Pine Creek to Terrace Canyon

Terrace Canyon has a reputation as being beautiful, difficult to find, and challenging. I had even heard that it was the prettiest spot in Red Rock! With too late of a start to descend the technical canyon we’d originally planned on, the idea of a ‘normal hike’ was broached; something I hadn’t done in awhile. Terrace Canyon had been on my to-do list for over a year and I was finally going to get to see it! I just knew it was going to be my favorite place in the world!

We would start by following the Pine Creek trail, a classic Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area hike through one of Red Rock’s huge sandstone canyons. The Pine Creek trail, however, quickly dwindles off into a boulder-filled wash where the hiking distance turns into an ominous “as far as you want to go.” And so we begin.

Here I am, important trail notes clutched firmly in my hand, as we start up the Pine Creek trail.

 A mile long trail leads from the parking area to the creek, passing by the remains of the Wilson Homestead. All I know about this is that somebody named Wilson had a tiny house and the most spectacular backyard.

The Ponderosa pines that grow along the creek are remnants of an Ice Age forest; this type of tree rarely grows below 6000 feet but this population (which is at less than 6000 feet) has been able to survive because of the shade, cool wind, & water provided by the canyon and the unwavering encouragement of all the hikers.

The maintained trail ended and we dropped into the creek, scrambling our way further and further away from other hikers.

Usually dry this time of year, last week’s rain gave us a babbling brook and crystal clear pools to hike along. They begged me to swim in them but I was like “No, please, it’s too cold!”

There was some amazing geology along the way, such as:

an 'oh shit' bar (like from in a car, get it?)

a rock made out of sherbert

a place to put spare pebbles

Relatively few people go this far back, which I figure is because once you’ve seen a half mile of Pine Creek, you’ve seen it all. It’s gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, but the boulder-hopping gets pretty monotonous and the creek isn’t any different further back. Here’s me dwarfed by the boulderiffic-ness; notice the shoulders slumped in resignation.

After like two hours my dogs were barking, my knees were barking and I was losing steam. And we weren’t even sure we were going the right way. The canyon had wound itself around until we didn’t know north from south or up from down. We’d forgotten a compass and the GPS was working only sporadically with an accuracy of 150 ft. Eventually, we put the GPS away and followed the cairned path, hoping it would take us where we wanted to go.

I’d only brought the GPS along to try and break my habit of getting lost, btw. I’d had to abandon my snobby, prideful “I don’t rely on GPS” stance in order to enter all of the waypoints, but I hoped it would speed up the hike. My plan backfired. Branch Whitney (the ‘creator’ of the hike) wrote directions that needlessly challenged our route-finding skills with numerous waypoints, landmarks & difficult-sounding directions when simply saying “follow the main canyon until this point” would have eliminated all but 1 of the waypoints and saved me from the compulsive GPS checks.

We had trudged deep into the Red Rock cliffs and I was pretty sure that we were going to pop out in Pahrump at any second. I figured we were on the right track because I was secretly still checking the GPS even though Adam told me to stop, but I was afraid to get my hopes up at this point.

And then we were there! I knew we were there when we got to a canyon that was terraced. I had assumed that we would hike into Terrace Canyon for awhile & enjoy it’s mystical scenery. Turns out, it’s more of a destination than it’s own hike, but after 3 hours of scrambling we were kind of glad about that. Even so, we climbed up a little ways just because that’s what we do.

It sounded like a zen waterfall

Standing on the edge of Terrace Canyon; I wanted to look like Titanic but while I was waiting for Adam to take the picture I relaxed a little bit so instead it looks like I just completed a round-off back handspring.

We hadn’t seen another soul since leaving the maintained trail hours ago. Surrounded by sandstone walls towering hundreds of feet high and pine trees dating back to forever ago gave us that yearned for feeling of being completely alone in the wilderness. The only sounds we’d been hearing were the chuckles of the sage grouse, the stream pouring over rocks and my own cursing when I stumbled or got stabbed by a scrub oak. We felt so isolated from the outside Vegas that when something glittered in the sky above Terrace Canyon, Adam didn’t know what it was.

“Kristi, look! Is that a balloon?” He knows about my preocupation with collecting mylar balloons found in absurbly remote areas and he aids & abets. However, it was not a balloon, it was an airplane. We felt so far removed from real life that an airplane was confusing.

We made much better time on the way back, as is always the case. We ran into only two people while back there; one guy who was just going until he felt like stopping, which was when we informed him it would be at least another 45 minutes to Terrace and who-knows-how-long to the end of Pine Creek, and another guy who’d been to the end before but “always forgets how far it is!”

We saw 5 or 6 bighorn sheep chillin’ in a little valley. I spotted the first one because of its giant white butt. Idk, just seems like a flashy derrier is the wrong way to go when trying to avoid being eaten.

There are at least 3 sheep in this picture, butts turned away to show us their pretty faces instead. 5 points to whoever finds all 3.

The boulder scrambling was a lot more fun in reverse and we got some good downclimbing practice in, but I was zonked. I tried to convince Adam to let me take a nap at this oasis, but he urged me on with promises of beer and veggie burgers.

So, is it worth it? That’s always a hard question to answer. I think my response is that if you are in good shape & have plenty of energy, have happy knees and ankles and are a quick hiker (2 trail miles & 3 boulder miles in 3-4 hours), then it is worth it. If you are a ‘take-your-time’ kind of hiker (like me) or a ‘my knees and ankles hate me’ kind of hiker (like Adam), then the pretty sights at the end of the canyon are probably not worth the 5-6 hours of single-leg lunges and mantling sequences. Just enjoy Adam’s beautiful photography instead.

Hiking Las Vegas: Branch Whitney’s website & book are the only places to find Terrace Canyon route info.

More of our pictures from Pine Creek & Terrace Canyon


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