While there are plenty of hikes to do in Red Rock Canyon, we were after a long one that would give us a birds’ eye view of the climbing crags we’d been playing in… and Turtlehead Peak fit the bill. Its peak rises, looking a lot like a turtle’s nose poking up and out of its shell, from the desert floor.
Already on our “hit” list of possible hikes for our time there, it was recommended to us by a Vegas couple that we met while hiking in Zion. They belonged to a weekend hiking group in Las Vegas and this was one of their favourites.
It has a long, windswept ramp on its backside that gives you a choice of a trail: take one that goes straight to the summit, or walk along an easier one that meanders along the edge of the ramp before circling around to the peak. We did both trails up there, and preferred the lengthy one, marked “easier” on a spray painted rock directional sign, for its tremendous views of Vegas, the Red Rocks mountains and crags, and the expanse of desert that stretches off as far as the eye can see.
The hike begins at the Calico Tanks parking lot (Sandstone Quarry, the 3rd turnout on the scenic loop) and follows a desert wash before working its way up a rocky, rubble-filled slope.
The route, once you are on the front slope of the ravine’s gully, can be quite confusing. In essence, look for the painted dots in turquoise and in white. There is one in the photo above. They can be quite challenging to pick out, especially on the way down, as they have faded in the harsh desert light and are covered in a thin layer of dust from the action of hikers walking past since the last rainfall.
If you go…
Both the way up and the way down, from the mountain’s shoulder to the main trail that leads you down to the ground level wash, are very confusing. There has been a lot of trail cutting, and there are so many routes from which to choose… it’s like a herd of bighorn sheep had been left to go crazy. We came upon a family with very small children in tow who were on a particularly steep, very loose and challenging section, struggling off-trail.
To stay on-trail, look for the spray painted dots and arrows. They are in white and teal colours, and many are quite faded from the harsh sunlight, blending into the colour of the rock, and covered with dust that obscures them. You’ll need to look for them carefully.
On the way up, you will do two unexpected switchbacks that seem to take you away from your mountain shoulder target. Take them anyway. They lead you away from, and around, trickier and loose parts of the slope.
Once up top, at the base of the mountain’s back ramp, do both the “easier” and the “harder” routes to the peak. Pick one for the way up and one for the way down. They are both beautiful in their own ways.
Once at the peak, you will find a canister with a log book to sign. It’s always fascinating, especially in a place like Las Vegas that draws people in from all parts, to flip through the pages of a trail log and see who’s been there before you.
Although not entirely necessary, hiking poles will certainly help you with the descent. It will speed things up, save the pressure on your knees, and make the slippery, dry, loose, unstable sections easier to navigate.
This bears repeating: be sure to take a sunscreened lip balm. All of us had sunburned lips after the first day at Red Rocks, despite applying (in my case) a regular Blistex lip balm that usually works like a charm. You will need one with sunscreen in it or your lips will blister, peel and crack. To put it in perspective, in the 30 years I’ve known Bill, he’s never had chapped lips. Not once. Until this trip.
Why invent the wheel? For detailed trail instructions and gps co-ordinates, go to ProTrails‘ description.
Trekking up a mountain’s shoulder, hiking through a flowering alpine meadow, snowshoeing through a dense pine forest, or taking in the 360 degree views from a ridge top vantage point make me feel alive. The experiences in these places give me a profound sense of space and place.
Travel does a similar thing, pushing me out of my comfort zone, exposing me to new experiences, new people and new ways of thinking; it also gives me that sense of space and place in this world.
I believe that life is lived in the contrasts: when you experience simplicity and complexity and life's ups and downs, whether they be physically in this world or mentally in your own personal inner landscape, you know that you are truly living.
The bigger they are, the more there is to explore!