Hayford Peak, Mount Stirling
By: Wynne Benti
Half past midnight, Las Vegas and our friends' house were welcome sights, as we cruised down Sahara Avenue, following an after-work long haul on I-15, Thursday night, Early Friday morning, after a shower and breakfast, we drove to the Desert National Wildlife Range, location of Hayford. On a historical note, the Desert National Wildlife Range was established in 1936 as a habitat for bighorn sheep. It encompasses over 1.5 million acres and six major mountain ranges, making it the largest National Wildlife Refuge in the lower 48. There is an interesting road tour called "The Mormon Well Road Truck Tour Route" which takes the adventurous visitor on a loop trip north from Corn Creek Field Station through the refuge, to Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, back down past the Mormon Well Corral, through Peek-a-boo Canyon and the Agave Roasting Pits, used by the ancient Virgin Branch Anasazi, Southern Paiute and Shoshone. We stopped at the Corn Creek Field Station where only a few people had signed the park register. With a forecast of 107 degrees in Las Vegas for the day, we determined that few would be following our trail up Deadman Canyon to the Hidden Forest. We drove the long, dusty road to the Hidden Forest turn-off, passing two rangers in a U.S. Fish & Wildlife truck, towing their horses and trailer behind. After reading Igor & Suzanne's write-up of this trip, we expected to be besieged by hordes of equestrian types, but luckily we would be spared their experience! We reached the mouth of The Deadmman Canyon at 5810' - the sole visitors to this somewhat bleak and shadeless place overlooking the vast desert expanse. It was difficult to imagine any kind of forest hidden within the hot limestone ridges and canyons of this range.
Around l0 am, with our backpacks full of water and various food items, we began the trek up the canyon, from arid desert and Joshua trees, through pinyons and junipers to ponderosa, spruce, white firs and aspens. The hike up the canyon was made tolerable by a breeze that would periodically blow down the canyon. We reached Wiregrass Spring and the old cabin site at about 1:30. We set up camp in the vicinity of the spring where we spent hours watching an assortment of birds bathe in the spring - western tanager, pygmy nuthatch, morning dove, robin, to name a few. In the cool of the afternoon, we listened to the constant buzzing of flies, chirping of birds and the wind rustling the tops of the pine trees. A big, bright full moon crept above the forested ridges, illuminating the night sky. Around midnight, we awoke to the sound of flapping wings above our heads. Many winged creatures were dive-bombing for insects around the spring. The mysterious creatures were night hawks, who busily went about their business until dawn. Saturday morning, we were greeted by the chirpings of hummingbirds - dozens of broad-tailed hummingbirds at the spring. They appeared to be attracted to the red sweater I was wearing as they would brazenly fly within arm's length. We stashed our packs, and started up the wash to Hayford, approximately 2,000' gain, at 6:15am. As we gained elevation we noticed the addition of bristlecone pines and an abundance of wildflowers to the flora of Hidden Forest. We reached the summit at 8:45, where we spent an hour taking in the view and reading the old summit register which was neatly hidden under a small, tan shed. The register dated back to 1963.
We returned to the old cabin, packed up and began the hot, rocky walk out to the car, which we reached at 1:20 pm. There was barely a breeze on the return trip as the sun beat down upon us.
The car, with a cooler full of cold drinks, was a glorious sight. We pulled out the lawn chairs, some chips and sodas and relaxed for awhile before driving back out to the highway, and on to Sterling.
Following the driving instructions in the DPS Guide, we navigated the dirt roads across beautiful, open desert terrain through the Toiyabe Forest to the north end of the Spring Mountains. With .4 miles to go before reaching the "brushy roadhead" as described in the guide, we discovered that the road had suffered a serious washout, which made it all but impassable. We set up camp at this spot. It was here that a young, black-tailed jackrabbit befriended Andy. We apparently were camped in the little guy's nightly feeding spot, but after he checked us out, he seemed content to work around us.
At 8:15 am the next morning, our friends Walt & Beuie Hines, Anne Dellavecchio drove up from Las Vegas and met us at the roadhead for the hike up Stirling. This hike was relatively brushy, windless and much warmer (approximately 90 degrees and getting warmer) than the previous two days in the Sheep Range. Scrambling through the brush, I found the skeleton and complete skull of a young desert bighorn. Our group reached the summit around 11 am, following many rest, water and pinyon nut-eating stops along the way. We studied the many petroglyphs along the summit ridge. The Las Vegas locals pointed out the locations of the infamous Chicken Ranch, the Cherry Patch and Mabel's, which were visible from the summit! This was also Bettie's sixth peak on the Desert Peak List. The hike down Stirling was brushy and sweltering. We were relieved to get to the vehicles and the coolers contained within! We said our good-byes, and our friends drove back to Vegas. We drove back to Los Angeles, passing through Baker which was steaming at 113 degrees! When we reached home, L.A. was enshrouded in a coastal fog/smog combo in contrast to the desert from which we came. It was a great trip and we look forward to more peak-bagging adventures, this year, in the scintillating Silver State!
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