief. Just then I had a moment of clarity and I realized it was probably not my battery that needed changing but the memory card. I did the switch and voila! everything worked. I quickly made the decision to head back for the top. So I cranked my way back up about 800 feet of now familiar ground, reaching the now much warmer summit and taking a slew of photos along the way. Cell phone reception was excellent at the summit and I gave my wife a quick call to tell her I would be about an hour later than planned. She was at the hotel pool so she didnít miss me that much.

    There are numerous short and long hikes in the park and many of the spectacular views can be seen from the roadside parking areas which dot the 13 mile circuit around the park. I visited the park three times on this trip and was in the park once on a previous trip about 4 or 5 years ago. Donít miss the chance to go here if you are in the Las Vegas area.

    Photos of the hike are here and photos of the plants and scenery are here.

    JohnL
    Last edited by JohnL; 06-08-2005 at 07:58 AM.
    Once in a while
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  2. #2
    Senior Member audrey's Avatar
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    I'm working my way through (well, into) the Red Rock canyons, a few each year. This year we tried Juniper Canyon to Rainbow Wall. Wow!

    Turtlehead was the first Nevada peak I climbed, a few years ago. Amazing how much cooler it was only 1500 feet above.

    I couldn't get at the pics, though, John.

  3. #3
    Senior Member amstony's Avatar
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    I just love it out at Red Rock . I went out their for a vacation and a hike last July and it was great. I did one of the ridges out there and had a ball. I can't wait to go back and hit one or two of the peaks. On the flip side, my wife lounged at the hotel pool until I dragged myself back!

    By the way, we can't access your pics!

  4. #4
    Senior Member JohnL's Avatar
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    Ooops, sorry. Try here for the hike photos and here for the plant photos. I have also fixed the links on the opening page.

    JohnL
    Once in a while
    You get shown the light
    In the strangest of places
    If you look at it right.
    R. Hunter

  5. #5
    Senior Member TCD's Avatar
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    I've made a few trips to Red Rocks to rock climb. It's a great hiking destination, and a world class rock climbing destination.

    Turtlehead has always been an eye catching feature. I've been waiting for someone to climb the cliffs on it. I haven't heard about any routes up there; but with so much good climbing right in the canyon, I guess there's no need to go all the way up there for rock climbing!

    The trails around the sandstone quarry are a mess, with numerous side trails and very poor marking. This is exacerbated by poorly written descriptions in the climbing guide book, which results in people wandering around looking for trails.

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