Back to the Wash to Wash My Spirit Clean

“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!IMG_3177 IMG_3176

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.IMG_3179 IMG_3180 IMG_3182

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.

Parking on the shoulder at Wash Nbr 5.

Parking on the shoulder at Wash Nbr 5.

IMG_3170The 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! IMG_3134 IMG_3146 IMG_3163

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!IMG_3113 IMG_3114 IMG_3117

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.

This formation 1,000 steps into the wash on the left is the back side of the Fire Wave dome.

This formation 1,000 steps into the wash on the left is the back side of the Fire Wave dome.

IMG_3118 IMG_3144A 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.

I called this "Conglomerate Canyon," because all the rocks and boulders are conglomerates.

I called this “Conglomerate Canyon,” because all the rocks and boulders are conglomerates.

IMG_3151 IMG_3148Conglomerate 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.IMG_3160 IMG_3155 IMG_3157

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!IMG_3175

14 thoughts on “Back to the Wash to Wash My Spirit Clean

  1. Comment This is the best wash! We were blown away by the rainbow of colors. I love any time we come across what I call bubblegum colors. The wet rock color is just gorgeous, so worth the wet hike:) That last photo is a real keeper, just beautiful color! We love Valley of Fire and now I am wanting to return even though we were just there six weeks ago. I think I am having a strong need to get back to the colored rocks.

  2. Yummy post. Rain really does bring out the color in rocks, so glad you braved the weather. Snowing and colorless in Lovely Ouray… Bobbie’s on a watercolor painting binge and I’m helping Averill @ the Guide Garage with some projects. Enjoy your balmy weather… what’s your ETA back to the View???
    Box Canyon Mark

  3. Dang! We were told to hike wash #5 when we were there but did not get around to it. I did not really regret it until I saw your photos! Absolutely beautiful, now we have to go back…….

  4. Spectacular journey!! The rain really enhanced the striations and the colors of the rocks. I’ve never seen rocks look so soft and alluring to keep pulling the eye ahead for the next amazing configuration. Gave me goose bumps. Your artist’s eye captured a spiritual feeling and I felt I was looking over your shoulder!! Thanks for taking this solo journey for us.

  5. When you said you were doing this hike solo, my first thought was I am directionally challenged and not sure I would want to tackle it alone. After seeing your stunning images, I have to change my mind. WOW! I can’t wait to experience some of these hikes myself. Thanks for your wonderful posts this past year. Have a healthy, happy new year, full of great adventures. 🙂

  6. What a beautiful walk up the wash. I loved the pictures, several caused me to click on so that I could magnify them and study them for minutes rather than seconds. Your comment about the rain bringing the colors out even more was right on.
    Thanks again for all.

  7. Pam — You and me both! I am having a hard time adapting to the monochrome of winter after a fall of “living technicolor!”

    Bobbie and Barbara — Thanks so much to you both for your nice compliments! I am glad you enjoyed the photos.

    BC Mark — Good question…just in the “one day at a time” mode still. I sure do miss it though!!

    Lisa — Yes, you and Hans have to go further in, and send back recon photos!

    Jim and Barb — Sorry you missed it, but the good news is, it will be there when you go back, and if it is a rainy day, all the better!

    Reta — Thanks, my friend, and Happy New Year to you and Pat as well!

    Charlotte — Thank you for such a very kind compliment! Your words gave me goosebumps back. 😉

    Nina — I would not have been there had it not been for you, so I am honored to put something on your list for a change!

    LuAnn — Thanks! This one was an easy solo hike. The hard part was turning around! I have really enjoyed your posts as well, and wish all the best to you in 2015!

    Allen — I appreciate the compliment. I have never been much of a “rock hound,” but I agree, these all warranted closer inspection!

  8. I went there once and fell in love with the park immediately. I want to go back again. It was beautiful. I am planning to go again on Thanksgiving. Can someone give me some direction from Fire wave to Pastel Canyon?

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