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When the heat, and constant air conditioning of summer and early fall gets to be too much for those of us living in Las Vegas the quickest and easiest way to get a break is head to Mt Charleston for a hike. But with over 50 miles of designated trails to choose from where does the newcomer go first. Well, you could start at the visitors’ center on Kyle Canyon Road. There you can get trail guides as well as current trail conditions from the volunteers that man the desk. Or you could just head on up to the Cathedral Rock picnic area at the top of Kyle Canyon Road and take my favorite hike, the Cathedral Rock Trail.
This is a relatively short trail. It’s approximately a mile to the top with almost a 1000 ft of elevation gain. And it’s rated as moderately difficult. The trail begins by winding up through a dense pine forest. After a quarter mile the trail starts to open up, and the skyline becomes more visible. This is where the tall pine trees give way to the shorter Aspen trees.
The Aspen are one of my favorite attractions here on Cathedral Rock trail. These are called quaking aspen. They get the name because when a breeze passes through the trees the leaves seem to shimmer in the sunlight. This is due to their unique leaf construction. The stems are flat, not round, and they are situated at right angles to the leaves. This design causes the leaf to flicker easily. Add to that the difference in color on each side of the leaf and you get a visual cacophony as the leaves dance on the wind. The sight is so lyric I've often wondered what it might sound like it small bells were attached to the leaves.
If you hike this trail in spring and early summer you'll find two waterfalls. The first is a three-tiered 80-ft. waterfall that marks the midway point of the trail. Neither of these waterfalls will last through the summer so it’s best to hike the trail early in the season if you’re coming to see them.
This waterfall, at the midway point, is where a lot of casual hikers turn back. Most of the trash I collect on this trail I find between here and the picnic area below. I'm concerned with the trash because for years now I've hiked this trail at least once a week to pick up the trash. It's part of the US Forest Service adopt a trial program that I joined several years ago.
Don Eastis, US Forest Service…With all the trails and the limited budget that we have in the Forest Service we don’t have enough people to cover all of this and maintain it constantly. From week to week you get things like logs and rocks that roll down on the trails, you get other hikers that don’t appreciate the area and the trash it. Leave their litter. So we need folks to just walk it over, walk a trail throughout the summer. Usually once a month, and do things like pick up trash, they can kick rocks off, and move small limbs and logs off the area. And that’s the kind of support we need that we just can’t afford to pay for.
Don Eastis should know. He’s been the resident ranger on Mt Charleston for 15 years now, and I’m happy to be able to help him out.
A short way up the trail from the waterfall you'll pass through a large avalanche chute. This is my favorite spot on the trail. The view here is somewhat truncated by Cathedral Rock, but from here all you see is forest and summit. Green and blue. If I don't go another step farther I'm satisfied. Sitting here I feel the pressure and stress from the valley below just melt away. But of course I do go farther.
After you leave the chute, you’ll travel over 100 yards of flat trail. From here the view starts to open up even more. As you reach the end of this portion of the trail you'll be standing above the second waterfall. And here is a stand of ponderosa pines that during the heat of mid day will permeate the air with the smell of butterscotch.
Yeah, yeah, I know there are some people out there that are under the misimpression that the aroma is vanilla, but if you doubt me just bring up a bottle of vanilla and some butterscotch candies. I rest my case.
After your butterscotch aromatherapy, you have one more push before the end of the trail. Less than two hundred yards of switchbacks.
And the then there you are looking down the length of Kyle Canyon high above the lodge below. With Mt. Charleston looming above you to the left and the open desert in the distance below you. It’s hard not to be awed by this quintessential Nevada Vista. This view makes all worthwhile.