Length: 6 mile loop
Location: Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Directions: From Red Rock Canyon’s scenic loop drive entrance, follow the 13 mile one way rroad for 5.7 miles and go right. Follow this access road 1/2 mile to parking area on left. The trailhead for the loop in a counterclockwise direction is on the north side of the parking area.
This circle will take you around the perimeter of the white rock hills with excellent views of the surrounding La Madre Mountains. The possibility of seeing bighorn sheep are great.
Furthermore, its an unusually versatile trail with opportunity for side trips to several springs. The entire loop is a bit long for children but there are no dangerous drop offs if you stick to the main trail. The counterclockwise direction is the route I choose, seeing bighorn sheep in that direction seemed a great way to start in that direction.
From the trailhead, walk north. On your left you will see a small rise, for a roasting pit. Native Americans used these pits to cook the hearts of agave plants, which grow in the surrounding hills and are marked by tall flowering stalks. This trail passes a couple more pits in the Willow Springs area.
This trail is easy to follow except in a few places where the trail crosses a few washes. Ordinarily there are obvious paths across the drainages but after a heavy rain or flood you might have to scout to find the trail on the other side.
In the spring you will see wildflowers but the plant community here consist of pinyon-juniper, scrub oak, mormon tea, manzanita, mohave yucca, and prickly pear cactus. Keep an eye out for western scrub jay’s and rock wrens.
From the trailhead, it is a steady ascent of about 600 feet for the first mile up to the summit, which is the highest point of elevation along this hike. Here you may find shade under the pinyon pines and juniper. At the summit you will find a spur trail on your left, marked by a cairn. Sure-footed adults willing to do some rock scrambling can take this path up the sandstone bluff to points commanding spectacular views of the La Madre Mountain range to the north and west. A great place to take a break and enjoy a snack, soaking in the views. Bighorn sheep frequent this area, so be on the lookout for movement in the steep parts of the landscape.
Once you backtrack down and resume, the trail descends into the La Madre Valley along the west side of the White Rock Hills. After about another mile and a half you will reach a junction where the route turns left onto an old gravel road. But if you are wanting another side trip, go right instead, and follow the road less than a mile to La Madre Spring, which flows perennially. The spring feeds a shallow pond, about the size of a large, portable wading pool, which was created by a dam built in the 1960’s. Surrounded by baltic rush, bulrush, reeds, and other water-loving plants, it is beloved by area wildlife including bighorn sheep and mule deer.
After returning to the junction, follow the old road about 1/2 mile to Rocky Gap Road – main route to Pahrump in days of yore – and go left. Continue down the gravel road for about 1/2 mile to the Willow Springs Picnic Area.
A little below the parking area, look for the sign marking the point where the trail leaves the road and heads east. A little more than two miles farther along, you will see another spur trail on your left that brings you down to White Rock Spring. There is a bench where you can relax, watch wildlife and listen for birds before heading up the trail another 1/10 of a mile to the parking area where you started. Which is one of the nicest features of this hike.