Liberty Bell Arch Peak P300 RS
Fortress Peak P300 RS
Saddle Island P300

Thu, Dec 16, 2021

With: Eric Smith
Tom Grundy

Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

Continued...

Today's focus was a visit to the Arizona Hot Spring on the Colorado River, about three miles south of Hoover Dam. Of the two hot springs we visited on this trip, this was easily the best, and unsurprisingly, the most popular. We visited a summit on the way there and another on the way back, making for an enjoyable looping route. With a few extra hours in the afternoon, we visited a point in Nevada adjacent to Lake Mead.

Liberty Bell Arch Peak

As Interstate 11 crosses into Arizona over the Hoover Bridge, it becomes US93. The distinction is subtle - where interstate highways allow no roadside parking and no cross-traffic, US highways allow both. Future plans call for US93 to Kingman, AZ to be converted to Interstate 11, but for now, there are more options for exploration off the highway. The first cross-traffic exit off the highway takes one to the White Rock Canyon/Arizona Hot Spring Trailhead. Google maps shows it packed with about 50 cars. When we arrived at 7a, there were only two other cars on an overcast morning. On our drive there, we had spied a police encounter on the Nevada side at the Gold Strike Canyon Hot Springs Trailhead. A guy was camped there with his canoe-ladden car and a roaring camp fire. We saw the guy on his knees facing a patrol car with an officer behind the driver's door pointing a gun at the guy. He walked over to get what looked like the guy's ID from him, but what became of the incident we didn't stick around to see. To us, it seemed like an over-reaction, but I suppose that guy won't be making illegal campfires anytime soon. His biggest mistake may have been not realizing he was on federal lands, part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The NPS takes enforcement a whole lot more seriously than does the BLM.

Back at the AZ Hot Spring TH, we started off down the trail soon after our arrival. The Park Service has done a decent job of signing the trail to keep folks from getting lost. After a half mile, there is a signed junction - left for the hot springs, right for Liberty Bell Arch. We turned right and followed the trail down the wash another quarter mile to a second junction. We followed the right fork to the northwest, signed for Liberty Bell Arch, as it climbs out of White Rock Canyon. Our trail leads to some mineworks before turning west towards Liberty Bell Arch. It descends into another drainage before climbing out and up to an overlook to the southwest. The trail doesn't go to the arch, but the decidedly bell-shaped arch is easily visible from the trail. We left the trail to climb more directly to Liberty Bell Arch Peak, above and south of the arch. We reached the summit not long after 8a. The arch can be seen from the summit, but it looks more bell-like from the trail below. There were various loose pages in a rusted register tin, the oldest from 2012. After our visit to the class 2-3 summit, we returned to the trail and followed it to the southwest where it ends, overlooking the Colorado River to the west and south. The highpoint of the lookout is roughly the same as the peak, probably not more than 10ft difference in height.

Our next order of business was to descend to White Rock Canyon, preferrably without having to backtrack to the last trail junction. Adam Walker had a GPX track on PB that did just this, and was our plan to descend more directly. We found the drainage easy at first, then becoming a huge dryfall with no direct way down. There appeared to be a bypass to the left that goes up and then down some unpleasant-looking steepness. Eric was looking a bit worried when I was describing it. A red fox at the bottom of this bypass caught sight of me and beat a hasty retreat up the sketchy route without missing a step, then disappeared around the corner. This bypass was exactly where Adam's track went, but I wondered if the area to the right of the dryfall might offer an easier route. Going off to investigate, I returned after a few minutes and declared it looked easier, but I couldn't ascertain the whole route. The others came over to follow me back to it. It worked as nicely as we could have hoped, all class 2 and only a little less direct than Adam's route. Once at the bottom of the canyon, we continued to follow the many footprints in the gravelly wash southwest to where it empties into the river.

Once at the canyon's mouth, we followed signs and footprints south along the trail to the adjacent canyon where the hot spring is located. Starting up this second canyon, it too, had vertical, narrow walls and was completely dry. This would change a few minutes further up where there is a warning sign for dangerous algae and the start of water flow, above where the gravel wash bed has completely absorbed it. The stream grows stronger, then a first pool (not very inviting), beyond which is a steel ladder that climbs to the better pools above. There were 8-10 folks altogether in 3 pools, but it didn't feel crowded. We had taken our boots off and changed to our bathing suits to climb the ladder (you have to walk in the pools above that), then deposited our gear above the highest pool. We spent over an hour and a half in the upper pools as others came and went. It was nearly noon when we'd had our fill and dressed to continue the adventure.

We followed the canyon upstream, no more water to be found. Someone with poor judgement has taken it upon themselves to paint arrows that show the obvious way up the gravel wash. The trail forks about a mile up the canyon, though that isn't obvious. The Park Service has lined the route with rocks here, that along with a sign, direct traffic out of the wash and up the left side of the canyon. This is the newer trail built to avoid some obstacles in the wash further up. This was also our turn off for Fortress Peak. Eric chose not to join us, so he headed up the newer trail while Tom and I headed up class 2 slopes towards Fortress Peak, almost due south of us. The peak is ringed by a wall of cliffs, the only reasonable way through is found in a break on the NE side. We found our way up with the help of ducks, though they weren't really needed - the most reasonable route presents itself readily enough and we found variations of it on our way down. After a short bit of class 3 scrambling with mild exposure, we reached the summit plateau and made our way to the highpoint over easier ground, arriving around 1p. A register with a handful of pages dated to 2018. The views are decent, but the river cannot be seen - just lots of brown, varnished rock in all directions. After lunch, Tom returned via our descent route, I took a modest variation just to see if it worked (it did), rejoining Tom lower in the cliff band. We returned to the main wash and deliberately followed it upstream to see why the NPS had constructed the newer trail. Turns out there were a few dryfalls that required class 2-3 scrambling. Past this section, the trail becomes class 1 again as it turns north to rejoin the other trail option at the low ridgeline that separates the two main washes. We descended to White Rock Canyon and followed that back out to the highway overpass and the TH, finishing up before 2:30p.

Saddle Island

With a few hours of daylight remaining, I suggested we pay a visit to Saddle Island on the edge of Lake Mead, back on the Nevada side. We drove to the Boulder Harbor Launch Ramp south of the peak and started from there. Eric decided to sit this one out while Tom and I headed out. What we didn't know when we started out was that Saddle Island is where the Las Vegas water intake and sewage treatment facilities are located and the island is off-limits to the public. Sort of. It was very poorly signed and there are no fences to keep one out. We walked across the dry bottom of what was once Boulder Harbor (see the depiction on the topo map), noting lots of marooned seashells, old anchors and other debris now left above the waterline. At the old shoreline on the other side of the harbor, we then made our way up the west side of the peak in an ascending traverse. Tom suspected the pumping station was located on our peak even before we found ourselves crossing the paved service road that accesses the inlet. We continued up to the highpoint, reaching it towards the northern edge of the summit ridge, about 35min after starting out. There was a small pile of rocks, some short steel stakes and a survey post. We took pics of the lake and treatment plant, then returned via the same route. Just after we crossed the service road, a truck came driving slowly past just behind us. I might not have been concerned had it been a technician, but the truck was clearly labeled "Security". Tom and I kept walking without looking back, waiting for the "Hey you!!" that never came. The guy obviously saw us, because I noted him slow considerably when he spotted us, but probably decided it would be more trouble than it was worth to stop us. We returned to boat launch and Jeep without further incident, finishing up around 4:15p.

We returned to Boulder City to take showers and then off to dinner in town, this time for BBQ at Fox Smokehouse - a very good meal, we decided. Then off to bed at our campsite just outside town on the south side...

Continued...


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