“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” ~ John Muir
When I asked Mark and Bobbie for recommendations on Valley of Fire hikes, both stressed emphatically, “You’ve got to hike the wash!” Of course, this means an unofficial, unmarked, unmaintained trail, which makes me a bit uneasy as a solo hiker, not having done much exploring of unofficial trails. But the great thing about hiking a wash is that the trail has been marked by nature. Just follow the gully, and you can’t go wrong. Well, you can’t go wrong as long as there are no flash floods in the forecast, that is! It is still raining on my second day in the park, but I decide to hike it regardless of weather. (I guess “come hell or high water” would be a bad choice of cliche’s here.)
At one time, the Scenic Road from the Visitor’s Center to its end at White Domes trail head must have offered a plethora of free form hiking. What were once frequent turn-outs along the road have since been cordoned off with large boulders punctuated by “NO PARKING” signs. All traffic is now directed to designated parking areas near landmarks (Rainbow Vista, White Dome, etc.) or one of three parking lots toward the end of the road. There is no parking along the road itself…with one exception, the Wash!
There are five marked washes along the Scenic Road, each with a concrete shoulder on each side of the road. As long as one is able to park their car off to the road, parking is allowed on this concrete shoulder.
The Park Ranger tells me Nbr 5 is the most scenic, leading to a place called “Pastel Canyon.” As far as I know, it is also the only one that has an official name, “Kaolin Wash.” Though the name is not visible from the road, each wash has a small sign indicating the number, visible in front of my Tracker in the photo below.
The drizzle and rain have continued throughout the night, and my “Dark Skies” app says rain will not stop until 10:00am. But the park has a 2:00pm check out, and I want to allow time for one last hot shower before I hit the road. So I just decide to go for it, rain or no rain. I stow the Winnie for departure and lay out my shower bag and dry clothes. In case I come back soaked, all I have to do is open the door, grab the clothes, and head straight for the showers. It’s still raining steadily when I head out for the hike, but given the entire desert is perfumed from the creosote bushes, I really don’t mind. Good time to test out my rain gear I bought back at the Columbia outlet back in Portland!
Right out of the car, I am blown away. I haven’t gone but a few steps when I find myself walking through a waist-high slot canyon with beautiful shades of mauve, peach, mustard and dusty rose billowing out on both sides of me. Since the rocks are wet, they are almost psychedelic in swirling patterns and variegated hues. Anyone who has ever “spit on a rock” to get the colors to intensify knows what I mean here!
I find the connecting path that leads up to the Fire Wave. According to my trusty pedometer, it is exactly 1,000 paces into the wash. Watch to your left for this rock formation…it is the back side of the Fire Wave, offering a less traveled, more scenic alternative to the designated Fire Wave trail.
A half an hour in, I think I must have reached the Pastel Canyon, as hues become more muted. Once I pass the Fire Wave connection, I see no other footprints but my own in the sandy wash. Soon, I am walking through what I nicknamed “Conglomerate Canyon” as the rocks are all a mass of conglomerate of tiny stones of many different colors. If I had all day, I could spend longer here marveling at such huge boulders made up of tiny stones.
Conglomerate Canyon stops just as suddenly as it begins, and I find myself in the most brilliant red rock I have ever seen, made more so by the “wash being washed” by the rain. It has all but stopped now, but the rocks are still wet, making the walls almost glow a deep red. I feel like one of those microscopic cameras traveling through the arteries of Mother Earth.
Kaolin Wash makes several sharp turns before I must turn back. I can see there is no end to the beauty up ahead, but I have timed myself – two hours in, two hours out, in order to make check-out time. The hours have flown, as I feel like I have been through at least three different canyons, just by following one wash. I reluctantly turn based on time alone, otherwise I would love to have kept going to find the end of this rainbow!