We landed in Las Vegas at around 11pm and headed straight for the Mojave Desert. We had no time or desire to hit the strip, which was, by that hour, already a zoo of vacationing revelers, sleazy locals, and escort pimps. We left the city lights behind us, favoring instead the moon and stars. We awoke before dawn as the moon was just setting behind the mountains, shining like a beacon over our ultimate destination.
We set out on foot following the trails to the Aztec Sandstone “hills,” as they are affectionately called. For a person from a state without much natural topography, thousands of feet of rock protruding from the earth is classified as a “mountain.” Semantics and diminutive titles aside, we made our way to the slabby walls and began climbing. Over the course of a few days, we managed to climb some 20 routes.
On the last day, we decided to hike to the summit of the Calico Hills. The “hike” – technically classified as a “scramble” – was mostly class 3 climbing for nearly 1000 vertical feet; we pulled ourselves on top of massive sandstone boulders, ensconced in the ravine after crumbling off the walls perhaps hundreds or thousands of years ago. We heard an occasional rock fall echo throughout the cliffs, wondering if one would soon come tumbling our way. Someone in our party dropped a metal water bottle that pinged and somersaulted into a rocky oblivion, reminding us that one false step would have dangerous consequence. The air was thin and dry; the sun unrelenting. We pressed on, stopping intermittently for rest, shade, and hydration until we reached the summit. We were happy to be at the top of Calico Hills looking down on Las Vegas, hazy from the early summer heat, instead of the reverse: looking up at the mountains from a grimy motel bed, head pounding, and wishing we were out experiencing the natural world.
*Photos #2 and #5, courtesy of Brian Chumney.