20 June 2015

Rabbit's Ear Mesa

McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area (BLM)

I aimed at starting the Rabbit's Ear Trail in time to finish around sunset, somehow doing the math without quite understanding how late sunset is this time of year. I am trying to get around the other thing that happens this time of year: it is very hot. The car thermometer reads 104°F at 6PM when I get to the trailhead. The trail is a lollipop, traversing a ridge to the north end of the Rabbit's Ear Mesa, then looping around the edge. A sign with a large topographic map claims it is 5.6 miles total while the loop is 4.2 miles and the stick 1.4 miles, a total of 7 miles to finish. At this temperature, that can be over a liter of water difference, so very important to planning what to bring. I have four liters and grab it all and very little else. It seems like too little as I listen to the giggles from the people playing cards in their air conditioned camper next to me.

stout juniper bush beside the trail
Juniper and sage make up most the local vegetation.

There is a trail register at the start. The trail seems to get quite a bit of use including a group of three that hiked it this morning. Juniper and sage bush are the most visible of the sparse plants around. The sage bush looks like the local stuff, but smells a little different. The trail climbs upward in a very lazy way. Most of the total 700 foot climb will be along it. Mack spreads out below with a little bit of climbing. The curve of the Colorado River can be found with a little more climbing.

The town of Mack across the interstate is seen, but not heard.

juniper with many dead branches
Another tortured juniper beside the trail.

The trail turns up a rock lined shoot. It is an unexpected turn and I cannot quite believe the cairn marking it at first and continue on. There just is nothing further to continue on, so I have to turn up the short slot instead. From here, there are a few rocks to clamber over which are again unexpected for an established trail. It is nothing particularly difficult, just a high step or two. Around a corner there is one last climb to the start of the loop.

short rock slot with trail
Follow the potential gushing stream to keep on the trail.

hill up ahead
Coming up to Rabbit's Ear Mesa.

At the junction, I choose the trail to the left to circle clockwise. This one continues to climb steeply, but does so largely in shade. Below, the Colorado River starts to resolve into a wide, twisting line of water rather than a crescent shaped lake. It looks like there is a wall along the outside edge, but then I notice the wall is moving. There is a freight train rattling down one of a set of tracks at the river's edge.

Colorado River
The twists of the Colorado River in the hills.

the approach
Looking back over the ridge that is the approach to the mesa.

Rabbit's Ear Mesa
Rabbit's Ear Mesa.

Many rabbits are out, appropriately enough. I have seen three without trying to be quite or looking for them. The mesa is really very flat, but still has a little bit of hill structure to it. It is hard to really see how flat, though, and the river canyon grabs much more attention. The train, too, as it inches along the more twisty of the pair of tracks.

edge of the mesa and the river below
The mesa is a hard rock layer with softer rocks below, so the side forms some nice, short cliffs.

many wandering holes in the ground
A maze of canyons feed into the Colorado River.

small area of flat land
Trying to take in the flat in a spot without so many juniper trees.

The high point along the mesa is not really noticeable although the map shows I go quite near it. As I work my way around, the canyons fall away again to be replaced by the wide Rabbit Valley, dotted with low hills. I am a little past the halfway point when I run out of the first half of water, so I have hope it is enough after all. It is not too hot for a flat walk and the temperature is going down.

looks like a yucca to me
The yucca here is smaller, has only a few flowers, and seems to live past that first flowing.

moving from canyons to grasslands
Transitioning from overlooking canyons to wide grassy plains.

Rabbit Valley
Looking out over Rabbit Valley.

This side of the mesa shows more erosion and there are a couple shallow washes to carry the rain away. The trail skirts around the edges of these, often with a little drop. It is here that I encounter the most showy flowers along the trail.

line of yellow flowers
A burst of yellow on long stalks.

cairn marking the trail as it comes out of a wash
The trail dips inward deeply as it comes to a wash. The cairns are rarely needed along this trail.

Around the north end, the trail seems to be dropping off the side of the mesa. There is a switchback as it tumbles down the rocky edge. Had I come this way first, I would have climbed a short, steep section in full sun, even if at a low angle, instead of shade. It is still warm here for the downhill.

the rabbit's ear
Coming back around to the rabbit's ear to make my way back along.

northerly mountains
Mountains to the northeast.

Making my way back, I am treated to a sunset over a nearby mesa and plenty of light to finish by. It is quite a pleasant time to finish, but I am a bit hungry. The complete lollipop came in at 6.2 miles and there is plenty of food in the car.

sun setting
The last of the direct sunlight.

©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 2 Aug 2015

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