This hike begins in the Rainbow Spring wash in an easterly direction. Immediately cross over a metal obstruction (installed February 2015). It serves to keep out motorized vehicles (which are illegal in wilderness areas) while still allowing horses to access the trail. Read more at: http://www.wilderness.net/NWPS/wildView?WID=481.
The trail leaves the wash to join a user trail that stays on the south end of an old, fenced-off corral. Take note of the USGS streamgage opposite the corral which measures water flow. Learn more at: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis. Also opposite the corral, you'll find one of many ancient agave roasting pits in this area. Continue to the eastern side of the roasting pit and then north into the pinyon-juniper woodland typically found at this elevation. You can either stay in the wash, which winds you between conglomerate boulders and up small dry-falls, or follow the user trail just above the wash. The trail continues east toward an obvious low point in the crags and hills directly ahead of you. In this area, the agave stalks covering the hills forge the feeling of a futuristic '70s sci-fi movie.
After almost 1.5 miles, the trail turns south at the edge of a massive drop off. You’ve reached the top of the sandstone cliffs that make Red Rock Canyon famous. From here you can see the Keystone thrust fault which extends for more than 45 miles through the Spring Mountain range.. The trail climbs and then descends southeast multiple times. Each time you crest a hill, the views of the Las Vegas valley and surrounding mountain peaks get more and more amazing. You can see Spring Mountain Ranch State Park directly below you, Mummy Mountain to the west and all the way over to Telescope Peak in Death Valley in California.
The hardy plants in this area are battered by strong winds and they grow small in order to survive. Your surroundings change dramatically at around mile 3 as you leave the limestone and descend east across the sandstone towards the massive ponderosa pine trees. Follow grooves warn in the soft sandstone by water: they’ll lead you down to the sandy floor. You can camp anywhere that is 200 feet away from water, no ground fires are permitted. Learn more at: http://www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/fo/lvfo/blm_programs/blm_special_areas/red_rock_nca/recreation/backcountry_camping.html.
Once you’ve set up your campsite, you can scramble and explore the surrounding cliffs. Listen for birds (spotted towhee, western scrub-jay and swifts) and frogs. You might be lucky enough to see a Palmer’s chipmunk or some of the resident elk. In the morning re-trace your steps to hike out. BY CHELISE SIMMONS
- The trail to Little Zion is not designated and is difficult to follow in places. Route-finding skills are needed.
- The hike leads you through very bio-diverse areas. It’s very important to stay on durable surfaces if you can’t find the trail. In the last 5 years, the human impact has become very obvious. Leave no trace and respect that animals live here full time.
- The Keystone formation is famous around the world for being the best example of a thrust fault. Compression along a fault line caused buckling which resulted in older limestone being pushed up and over younger sandstone.
- We saw at least 5 types of cactus growing along the trail: beavertail, hedgehog, pincushion, Mojave mound, and cholla.
- Cryptobiotic soil covers much of the ground on this trail. Please don’t step on it. Cryptobiotic crusts increase the stability of easily eroded soils, increase water infiltration in regions that receive little precipitation, and increase fertility in soils in places where this is lacking. It takes a very long time to grow and a second to destroy.
- State: NV
- City: Las Vegas
- Distance: 7.0
- Contact: (702) 515-5050 to leave your information after a recording.
- Land Type: BLM Land
Location: 36.050400, -115.512292
Location: 36.052360, -115.509326
Corral and streamgage marker.
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Agave Roasting Pit.
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Cross wash and immediately west.
Location: 36.061999, -115.496665
First view of sandstone.
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Trail goes south, roughly along the ridge line.
Location: 36.049574, -115.485869
Descend to sandstone or continue southwest a little longer before descending.
Location: 36.048989, -115.484811
Descend towards pine trees at low point in the wash.
Location: 36.049732, -115.481463
Dry pour over. Some scrambling required.
Location: 36.051053, -115.478297
Set up camp.
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Location: 36.051814, -115.477489