I make my way down to Burro Creek in the early morning light. I know this is an ambitious day hike, I’m allowing myself as much daylight as I can get my hands on at this time of year. Yes, I was up before dawn, this had better be worth it!
Before I get to the creek, I see cattle bones in a gully. This is not a forgiving environment – the bones serve warning, I could end up the same way should I have a great mishap.
I make my way down to the water, intending to cross hopefully without having to take my shoes off. But there is more water than I expected here. No getting around it, I’m to have to get wet in the cold morning air. I sigh and remove the footwear, remembering that I did not pack a towel to dry my feet off on the other side. I could go back and get a towel; I’m only ten minutes from my rig. I decide to do my best I can drying with my sleeve and socks. But it makes crossing that much more of a pain in the ass. I’m going to try and avoid crossing again since I’m on the south side of the creek. That is where I need to be to get to Hells Half Acre.
The sun comes out, lighting up the bridge nicely with a bit of cloud. But it seems a bit unsettled; the sun is covered in clouds as I approach under the bridge. The walls of the canyon close in as I get close. At first I can walk on the sand and rocks beside the creek, but that narrows to nothing and I am forced to break my way through the bushes along the edge, tough things that would scratch me if I was bare sleeved. I am looking for any sort of a trail, but when I find a bit of one, it fades again, or goes into the creek, leaving me to part the tough scrub again.
I make it past the scrub, almost under the bridge. I can see I will pass my first barrier, but it is eerie. The bridge sighs and moans with every vehicle passing, rumbling and giving a shrill screech. It feels like a warning of danger. I do not linger under the bridge, but hop from large rock to rock, getting out from underneath the bridge quickly. You never know when something might come off a vehicle and drop down to hit me.
I spot some items just on the other side, confirming my suspicions that items do fall off from the bridge. I move on a bit further away, still hearing the eerie sounds behind me.
Looking back at the bridge I see the difficulty of what I have crossed. I don’t want to push things too far – I need to come back through this at the end of the day with enough energy to clamber over the rocks. I do not want to fall and break a leg just before I get back to camp.
I hike on, but soon look at the terrain ahead of me with dismay. The creek has carved its way right up against the steep sides I am walking on – I am forced to climb up as it is a straight drop into the water. But if I can just get past the cliffs, it looks like it gets better according to my topo map. I climb up, and edge my way around the first cliff. It’s not too bad, I continue on. I climb up higher, seeing a place to pass the second cliff. This is trickier. I have to clamber up some vertical drops of ten feet, just to get to the little ledge that looks like it goes around. The ground is loose and rocky. I’m definitely getting a bit concerned now. But I make it up, and edge my way around the second cliff. I look down, seeing I’m up a hundred feet or so, there is a straight drop into the shallow water below me with just a little ledge of loose rock I am on, the left foot solidly planted, the right foot trying to find a solid step while I hold onto the rocks above me with my hands.
Suddenly, a wave of panic hits me! I’m one step away from falling down and killing myself. A fear of heights washes over me, is my left foot truly solidly planted? Are my hands grasping firm rock? Everything is uncertain all of a sudden. My heart races, my breathing quickens. I turn away from the water leaning into the rock, trying to calm myself. Be zen. Don’t move. Think about your next move. I’m not going forward anymore, this ledge is just too crazy for me – but I still need to get back twenty feet, and down the vertical ledges.
I take a deep breath, and plant my right foot back where I thought it had been previously. It seems okay? My left foot feels like it is rooted to the ground, the only thing solid I can count on. But I must trust the right foot, and move the left over, back the way I came. I take some more deep breaths. There is only me to save myself, I can do this. I un-root my foot, and take a step back, bringing my right foot where my left foot was. Good, I have not fallen. Take a couple of more steps back, another, one more. I am off the ledge! But it still seems very dicey where I am – I keep moving back the way I came, down the vertical drops. It’s only ten feet, and could hurt or kill me almost as likely as a hundred foot drop, but the mind somehow seems to minimize this danger a bit more. I make it back down and contemplate my next steps.
According to the topo map, if I go up a couple of hundred feet, I may be able to pass from the top. But a gully is in the way. I look up, there is scree and large rocks, mixed with some vegetation. It is not that great for hiking, but better than the ledge. I decide to go up a ways and see what it looks like. Again, it’s tougher going than I expected. Tricky rocks that look solid start to roll away when I step on them. I go up a fair ways, enough so I can see over. It doesn’t look good.
Then I see something more concerning: dark clouds coming around the mountain – I can’t see where they are coming from, so I don’t know if it could rain in five minutes or never. I decide this is all too nuts, I’m just avoiding another inconvenient couple of creek crossings for all this? Time to go down and just cross the creek, or get the hell out of here if it is going to rain. I do not want to be scrambling on these rocks if they get wet!
I make my way down and find the creek. Lots of places the creek splits into many little channels, but never enough that I can just cross all of them without getting my feet wet. I find a way that gets me all the way to the other side, but for one large channel in front of me I cannot leap. There is a bit of a shrub in the water, in a shallow spot, then shrubs on the far side. I just need to build a rock platform for one step, then I can step onto the other side. Or, I could just take my shoes off here. I decide five minutes of rock throwing is worth a try to avoid that, and start tossing large cobbles into the water. Five minutes later, it is looking promising, just a few more rocks, and a carefully tossed flat stepping stone for the top and we are good to go. Worst case, the thing collapses on me and I quickly step into the water beside where the footing looks firm, if wet! Step onto the rock – it’s wobbly, but it holds. I have a procured a walking stick, I balance with it, and make the big step to the other side, hoping I can brush the shrub aside and not fall back in the water.
My plan works out! I am now on the wrong side of the creek again, but I have easy walking again, just need to cross the creek one more time! I wasted an hour and a half on this side adventure, the day is getting on. I look up at the sky, able to see a little ways down where the clouds are coming from. It looks dark, but not getting any darker. I am down in the valley now, worst case I will have to scramble over those rocks at the bridge wet. It is a risk still worth taking to go on, I decide.
I look up at the cliffs where I have been. It certainly was not passable, although you may doubt me looking at the photo. Trust me, a sane person without ropes was not going to pass that rock face, it is steeper than it looks in the photo. But that is why I tried in the first place – it doesn’t look that bad until you are upon it.
You can see from the map, I have climbed up, and was not able to get past the black marks, that is all steep cliffs I could not pass. But the trail does go on, crossing the creek again. So the story continues! You’ll find out what the brown mark and the black mark are later…
Even out here where there are no roads it seems garbage has been deposited by a previous storm event. I know that Burro Creek does have a back road crossing upstream. Somehow civilization somewhere upstream left this fridge behind. Unfortunately, all of it’s Freon has been donated to depleting the ozone layer.
Walking upstream, I see from my topo map I am getting close to where Raster Wash branches off. I angle over to the creek again and find it is very wide here with lots of cobbles and small boulders to hop between. Crossing is relatively easy here! I note the location for the trip back, now I can save two wet stream crossings and only have the last crossing near the campground to deal with, sweet!
I see many animal trails going off into the trees here – from my topo map, it looks like I can cut through here to the wash. Suddenly, I am startled by large moving objects to my left. I see burros! I quickly get out my small camera and snap off a few shots, but this fellow who turned to look back at me before trotting off after the others was the clearest shot I could get. But I have at least seen burros! So Burro Creek lived up to its name at least. In with the burros I see cows too – they seem to get along with the burros.
Coming out of the trees into Raster Wash I can now see the darker skies coming towards me. Definitely some rain in those. But it has light bits in it – it does not look like a big storm coming my way. Hells Half Acre may be warning me off with ominous clouds, but I will press on for now!
The sun does break through once in a while, revealing the rocks that are getting more interesting as I proceed up the wash.
I see cows now, with horns. I’m watching them carefully to see that they all turn tail, but they are not exactly shy. I don’t need a bull trying to convince me to leave the area with his horns. But they all turn off and leave, eventually.
I can see from my topo app that I am getting close to the wash junction that turns into Hells Half Acre. But a bit of rain has started to fall. I stop and look at the sky to the north of me where the weather is coming from. It looks no worse, bits of light sky are there too. I continue on. I see a channel branching off to the right, looks like the rougher part of the Raster Wash. I go left and continue upstream. But several minutes later, I realize I have passed what was the the turn, so cross country I go, tracking back over a little ridge to drop into the gully that goes to Hells Half Acre.
The skies are grey and the light is flat. Too bad, because the rocks are interesting, if foreboding. This one seems to be pointing the way, this way to Hells Half Acre, if you dare.
I see to my right this wall of columns – the tops look like the heads of giants, watching over me as I dare to enter their realm. One could cast a stone down at any time, smiting me and ending my adventures. The rain has tapered off to nothing, but the sky is still dark and threatening.
I continue up the gully, which turns into a small canyon. The rocks become black. The column of giants looms ahead, as if to say ‘thou shalt not pass’. It reminds me of Frodo’s journey to Mordor.
The canyon opens up a bit, but the travel is no easier. Now thorny shrubs and bigger rocks challenge me. The going is tougher, but I have faced worse today. It is very empty here – I realize I have not seen a human footprint since back at the bridge. I am alone out here among the creepy rocks.
Up ahead, I can see the entrance to Hells Half Acre. It will involve some climbing up a headwall, from what I can see so far. But the column of giants grabs my attention. I count thirteen of them, an appropriate number to guard this entrance. I wish the sun would come out – this is truly a great peak and would glow orange-red in the right light. But this is what I have, dull orange. Still, it is a magnificent sight to behold as I approach the rocks to climb up.
But the bizarre stuff is just beginning. I walk a little closer and see to my left I could climb up this landscape that almost defies description. Holes, ledges, rock piles, walls and vegetation are all strewn about, in multiple colors to boot. It is almost baffling to look at, but the beauty of it cannot be denied. Now, climbing on it would be easy, assuming everything is solid. I’m not sure I can make that assumption!
Up ahead, I see some boulders blocking the way. It seems I will have to go up, but let’s see if we could go under first. The scale is hard to judge based on the photo. Think “house sized” for even the smaller ones looking like they could just fall off any time.
I approach the base, assuming the rocks above are not going anywhere today. I hear water, and see that there is a little pool down there. That explains the cow trail going here. But it also precludes me from going under, although it didn’t look that promising from what I could see.
So, up it is, backtracking a bit to some solid bits I see. I have been following cow tracks for sometime now – they seem to know the best way, although sometimes that means I have to stoop over to ‘cow height’ to make it under the trees they pass just fine on their own.
I find a good path to follow. I am surprised to see the cows have a path up here too, going right by the big rocks that block my way. Perhaps they have water or forage up here?
I marvel at this boulder, looking almost like I could just push it off to tumble into the gully below. You wonder what came down at some point to leave these monsters sitting like this here in the first place. If you are following along on the map I posted earlier, this is the brown dot!
I find a vantage point to look down in between the boulders. It almost looks like I could have walked down there had the water not been in my way, but that would have also required some agility and bravery. It must be something to see this after a storm when water is rushing through it!
Walking into Hells Half Acre, I see strange rock forms all around me. I turn around and look back the way I have come. In the distance, I see “normal” rocks and hills. In the foreground, weird forms abound!
It feels as if Nature looked at an Escher painting and said, ‘Meh, that’s nothing, take a look at THIS!” I find a spot to sit up among the strange rocks, hoping the clouds would clear so I could get some blue sky sunny photos of these things. What I am photographing still shows the bizarre forms, but with some proper light I could get some spectacular photos. I cannot completely shake the feeling of creepy. Halloween is kitschy by comparison.
I sit down to the view below me, having climbed up to a nice sitting rock for lunch. I’m ravenous – lunch is much later than I expected thanks to my 1.5 hour cliff detour. It’s still chilly, but I sense the rain is done and the sky seems to be slowly getting lighter. Perhaps I can explore a bit after I’m done before I head back down?
Perhaps my unease is due to the rock staining that is about me. It’s like something evil decided to pour it’s essence all over here, leaving black marks running down the cliff faces. Some sun would be nice…
Instead of sun, I get the black cows of Mordor. Black just seems to be a theme color around these parts – I’m understanding the name “Hells Half Acre” now. I’ll have to watch for these guys – the valley bottom is narrow here – I could end up being blocked off by cows. But these guys move on – I shall pass them, for now!
Finishing my lunch, I decide I can allow a whole half hour to explore Hells Half Acre! Yeah, my little detour really ate into my time up here. I’ll make the best of it and hustle down to the trees, watching for cows along the way. I move up the valley and see this mountain ahead with this HUGE cave hole in it. I forget about the cows. My only thought is can I make it over there with the time I have? I boot it down a cow trail, making my best time to get over there to check this out.
But I do take time to stop and take a few pictures. Still looking for that blue sky and sun, but I have to deal with the light I have been given. The bizarre rocks to make up for it at least!
I arrive under the cave entrance – looks like the climb up is easy, and I still have time to make it there! I decide to go up the left side – all those holey rocks make me nervous I’m going to break through one of them.
The climb up is easy, other than the last bit. I can’t get over and into the cave – I have to go back down, into the thick bush and up the other side. Its a bit of a scratchy effort, but I make it into the cave! I can see this is not very solid rock. In fact, there is a chimney hole to my right, you can just see it in the above picture here. Water is percolating down into the cave, eroding the rocks above me. I can see to the left the cave is not deep. There may be smaller passages leading further in, but I am content to be here at the entrance taking in this monstrosity. I could fit my house in here, and the neighbor’s while I’m at it. This, if you are following my map, is the black dot if you have not guessed already!
I set up my little bean bag tripod with my Sony camera and get a selfie. While I have been enjoying my solitude in Hells Half Acre (despite the creepiness) I find this is the one time I would really like to have someone with me. I only have ten seconds to position myself for a selfie, so I am not very far back at all here – the slope is treacherous with loose rock and steep. If I had two minutes to scrabble back to the slope behind me where it starts getting dark, then you’d see just how big this thing is – I would be a tiny speck compared to this shot. Not to mention, the cool factor of this cave would be fun to share with someone. Or, I’d have someone who is too freaked out to have made it this far, and I’d have never seen this cool cave. I’m settling for having at least seen this – the picture will have to do.
It is time to leave, now. I have three hours until sunset, not to mention my uncertainty about the cave roof. I climb down, and head up the valley. It seems a little different that coming in, but everything around here is different. Not to mention, now that I’m leaving the sun is actually starting to come out a bit. But something is off. I check my topo app to see where I am. Holy crap, I was walking UP a side branch valley, I never even clued in I was supposed to be going down stream! I turn around and head back. Fortunately, I only lost five minutes to going the wrong way, so I still had lots of time. But I wonder how long it would have taken me to realize I was going the wrong way without my map?
Now walking DOWN the valley, I see it is definitely clearing now, now that I am leaving the area. But I can’t stick around any longer, it is a long ways back and I don’t want to be scrambling over the rocks at the bridge in the dark.
I arrive at the boulders guarding the exit to Hels Half Acre – I notice with amusement that the bigger boulder on the edge is chocked – it is definitely not rolling back, only forward and down into the gully someday.
As a head back down the gully the weather turns to the nicest I’ve seen all day. The column of giants looks friendly now, watching me recede into the distance. But you can see how much better this picture in the sun is, if only the sun had come out while I was in Hells Half Acre. I must return another day, there is more to explore as well!
The area seems cheerful now that the sun is out, but I do not have time to linger – it is a long ways still back to the rig. I reach the little canyon and take a last look back at the Column of Giants – at least I get some good photos of this mountain with some sunlight.
I plod down Raster Wash, following the many cow trails back. I’m enjoying the nice sunshine now, finally sweating a bit in warming afternoon. But I’m also watching the time, I’ve got a ways to go and less than two hours until the light will be fading. I put my topo app to good use, navigating back the way I came to Burro Creek. I manage to find the first crossing with little difficulty, and continue on the south side of Burro Creek again.
Finding my second crossing proves a bit tricky. The trees and bushes are thick here, I can’t just walk along the water edge until I see my constructed rock pile. I end up back tracking a bit, but with the use of my tracker, I eventually find the spot I crossed. One long step, and one more long step and I am on firm rocks, being able to cross the rest of the creek with ease. The sky is starting to darken now, but I see the bridge ahead, I will be there in a few minutes with enough light negotiate the rocks.
It is a good thing I am back, not just for the fading light. I miss the last good light on the bridge, only catching the last fading bits as the clouds roll in again, threatening rain. I did cut my timing close coming back for sure!
Crossing under the bridge this time is not nearly as intimidating. For some reason the screeching is gone, vehicles only rumble now as they pass over me. The bridge seems content to let me pass. The scrub on the other side is another matter. It is super thick here. I did leave a mark to indicate where to turn down to the stream, as going down too soon would mean being in the water. But the brush is so thick. I try going downstream a little first to see if there is an easier way. Finding nothing but thickening brush, I wade through the branches, stepping down the last ledge right to the water. I push past the shrubs leaning out to the water and am finally back on solid ground, among where other people have tread. The sky is slowly darkening now, with clouds and setting sun, but I am no longer worried. I take my shoes and socks off and wade across the water, enjoying the cool water on my feet after my three hour return hike.
Returning to the RV I get one last gift for the day. The little disturbance that has rolled in has made some dramatic skies, I stay outside for a bit to enjoy the sunset on my last evening camping in the desert.
That is a nice way to end my last hike, enjoying the sky and watching the rain from the little storm clouds hit the hills west of my campsite. It was a good day, Hells Half Acre was a grand hike to end my adventures in the desert.