About 10 miles from downtown Tonopah at the base of Saddle Mountain there sits some BLM land that has been meeting our needs for a bit of desert camping. On Hwy 10 on our way to the destination we can see the Saddle in the distance.
Once we turn off the Highway and towards the mountain we can see numerous gouts of steam rising from behind low hills. Our (my) interest peaked, we ignore our phone’s directions and head in that direction to see what the steam’s source is. Oh, yay, It is actually the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. Not wanting to linger long enough to arouse the attentions of the Quick Reaction Force at the plant and their automatic weapons I quickly pulled up to their fence and snapped a picture of their “Go Away” signage.
I looked it up later and it is an impressive and interesting situation for a nuclear plant. It is the largest in the U.S. by output and is the only nuclear generating facility in the world that is not located next to a large body of water and instead uses water from the treated sewage of several nearby cities for its cooling needs. 20 Billion (with a capital B) gallons of treated water are evaporated each year!
Our curiosity sated we headed back the way the phone was repeatedly recalculating and bitching for us to go and took BLM Road 8210 off of West Courthouse Road and went towards the mountains for about one mile.
Along the way we passed an encampment of Class A RVs all scrunched close together as if for warmth. Not much different from living in an apartment. The point of that is lost on Willow and I. We passed one more RV and then the rest of the road was ours.
Once we decided on a spot we set up camp and then got busy relaxing. We’ve been catching up on reading (me) and relaxing (Willow) so we have not been as active as either of us normally like. This lack of activity along with the fact that Willow is enjoying her new batch of bunny-flavored food just a little too much means she is getting a bit of a bulge around her belly.
So, to begin to remedy that we decided we were going to take a hike (not just a walk, there is a difference you know) and see what there was to see. The only thing we needed was some excuse, any excuse, to get up off our collective asses and Go! And then, what to our wondrous eyes should appear but a hot air balloon not so quietly floating across the mountain ridge skyline to our South.
Bingo! Let’s take that hike we’ve been talking about for too long, follow that balloon and see what is on the other side of that rocky prominence. At the end of the BLM road where we are camped there is a turn around and what looks like a trail heading up into the canyon between that butte where the balloon vanished and then to places unknown to us so that is the way we headed. I say “butte” because, as I understand it, a butte is taller than it is wide while a mesa is wider than it is tall.
Since the ground is littered with abrasive volcanic rock and this is going to be a proper hike and not a plain old walk we both wore real hiking boots and headed up into the canyon. I decided to have the girl wear her backpack as well so she could carry our water.
The “trail” that we started on soon devolves into loose and slippery patches of igneous rock. Having to carefully keep oneself from slipping and falling as well as maneuvering around those plants with a high enough opinion of themselves to wear a protective armor of vicious little (and some not-so-little) thorns makes this a more difficult and strenuous hike than we had originally foreseen. One side of the canyon is bathed in hot, unfiltered, late morning sun while the other is still in shadow so we decide to stay as cool as possible.
Along the shady wall we discover some nice overhangs that are almost little caves and head over that direction to check them out.
Although we have gone probably less than half a mile from our starting point we are both hot and thirsty and intend to use this one as a little rest stop.
After a few minutes and some water we set off to continue up the canyon intent on staying to the shady side as much as possible. Another half mile later (our GPS announces statistics every 30 minutes so we know these things) we reach the lip of the canyon and can look out to the other side to see this valley.
Since we are essentially in a saddle between two buttes we have a decision to make. Do we go up the right side towards that butte in the full sun or stay here on the left side while still being shaded? That wasn’t really a hard choice and so we head up to the left, zig-zagging on a little, rock-strewn path barely wide enough or suitable for a mountain goat.
When we got to a spot where we really can’t go any farther without putting ourselves in danger we stopped in another little shady alcove for a rest and a few more pictures.
Notice the large, solitary cactus behind Willow. The red arrow in the central “V” in the picture below is almost touching that same solitary cactus.
While it would be nice to think that, because of the picture above we have already made it back to camp that is, in fact, not the case. We still have to get back down into the valley on the back side and then head around the butte that was on the right, sunny side during our canyon ascent and then find our way back to camp. Adventure, yay!
First things first. We need to get down into that new valley and so we begin the rocky, shifting and loose gravel base semi-treacherous descent.
Along the way we found a spot where someone apparently had a war against one particular Saguaro and some clay pigeons that bravely tried to protect him.
Besides killing (or at least finishing off – its base looked pretty worked over already) an unarmed cactus (cowards) they also apparently were never taught to pick up after themselves after having a shooting spree. Willow carefully sniffed the carcass as I picked up after the cactus killers.
The two, 1 liter water bladders that Willow carries, one on each side of her pack for nice weight distribution were getting low so we had room for me to divvy up our brass and plastic bounty in equal measure in the pack. I’d carry it but my pockets were weighted down and full with all the pretty rocks I have been too weak to leave behind.
Like many things in life, I have a type. In this case, that is of a type of rock that I find attractive and covetous. I don’t know much about rocks, but I know what I like. In this place where the major color palette is in the matte brown, earth-tone family, the little trinkets that catch my eye stand out as white and shiny usually.
I collected a few and then, when I convinced myself that they were merely the leftovers from some idiot melting bottles in a fire I foolishly tossed them, Then, once those same type of melted glass or wax droplet pieces began showing up ALL over the place I knew that they were not man-made. Again, I have no idea what they are but some look somewhat like what the agates I have found on Pacific Northwest beaches look like. I need to acquire a book on Southwest rocks but no…I must resist. I do not want or need to become a rockhound and add another hobby to the list much less one that involves dirt and rocks and heavy and bending over, and over and over. Nope. Must Resist.
We have seen (and heard) other people walking near our campsite, backs bent over, walking slowly and picking up rocks here and there and dropping them with a “plunk” into whatever sort of bucket they are carrying. Willow actually hears them before I do and gives out a growl so I know intruders are afoot and then I hear the “plunk” before they come into sight. Several times we have walked over to see what they were doing and if they might know anything more than we do about rocks, which shouldn’t be too hard. Without fail, when we walk up to them the first thing out of their mouth is “hi, hey, do you know anything about rocks?” or “hey, are you a rockhound?” Every. Single. Time. And, sadly, every time I must profess ignorance but point out that, I too, have a weakness for pretty, shiny things. One lady asked if those rocks I took out of my pocket to show her were valuable and I had to respond that they were most likely not but they made me happy so how valuable was that? Once I get back into snivilization I have three friends who are all very much into mineralogy and rockhounding and I’m sure one or all of them will know exactly what sort of REALLY VALUABLE STUFF I have brought them. Actually, probably not and they will end up in my sister’s garden around the base of some tree or another. Pretty ground cover. But, so what. It was fun to collect them and anything above and beyond that is an unexpected and unneeded bonus.
So… back to our hike. Once down in the valley we skirted around the backside of those buttes and looked for an obvious way to cut back over to where our usually accurate pigeon-like sense of direction told us the Tacoma and our campsite lay. Willow wandered ahead of me, nose to the ground, actively tracking something stinky that once came that way and using her time waiting for me to catch up to take breaks in whatever shade she could find.
We eventually came across what passes for a road in this area and turned East. We would have rather taken a less obvious route but we were both tired, our water was running low, her pack was full of garbage and my pants were full of rocks so, it was decided to just get back the quickest way possible. On the plus side I found a few more pretty baubles turned over and exposed in the roadway by tires long past.
Once we got back to camp I broke out a frosty ale for me and some fresh, cold water for the girl and then we both crashed for about an hour. The GPS track info let us know that yes, in fact, this was not a mere walk. 1800+ calories burned means I can have a couple hundred calories of ale.
It was getting late and the weather was supposed to be nice and not windy so we decided to make a fire. As I am laying the kindling and wood the last light of the day washes over the butte that started us on our hike today when the balloon drifted over it.
Once the fire was up and burning nicely we both sat and enjoyed the evening and thought back on the day.
We could tell that we were both going to be paying for our overzealous enthusiasm tomorrow if not for a couple of days afterwards but, like many things in life, pain makes you know you accomplished something. “Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.” – Bob Dylan
The next morning was a slow, plodding affair as we both moved with grunts and squeaks like rusted machinery.
It was tough pulling myself out of bed to get coffee started and feed my grunty girl but that’s what a good dad does. As I write this three nights after the hike we are both still sore but on the mend. I expect with one more day of recuperation, by the end of tomorrow, we will both be back at 100% and ready for another adventure.