Well, I finally got the chance last Saturday( 9/14/14). It was seventy degrees and overcast, and even though I knew I was bound to see a few rattlers, it seemed perfect weather to cast aside my ideas regarding Summer hikes in the desert( the main idea is: wait until winter), just to see this place in the fullness of the blessings of our rainy season. I was I glad I did. I did have one small rattler coil up in front of me on the return trip,but I was oddly calm about it( exhaustion will do that) and it hardly dampened my enthusiasm for the whole experience.
I started off at a pull out just before two bullet riddled warning signs that list the dangers of traveling into this supposed former artillery range. Those signs were not there years ago and in the past this area had not been deemed off limits. It was part of buffer zone, a kind of wide boundary area between BLM and US Military lands, and was used frequently for recreation.Users were on an honor system not to stray to close to military operations, and from my own experience and that of others I know, we had been left alone. I can't say exactly what the situation is now. Something must have prompted the posting of those signs. If you want to visit do so at your own risk. The area is reached from the Mesquite exit on I- 25, heading east on the paved, and then two lane all weather gravel road. Past the landfill and power lines it become one lane dirt. Past the parking areas for the Sierra Vista Trail it becomes a rough, rocky,unmaintained way, which may require high clearance, and when wet, most likely four wheel drive.
From my truck it was a steady uphill trudge northeast to gain access to the nameless canyon that would take me up to small saddle and then over into Long Canyon. I've decided to name this canyon West Finley Canyon because it is a tributary of Finley Canyon, as is Long Canyon itself, which feeds into, along with many other small" canyons," Mossman Arroyo.
After a mile or so I entered the canyon and began rock hopping along. It was relatively easy going, although the vegetation was thick in spots, especially some vine like species that were frequently grabbing at my ankles. Eventually there were pools of water here and there in the bare, reddish brown volcanic rock, with many butterflies,moths,bees and flies hanging about. Wrens, towhees and desert sparrows flitted about as well. I even saw a couple of mule deer making their way downhill( and away from me) and it warmed my heart to see the desert so alive.
I was looking up ahead toward a likely resting spot in the shade of two alligator junipers, when something wonderful happened. A bird flew out from the trees. A large bird. This had happened to me before on several occasions when I inadvertently rousted great horned owls from their roosts, while hiking in other desert canyons and arroyos. But this was no owl. As it got closer, probably no more than 10 feet above me, I realized, as I noticed its yellowish markings under its wings and on its neck and its tremendous size that this wasn't even one of the many hawk species common to our area. It was a golden eagle. It was pure magic watching it go by so closely. It then drifted out into the desert as I briefly hoped ,for some crazy reason ,it would return. It didn't of course, and I continued on uplifted.
|West Finley Canyon.|
I took this photo moments before the eagle flew out.
Unfortunately the phone was back in my pocket
I first walked downstream, where the terrain begins to get a little more rugged as I approached the break between the upper and lower canyons. I walked out onto a prominence and took in magnificent views of the towering gap that marks the entrance to the narrow box or slot section of the lower canyon. I then climbed down a small dry waterfall and crunched my way along the winding, gravel streambed that was bordered with many good sized oaks. At the last curve I saw thick moss growing on north facing cliffs, and wondered what it would be like to be here on the rare occasions when the waters run through and over the falls. Coming to the precipice of the high waterfall, I inched as close as I dared and looked down to where I had turned back many years ago.
|Near the saddle|
|Views of the gap|
|Franklin Mountains framed by the gap|
|At the high waterfall.|
|Looking down West Finley Canyon . Bishop's Cap at right.|