Spring in Gold Strike canyon; the landscape is carpeted with greenery, pockets of wildflowers everywhere, seasonal waterfalls are flowing, and migratory birds and butterflies are making a rest stop. A rare gem of hidden desert ecology s and an amazing time to view them.
This is about the 30th time I have hiked this trail, and this was the first time I have seen the desert this green. We have experienced a wet winter here, resulting in a thriving desert landscape. Some believe the ecology is changing and this area will soon be a lush forest again. Will it happen? Only time will tell. But in the meantime lets take a journey into one of my favorite hikes, Gold Strike Hot Springs Trail.
The Trail starts off down into the canyon at a short barrier of standing stones. It’s pretty apparent that you are hiking in a dry river bed. If you are expecting rain during your hike, be aware of the risk of flash floods on this trail. There is a slight slope to the trail. Add the pea gravel under your feet to this and you’ll find this easy walk a bit of a challenge on the way back.
Entering into the canyon you see mountains rise in the distance, some scenes appear as if you are in the Lord of the Rings. Colorful rock faces, exposed sedimentary stone, Aztec sandstone, hidden caves, and lots of surprises to uncover. Just watch where your feet go on this trail, boulders will jump out in front of you if you are not looking.
Mountain goats have been seen here on several occasions. There was one time, while hiking this trail after dark I got a startling surprise. Hearing rocks tumble from above, I shine my headlight up and see a bighorn scaling the canyon walls. I said he was throwing rocks at us, but it was only the pea gravel that I heard tumbling down the rock walls. It’s a rather intense experience to find yourself near one of these wild wonders. On a another hike I was down by the river laying on a rock. As I rolled over I see the shadow of 3 bighorns on the ridge above looking back. I always seem to get the priceless photos opportunities when I don’t have a camera.
Flowers of purple, yellow, orange and white are to be seen while tumbling down this trail. Giving the landscape a majestic feel as the trail welcomes you down to explore it’s many hidden wonders. Showing how life can survive even in the harshest conditions, the desert plants spring forth with a stunning amount of lushness for nay who have hiked this train in dryer seasons. Fire lantern flowers glow at you along side desert lavender and budding salt cypress trees. Bird song is heard all along the trail in this season. Desert sparrows, tiny finches, mocking birds, and some of the largest ravens and crows I have encountered. I had a small cheeping companion for this hike that I haven’t seen here before. I believe it to be an American pipet as it has a bright yellow body, and startling red chest and a white crest around it’s eye.
Some of the first hot spring pools you cross are man-made pools that were made by laborers in building of the Hoover dam as a series of “baths”. There are about 10 pools, varying by season. While I have only been in 4 of the pools, each offers different temperatures and slightly different chemistry. Down by the river bed there are locations where the hot springs jet out of the canyon walls and the water is more than hot enough to scald at a touch. Most pools are warm and a few are even cool. Which is a welcoming dip on a hot day.
The Colorado River at the end of this trail carries cold water that will stun you if you are not careful. Going left once reaching the river you have to swim to sauna cave, which I have not made it to this location as of yet. Saving that one for a really hot summer day, because you have to cross the frigid cold waters of the Colorado river to reach that particular pool. So until then, sauna cave is still a mystery. One of the pools that I have jumped into, I discovered a cave behind it that you have to swim under the water to gain entry into the cave. Once in the cave the rocks seem to be alive dripping spring water seeping through the walls.
As the trail progresses down the bouldering gets a little more challenging, during some of the tumbles down, you get to capture several waterfalls, one has a small cave to where you can walk around and behind the falls. You see me there showing my guns.
There are many waterfalls, some are small cascades, some have 30 to 40 feet drops. But this is just another added reason on why I like this trail. Along one section as you near the river you come across a weeping wall. The springs press through the rock walls and drip alongside the canyon wall, showing a very different type of ecology. Vibrant colors of many shades some of the most vibrant are the greens, and oranges. Ferns growing out of the rock faces along with other plant life. No picture could really give the wall justice, you just have to go see for yourself.
Once you reach the river you may have some nice visitors like I did on this visit. There was three mallards resting along the beach, as if they was asleep. As I got within fifty feet though all three slowly went into the water and swam up within two feet of me. Very friendly birds, they expect food I assume but I am a firm believer in not feeding wild animals. They stay in the scene as I scurry alongside the river bed to get better views of the river.
National Geographic’s field guide on birds definition of the Mallard: Male is readily identified by metallic green head and neck, yellow bill, narrow white-collar, chestnut breast. Black central tail feathers curl up. Both sexes have white tail, white under wings, bright blue speculum with both sides bordered in white. Females mottled plumage resembles other Anas species; look for orange bill marked with black. Juvenile and eclipse male resemble female but bull is dull olive. Abundant and widespread.
So I only make it just a little way along the canyon walls aside the Colorado river to capture a view of the bridge construction and how much progress has been made.
The river levels are controlled by the Hoover dam, so a some times of the day while the river is low, crossing some areas are much easier. Be careful though, once while low tide I strolled upstream to discover the hot spring jetting out of the canyon walls while I notice that the water level is starting to rise. I try to hurry back the way I came but found myself in waist deep water before I could say Hoover dam.
I see a few fish in the water that appear as if it would make some nice filets. But I gave fishing up once I could buy it already prepared. While fishing is a great sport, I choose to only participate if I am hungry, or plan on eating my catch. I got my trail mix today so the fish is safe.
This hike is so rewarding in the awe-inspiring views, the challenging tumbles, the hot springs, and the brisk water give this hike such versatility, no wonder it has been my favorite trail found so far.