Moments after I stepped out of the Las Vegas airport, I remembered why I liked Reno and, until now, had never stepped foot in Clark County. Reno appealed to me for the easy access to the Sierra Nevada and its rough-hewn personality. Its southern Nevada counterpart had a greater degree of two of my nemeses: brash, commercial excess and lines. To me, Vegas was no different than Disney World and I disliked the touristy facade. However, I kept a positive attitude knowing that beer would be much more plentiful here than in Utah and that I was staying at the Red Rock Resort; a less thematically poisoned casino well off the strip where my wife was attending a conference. Part of our reason for choosing to stay at the resort was it’s proximity the Red Rock Canyon Rec area where I headed Saturday morning for a hike.
Surprisingly, a subset of gamblers do find some appreciation in nature because the one way road that loops through this canyon west of Vegas was loaded with traffic and I barely found a parking space at the trailhead. Red Rock Canyon holds some geological features that many of us in Utah take for granted and might also feel pale in comparison to the Navajo sandstone treasures within our borders, but the broad, layered spires and sprawling, rounded mounds of rock are well worth the visit for any Beehive state desert rat.
I chose to hike up to Turtlehead Mountain, a ramped, turret like mountain that juts up prominently in the foreground of the massive plateau that shapes the canyons northern and western borders. The trail is well marked in the early, flat stages as you walk on gravely washes and pass through sandstone corridors, but eventually, you come to a steep draw that climbs lookers-left of the peak. Being that I was alone and most of the hikers found themselves distracted playing on and gawking at the slickrock, I found myself passing numerous groups. I wasn’t even sure which peak was Turtlehead, but I had a hunch it was the grey inclined mass that looked like a tortoise poking its head above water, and I was determined to get to the top of it and enjoy the beer I had wrapped up in my pack.
As I worked my way up the draw, struggling to keep focus on the trail, I could tell Turtlehead was in fact the peak I hoped it was. This made me pretty happy because there is nothing worse than reading a park guide trail description and realizing the “mountain” you are climbing is really just an overlook. The 2000′ climb was not technical by any stretch, but the elevation gain, faint trail and steepness made for a worthy summitbrew post. The approximately 2.5 mile trail can be a challenge in certain spots, especially if you lose the trail, which I did numerous times. It seems like heavy use trails near large metro areas have an excess of side trails that can confuse you. Most hikers would be able to find a route regardless, but I was able to refind the trail when coming across down hikers.
After meandering and getting stabbed by a few sharp plants, the trail eventually reaches a spot where you can access the ridge leading to the summit. Most of the southern face of the peak is a sheer cliff probably between 100 and 250 feet, but northwest of the cliffs is a passage at the end of the draw. From there, the trail heads back south as you gradually ascend to the high point.
Crowds are everywhere in Vegas, and a beautiful day in nature brought just as many people as a hot hand at the craps table. In a way, it made me happy that so many were enjoying something besides gambling in Vegas. No less than 15 people by my count were at the summit, but of course none of them were carrying the freight I had in my pack, a Tenaya Creek Hop Ride. I found a spot to sit and popped the top. The smooth, floral IPA was really refreshing after a strenuous hour and 20 minute climb. Of course a few people noticed my choice of libation and made a few joking comments. I’m never sure what to say when people see me enjoying a beer in nature. In most cases, I’m alone, but I’m not going to let an audience affect my imbibing. If anything, you would think in a city like Vegas, enjoying a beer in public wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow.
Tenaya Creek’s Hop Ride uses Magnum and Summit hops for the bitterness with Cascade hops to provide the floral notes. Before I knew it, I had half of this 22 ounce bottle of American IPA gone and realized that even though I was well south of ski territory, maybe I ought to make an offering to Ullr, especially with the ski season approaching.
From this point at 6,324′, one gets an eyeful of Las Vegas’ monuments of excess in the east. However, from this vantage point, they seem pathetic in comparison to natures monuments that populate this canyon. To the north of the peak runs the even higher walls that create this canyon, and beyond them, the imagination can only speculate to the wilderness beyond. To the west lies more multi-colored spires and deep narrow canyons and in the south are the splashes of red sandstone that reminds me how colorful nature can be when all the pieces come into place. I can only speculate as to what other people feel when the reach the top of Turtlehead Peak, but I hope they look around and think there are some things that need to be left “as is”.