Fire Canyon Wash Loop (Nevada) 21-Jan-2019

For our fourth (and last) hike in the Las Vegas area, we drove northwest out to Valley of Fire State Park. The park, being a state enterprise, was not shutdown by the federal foolishness but a local power outage had disabled the visitor center’s gift shop. So we pressed on – to a hike we’d found on the Hiking Project that started at the Mouse’s Tank Trailhead and looped around cross-country to the Silica Dome parking area, with some interesting scrambling enroute. There’s an established trail through Petroglyph Canyon to Mouse’s Tank, a depression in the sandstone that collects water. Along the way we passed four big horn sheep that were so indifferent to people that they actually “posed” for us.

I’m ready for my close-up now…
Petroglyphs (with big horn sheep)
More sheep petroglyphs
Mouse’s Tank

A use trail took us up and around and down to below the tank and it was cross-country from then on. We’d downloaded the track from the Hiking Project and this proved invaluable in determining which canyons to follow to make the loop (there are many choices, most of them incorrect).

Scrambling in Fire Canyon Wash beyond Mouse’s Tank
The color and complexity of the rock formations was mesmerizing
This photo doesn’t do justice to the intricacy of this water-carved sandstone
More scrambling

The crux move on this hike is a 10-foot high sheer slab that we arrived at after scrambling down a cluster of boulders. It looked impossible until we noticed the narrow squeeze hole on one side of it. We were able – The Loved One, being more compact had an easier time of it – to squirm through that hole and thus circumvent the slab. 🙂

The 10-foot slab from below; squeeze hole is on the right
Doing the squeeze
The canyon started to open-up below the slab

Once past the slab, we went down the wash a bit and then had to climb a short pitch to get around another drop-off. Trivial stuff except that damp sandstone is a dubious climbing surface. I tested a piece as a foothold which then snapped when I actually pushed off from it. I fell backwards on to packed sand, landing on my butt and my pack. The sand landing was painful enough but my (supposedly faithful) pack joined in with blows to my lower back. The initial pain was intense 😥 but soon subsided somewhat. After checking to see that all my parts, while painful, still worked, we continued on with the hike. As irony would have it, from here on there was almost no need to climb anything. 🙄

The LovedOne easily climbs the short pitch that dumped me
Into the easy part of Fire Canyon Wash
The shapes and colors continued to fascinate
So red…
You can be lulled into staying in this easy wash but a sharp turn north into another wash is necessary to complete the loop
Turning north…
These rocks are actually fossilized sand dunes

After we made the necessary turn north, we entered a landscape composed of creamy white rock – what some would call silica sand. Coincident with this, our sunny day was overtaken by a fast moving cold front coming in from the west. Clouds arrived, the sun departed, the wind rose, the air temperature dropped, and an extra layer was needed. Near the end of the hike we had to climb up to the Silica Dome parking area, which is on a ridge exposed to the wind. Further layering ensued.

Entering the white sandstone near Silica Dome
A tiny (2 inch) red-spotted toad hopped across our path
Climbing out of the canyon to the parking area (and the wind)
Silica Dome
Weather heading east…

Because of my back, we passed on the short hike to Silica Dome and walked along the White Dome Road to our car at the Mouse’s Tank Trailhead. We’d planned two more hikes in the Las Vegas area but my back wouldn’t allow for those so we did tourist stuff (like visiting Hoover Dam, the Nevada Railroad Museum, and the National Atomic Testing Museum) instead. Two doctor visits and some x-rays put my lower back pain into the …not serious enough for an MRI, so rest, chew aspirin, and eventually it’ll go away… category. Well, we’ll see… Regardless, we’d recommend this hike if you want to do some easy scrambling and see a lot of stunningly colorful rock formations far away from the usual tourist areas. JUST DON’T TRUST DAMP SANDSTONE – THAT CAN LEAD TO A PAINFUL DISAPPOINTMENT! 😥

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2 comments

  1. Was that don’t trust “damp” sandstone or “dam” sandstone? Sorry to hear about the fall. Take care of yourself and stick with the easy hikes around hear — when you back is better.

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