Monday, February 17, 2020

The Painted Desert ~ Petrified Forest National Park



















The Painted Desert ~ Petrified Forest National Park



Try to imagine a place in the Southwest where the desert looks as if an artist painted the desolate landscape with bright pastel colors as far as the eyes can see.  The Painted Desert is one such place! This colorful wilderness area covers a vast expanse of land in east central Arizona. There are many good places to view the Painted Desert and few are better than the overlooks in the Petrified Forest National Park!
There are two entrance gates at the Petrified Forest National Park.  The back entrance can be found a few miles southeast of Holbrook, Arizona on U.S. Highway 180.  This entrance point lands right in the thick of the Rainbow Forest, which is where most of the petrified logs are located.  The main National Park access point is located on Interstate Highway 40 (Route 66) just east of Holbrook.  When entering the Petrified Forest National Park from I-40, the grand tour of the Painted Desert begins!
The Painted Desert is one of the most interesting geological features on earth and the story of how this unique landscape was created is complex.  A combination of many geological forces and environmental factors over a period of millions of years acts as paint on an artist’s palette.  Layers of multi color ancient ocean bottom sandstone and petrified sand dunes make up the bulk of the landscape.  Erosive environmental forces have exposed the bright colors of the rock strata over eons of time.  Explosive volcanic activity also painted this region with layers of blue, gray and black. In contrast, the volcanic ash drapes this landscape with pale gray, bright white and tan shades.

Layers of mineralization from forests and swamps that were present during the age of the dinosaurs also adds a wide range of glistening earth tones to the Painted Desert color scheme.  Oxidized iron pigments paint this vast expanse with pink, red and orange highlights.  Desert Varnish dots the surface rocks and boulders with deep brown and black colors.  The sparse vegetation contributes patches of familiar green tones with straw yellow in the mix.  Each colorful application has a story to tell and a lot can be learned while pondering over the views of this majestic place. 
The Painted Desert most definitely is a landscape artist’s dream come true!  Many great western artists have spent plenty of time at this place with a brush and palette in hand.  The Painted Desert is also a photographer’s paradise as well.  The time of day and time of year can have a dramatic effect on the captured images.  Early morning views reveal a sparkling fresh color effect, while the blinding midday sun bleaches this inhospitable arena.  Sunsets enhance the dramatic effect of light and shadow, while painting the blue skies with fiery colors.  The summer monsoon rain season dampens the earth and many more deep vivid colors are revealed.  As can be imagined, no two visits to the Petrified Forest National Park Painted Desert will yield the same views and capturing a timeless moment in this place is what artists do best.
There are many scenic viewpoints along the two lane paved road that runs through the Petrified Forest National Park.  Each roadside scenic overlook is strategically placed to offer views of noteworthy features of the landscape.  There are many hiking trails along the road to explore, especially toward the Blue Mesa area. The extreme heat is a limiting factor for hikes during the long summer, so plan on packing extra water for any length trek. The winter months offer cool relief and smaller crowds, which adds up to a better overall experience.  
As the seasons change, so does the wildlife in this region.  During the cold winter months the reptiles are rarely seen.  When warm air returns in spring, the insects, lizards and snakes all come out of hiding.  Mule Deer and Bighorn Sheep have been known to frequent this area and an occasional Jackrabbit can be seen hiding behind sage brush.  Ravens, hawks and vultures soar high above by day, while bats and owls can be seen after dark.  
There are many unique points of interest along the road that goes through the Painted Desert section of the Petrified Forest National Park.  Near the entrance gate by I-40, the Painted Desert Visitors Center and the old historic Painted Desert Inn can be found. A visitor will see many scenic overlooks along the road before arriving at the Puerco Pueblo and Newspaper Rock, which only require a short hike to access. The majestic Blue Mesa is in this section too. Wildlife viewing areas are also highlighted along the road and some of the best views of petrified logs in a badlands setting can be seen near Blue Mesa.   
A wealth of information about the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest is provided by the rangers at the entrance gate.  The park brochure includes trail maps and roadside points of interest.  The National Park brochure is the only reliable information resource, because cellular communications are limited or nonexistent in this region. Scheduled guided tours of the Petrified Forest National Park are also available and inquiries should be made ahead of time.  There are also star gazing events, Navajo guided cultural tours and organized nature walks, so visitors of all ages will find plenty of interesting things to do.  
The Petrified Forest National Park has always been a Route 66 attraction, so those who plan to tour the historic Mother Road should chalk this destination high on their bucket list!  The Painted Desert landscape has been waiting millions of years to be experienced and the majestic views certainly will create memories that last a lifetime.        

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Mud Wash Jeep Trail To Petroglyphs & Little Finland

























Mud Wash Jeep Trail To Petroglyphs & Little Finland



Touring the National Back Country Byways of the west truly is the means for getting away from it all.  There are no traffic jams and one can be completely on their own in a remote natural setting that few others lay eyes upon.  Rarely is there an entrance fee and most of the primitive campsites are free of charge too.  There are no park rangers looking over your every move, so visitor responsibilities fall under the “leave no trace” rule.  For many people, exploring back country destinations is a far better choice than being funneled into the human zoo environment at an overburdened National Park.  Driving down a long dirt road to a majestic peaceful place that is quiet enough to hear a pin drop is the best way to go! 
The Back Country Byways are usually long dirt roads, there are a few things to keep in mind.  First of all, vehicle reliability is a prime concern.  The dirt road trail conditions can vary greatly, especially after foul weather. There are a few websites that publish Jeep trail difficulty ratings, so all it takes is doing some research ahead of time to prevent getting in too deep. Choosing a vehicle that can get the job done is a prerequisite for any trip into the back country.  
There are well maintained back country dirt roads that are smooth enough for an ordinary passenger car to travel on and there are other dirt roads that are so rough that only a Jeep or 4×4 ATV can get through, so it pays to do some road condition research ahead of time when planning an off-highway travel venture.  Vehicle fuel mileage also becomes an issue, because some of the dirt road trails can be well over 75 miles long, so carrying extra cans of gas may be necessary.  Hauling one or two extra spare tires, plus a flat tire repair kit and a pump is a necessity too.    
Other things to consider when planning a Back Country Byway venture have to do with preparedness, navigation and survival skills.  In the back country, there are no communication options and there is very little chance of a timely rescue. Being prepared is essential and maintaining cool headed survival skills may come into play if worse comes to worse.

Packing enough food and water for the trip, plus enough for an unexpected event is necessary.  When exploring a remote wilderness location, it may be days or weeks before any other vehicle rolls down the same trail, so an unexpected breakdown can result in a very long hike back to civilization.  Navigation can be a problem too, because smart phone data services are useless and not every GPS system integrates unpaved roads. A 24k Topographic GPS Map will show most of the remote dirt roads, however, there actually are places out west where there is no GPS signal to be found. For this reason, always pack a detailed paper map for the trip!
The Gold Butte National Back Country Byway in Gold Butte National Monument is a good place to start an off highway travel venture. Visiting Gold Butte is best during the winter and spring seasons, because summer temperatures can easily exceed 115ºF in this region. The higher the outdoor temperature, the lower the reliability of a vehicle and the more water that will be consumed, so visiting this remote wilderness area while the weather is cool does make sense.  
A previous article about the National Back Country Byway To Gold Butte Ghost Town refers to how nearly every other dirt road in this region intersects with the Gold Butte Byway, including the two different access points for the Mud Wash Jeep Trail.  The Mud Wash Jeep Trail access point that is closest to Whitney Pockets is featured in this article.
From Whitney Pockets in Gold Butte National Monument, it is only a three mile trek on the Back Country Byway to the main Mud Wash Trail access point.  The first section of the Mud Wash Trail looks smooth enough for a passenger car, but initial impressions can be deceptive!  Only a rugged high ground clearance vehicle should attempt this dirt trail.  The Mud Wash Trail does get fairly rough a little ways downhill and there are a few loose sand patches, so 4×4 vehicles will have the advantage, but a skilled driver in a 2 wheel drive pickup truck will have no problem. 
As the name suggests, the Mud Wash is a silty rubble filled desert mountain dry wash ravine, so a recent rain storm can dramatically affect the dirt road conditions.  Flash floods can be a great concern too. The ancient ocean bottom soil can turn into impassible deep mud when it rains, so it pays to take note of weather reports ahead of time.  If the Mud Wash is wet and muddy or if rain is in the forecast, it might be best to save the trip for another day.
The Mud Wash Jeep Trail runs downhill toward the Lake Mead National Recreation Area through one of the most amazing dry wash canyons in the Gold Butte region.  The Mud Wash Jeep Trail actually goes nine miles to a famous scenic spot that has always been called "The Goblins" by the local folk, which for some bureaucratic reason is now called “Little Finland.” 
On a side note, when considering that it is about 30 miles to the nearest gas station in Mesquite, plus the nine mile Mud Wash Trail, a round trip will be over 82 miles.  Most of the driving will be over rough dirt roads, so this is an all day venture that requires keeping an eye on the fuel gauge.  On the plus side, the Mud Wash Jeep Trail is one of the most popular scenic dirt road drives in Gold Butte, so on any given day there will be one or two other vehicles doing the same trek.  This may be comforting to those who dread the thought of getting stuck way out in the middle of nowhere on their own. 
It is amazing to see how the landscape changes when driving through the Mud Wash.  The serene sage brush and cactus desert landscape becomes more harsh, as this dry wash channels into a wide shallow canyon that has been carved by flash floods over eons of time.  At first, the canyon walls are composed of dried up deep ancient ocean bottom silt mud and stone rubble.  Looking at this composite up close will reveal many clues about where the rocky rubble came from.  Some of the rocks are polished smooth by powerful rivers that no longer exist, while the splintered rocks from the mountains were carried here by powerful flash floods.  Each layer of conglomerate has a geological timeline story to tell, so a lot can be learned while observing the canyon walls when passing through.
As water runs downhill it becomes more powerful and this is evident in the Mud Wash.  In areas where the canyon ends opens into a vast plain, the big rocks are dispersed over a wide area.  In places like this, the Jeep trail meanders through the rock and boulder obstacle course and there may be a few alternate routes.  There are even side road trails that lead to parallel canyons within the vast Mud Wash.  It can be easy to end up on the wrong trail in this area, so be sure to note the landmarks and be prepared to backtrack if necessary.  The main Jeep Trail through the wide dry wash flood plain does have plenty of tire tracks, so this is the best indicator of being on the right path. 
The flora and fauna also goes through some interesting changes as one travels deeper into the Mud Wash.  Hearty succulent plants that depend upon flash floods to spread broken cuttings that will root on their own do takeover the landscape.  Lush green patches of growth can be seen where the underground mountain aquifers have seepage points along the dry wash canyon walls.  
Lizards, rattlesnakes and scorpions frequent this area, but most of these animals only come out after sundown during the summer season.  During the winter, most of the cold blooded creatures remain dormant under rocks and burrows, so it pays to not reach into dark crags and under rocks where a poisonous critter cannot be seen.  For the most part, the only animals that will be seen during the daytime are ravens, hawks, roadrunners, ground squirrels and an occasional coyote.  As can be seen in the photos, the Mud Wash is a good place to get good pictures of the curious roadrunner birds that check out visitors from the rim of the ravine!
Eventually the Mud Wash Jeep Trail runs through an area of red sandstone outcrops near the end of the trail.  It is important for a visitor to drive slow through the red rock area, because there are a few ancient petroglyphs that can be seen along the way.  This entire region is an ancient native heritage site and many of the petroglyphs predate the Paiute Tribes that have been here for over 1,000 years.  There are hundreds of ancient Anasazi and Paiute petroglyph sites in Gold Butte National Monument and each of the newspaper rocks has a story to tell.  The red rock petroglyphs that are located next to the Jeep Trail a couple miles north of the end point are extensive, so they are worth taking some extra time to contemplate over.  The petroglyph red rock outcrop also provides plenty of shade, so this can be an interesting place to stop and have a picnic on a warm day. 
When approaching the end of the Jeep trail near the Little Finland area, the landscape dramatically changes once again.  Tall colorful mountains that rise from the Virgin River basin appear in the distance.  Pink color sand dunes rise out of the Mud Wash flood plain and bare bedrock appears on the ground in between.  The lonely palm trees that feed off of seepage springs stand guard next to the tall bare red rock slab wall that guards the area known as The Goblins.  From here the Little Finland Jeep Trail is well marked, so those who decide to carry on into this unique destination will have no problem finding their way. 
Standing at the end of the long Mud Wash to gaze upon the majestic landscape is truly rewarding after the long bumpy ride!  Few others venture to this place, so the chances are good that you will truly be alone in this vast wilderness area while there.  In the dead silence, any kind of stress or troubles from the past quickly disappear.  This is a place where the peaceful memories can be reflected upon for a lifetime, so be sure to soak it all up and take in the beautiful views while you can!
Yes, the long drive back to civilization is just as tough as the trip getting to the scenic views at the end of the Mud Wash near Little Finland, so be prepared for a sore neck and an aching back.  Camping is an option for breaking up the length of the trip, but be prepared for icy cold night time temperatures during the winter season.  On the opposite extreme, the summer night temperatures can be well over 100ºF even after midnight, so a winter season journey down the Mud Wash gets the nod from a comfort level perspective. 
For those who seek an easy skill level dirt road venture, the Mud Wash Jeep Trail is a nice choice!  For those who drive a regular passenger car, there are businesses that rent Jeeps and ATV buggies in Mesquite, Nevada, so this town is a good choice for a basecamp to adventure.  There are plenty more majestic back country places to explore in the Gold Butte region, so be prepared to wear the tires down! 

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Nellis AFB & The Speedway ~ North Las Vegas














Nellis AFB & The Speedway ~ North Las Vegas



North Las Vegas has plenty to offer in the way of entertainment off the Las Vegas Strip, even though Las Vegas Boulevard actually runs all the through to the north end of town.  The City Of North Las Vegas begins just north of Fremont Street and covers the ground along the I-15 corridor all the way to Nellis Air Force Base, so this is a sizable chunk of land. Most of North Las Vegas is composed of working class neighborhoods and local hangouts, so the experience is low key when compared to the primary tourism areas. 
In the past, the casino resorts in this end of the valley have catered to the locals and visitors that attend events at the Las Vegas Speedway or Nellis AFB.  Now that the Great Recession of 2007 is a thing of the past, there is hope for some modernization in North Las Vegas. 
The dining options in North Las Vegas are wide ranging. There are many interesting ethnic restaurants in the working class neighborhoods and some of the best Mexican food in the valley can be found here. Many hospitality businesses in North Las Vegas cater to the needs of the Nellis Air Force Base personnel, so down home style food, Chinese food and good BBQ can be found near the military base neighborhoods. Local saloons, gaming taverns, craft breweries and local nightclubs can be found throughout North Las Vegas too. 
The two main attractions in North Las Vegas are Nellis AFB and the Las Vegas Speedway. The Nellis Air Force Base Visitors Center is located at the intersection of North Las Vegas Boulevard and Craig Road, so this destination is easy to find.  
Nellis AFB is the home of the Thunderbirds! At Nellis AFB, the fun really starts when the USAF Thunderbirds practice tight formation aerobatics within view or when a Thunderbirds Air Show is taking place. Nellis Air Force Base is the home of many great events that include antique air shows and the general public is welcome to attend.  The visitors center offers good information and there is plenty of Air Force memorabilia to take home on the shelves.  There are good spots to watch the lightning fast jet pilots do their stuff and spectators sure do get a thrill out of hearing the powerful engines roar!
The Las Vegas Speedway in North Las Vegas is literally located right across the street from Nellis AFB.  NASCAR puts on the biggest race in Las Vegas and this city is flooded with race fans during the NASCAR weekend. The NASCAR parties on the Las Vegas Strip and Fremont Street do get pretty wild, so there is never a dull moment!  Nearly every major casino resort books top country western musical acts during NASCAR week just to make the race fans feel right at home.  
Local racing, dirt track racing and NHRA Drag Racing events also take place at the Las Vegas Speedway.  Exotic Racing is the name of a local company that rents sports cars and track time to people that want to do a little bit of racing on a real race track while visiting Las Vegas.  Those who always dreamed of running a Corvette or Ferrari over a challenging road race track can do so by booking track time with this company in advance.  
The Electric Daisy Carnival is another famous event that takes place at the Las Vegas Speedway.  Hundreds of thousands of party animals attended the three day EDC concert event, so this is quite a big music festival extravaganza!  Tickets for EDC usually sell out the first day, so it pays to keep an eye out for the event date.    
There are a few old casinos from the golden age of Las Vegas that can be found in the north end of the valley. The old Poker Palace, Jerry’s Nugget and the Siver Nugget Casino are favorites of the locals.  The Silver Nugget is an old bowling alley casino that offers a chance to step back into yesteryear. There are a few new modern casinos in North Las Vegas that offer good value too, but the quality of the experience can be hit or miss, depending on how the economy is going. 
Overall, North Las Vegas is well worth checking out, especially if there is a big event going on at Nellis AFB or the Las Vegas Speedway! North Las Vegas development has lagged behind the rest of the valley in recent years, but are signs this is starting to change. For now, North Las Vegas is where to go to find locals casinos and some good south of the border food. For many visitors of Las Vegas, this is like a dream come true!