Firehouse Hill And Turtlehead Mountain
On 25 December 2019, Zosia Zgolak and I made plans for a leisurely ascent of Turtlehead Peak in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (NCA) just west of Las Vegas, Nevada.  Since a well-marked official trail runs all the way to the summit, we figured that this would be a relatively easy outing and that we would even be comfortably back in the city in time for an early dinner engagement.  What we did not anticipate though were the revised hours for Christmas Day--the NCA was only open from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM!  We did not learn of this until we drove up to the closed gate at the entrance to the NCA's one-way Scenic Drive early that morning.

At a loss for what to do, we puttered around for a bit at the nearby Red Rock Overlook parking lot before I found an interesting objective--Firehouse Hill--in my phone's map application.  Firehouse Hill is an unofficially-named little bump located in the shadow of the northeast cliffs of Blue Diamond Hill.  The name probably derives from the nearby Red Rock Fire Station.  Since it looked like a short outing, Zosia and I decided to pay a visit with hopes of getting back early enough to then enter Red Rock Canyon NCA and climb Turtlehead Mountain.

Turn south onto Moenkopi Road (access road for Red Rock Canyon Campground) from Highway 159 (Charleston Boulevard) about 4 kilometres west of the junction with Desert Foothills Drive or 3.9 kilometres east of the entry point for Red Rock Canyon NCA's Scenic Drive.  Numerous trails start from various points along Moenkopi Road, but the most direct one to Firehouse Hill begins near a small pullout about 1.4 kilometres south of Highway 159.  When parking, be sure not to block the gate for the nearby restricted access dirt road.

From the pullout, Zosia and I crossed the road and briefly followed a beaten path along a fence before passing through a gate to the start of an obvious double-track.  This double-track appears to head toward the fire station at first, but it then veers off toward the hill and eventually narrows to a hiking trail which rises efficiently all the way to the top.  As easy as the ascent was, I really enjoyed the quiet solitude on Firehouse Hill despite its close proximity to the campground and busy highway.  After a brief stop on top of the hill, we easily retraced our steps back along the trail and double-track.
That looks painful! Zosia tangles with a Joshua tree.
Big hill, little's all good! Zosia follows a road toward Firehouse Hill which is barely discernible in front of the eastern cliffs of Blue Diamond Hill.
Tread lightly! Sonny tests the sole of his shoe on some barrel cactus.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

This is turning out to be too easy! The road eventually turns into a good trail near the base of the hill.
I think I got the point! This time, Sonny tests his head against the spiny leaves of a yucca plant.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Merry Christmas! Zosia and Sonny stand on top of Firehouse Hill (1191 metres).

We'll be up on Turtlehead Mountain in a few hours...

Calico Hills and Turtlehead Mountain are readily visible to the northwest.


And did you notice the barrel garbage can in the foreground?

The hotels of the Las Vegas Strip stand out to the east.  Also visible at far left is Frenchman Mountain.


A very nice short walk without any crowds! Total Distance:  3.5 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  1 hour 25 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  160 metres

GPX Data

Upon returning to our car, Zosia and I still had lots of time before the opening of the Scenic Drive gate, and we drove to Calico Basin Parking Lot to eat lunch.  The parking lot was teeming with people when we arrived, but we had no problems finding a parking spot.  In retrospect, I should have maybe clued in to the fact that, given the hordes of people here, there might be a major rush to get through the Scenic Drive gate when it opened.  Sure enough, when we left Calico Basin Parking Lot at around noon, there was already a line-up of cars just trying to turn onto Highway 159, and the traffic jam just got worse as we approached the Scenic Drive turnoff.  The lengthy wait to get onto Scenic Drive reminded me of a similar gridlock we experienced a couple of years ago trying to drive into San Francisco from Oakland via the Bay Bridge during morning rush hour.  Fortunately, the wait this time was not nearly as long, and we eventually made it to the Sandstone Quarry trailhead (4.6 kilometres north of the turnoff from Highway 159) just before 1:00 PM.

Not surprisingly, the trailhead parking lot was almost full when we arrived as this is also the same place where hordes of tourists gather to explore the very popular Calico Hills.  I was fortunate to find a parking spot, but as soon as we were parked, Zosia and I wasted little time in marching up the signed trail to Turtlehead Mountain.  Due to the delay in starting our ascent, we maintained a brisk and steady pace which made this trip feel more like an athletic workout than a scenic hike.

The trail is generally straightforward to follow except in the drainage west of the summit block.  Here, the trail braids a few times which can cause confusion, but it is hard to go wrong with most route choices since the terrain is so open and easy to navigate.  At the top of the drainage, the trail levels out a bit at a saddle before zigzagging up the final slope to the summit.  Zosia and I were a little surprised to encounter a fair bit of snow and ice on this slope, and we had to be extra vigilant with our footing to avoid any slips.  Because of foreshortening, this last slope is also longer than it appears.  Nevertheless, our pace seldom flagged, and we finally stepped foot on the summit about 90 minutes after leaving the trailhead.

Although it would have been nice to linger on the summit, Zosia and I stopped for only ten minutes before turning around and heading back down the way we came.  Other than taking a slightly different descent route in the aforementioned drainage, we pretty much retraced our steps all the way back to the trailhead without any problems.
No time to dawdle! Zosia begins hiking the trail to Turtlehead Mountain which is visible in the background.
No time to play on the rocks! Although the rocks of Calico Hills look tempting to explore, Zosia sticks to the trail and remains focused on Turtlehead Mountain in the background.
I'm sweating already, and we haven't even started climbing yet! The trail eventually runs up the drainage to the left of Turtlehead Mountain.
From this view, you would never guess that there is snow and ice on the mountain! Turtlehead Mountain looks more inviting in the afternoon sunshine.
If in doubt, just go up! The trail braids a bit going up the drainage and can be a bit confusing to follow, but painted markers help point the way.
Still some climbing left...on snow and ice! Zosia reaches a high saddle to the north of Turtlehead Mountain's summit.
It took us about 90 minutes to climb up here! Sonny and Zosia stand on the summit of Turtlehead Mountain (1922 metres).

I would like to come back someday and hike up both when there is less snow!

El Padre Mountain (right of centre) and La Madre Mountain (far right) dominate the view to the northwest.


Better views than I was expecting for this day!

Colourful Calico Hills draw most of the attention to the south.  Blue Diamond Hill is the big land feature in the distance, and visible at the edge of its shadow to the left is Firehouse Hill.


Look at how full the trailhead parking lot is! Part of the Scenic Loop Drive can be seen in this view to the southwest.  Also visible are Mount Wilson (left), Rainbow Mountain (left of centre) and Bridge Mountain (right of centre).
I think we'll make it out of the park before they close! Zosia enjoys the last rays of sunshine for the day as she walks back to the trailhead.
We beat Bob Spirko's time by 2 minutes! Woohoo! Total Distance:  7.1 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  2 hours 43 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  603 metres

GPX Data

Finishing our hike early, we drove out of Red Rock Canyon NCA and had plenty of time to return to our hotel in Las Vegas for a shower before meeting our local friend, Shin Goto, for dinner.  We rendezvoused with Shin at a Japanese restaurant called Izakaya Go, and he regaled us with thoughtful presents, excellent food, and entertaining stories from his past.  It was a perfect way to cap off a most enjoyable Christmas Day.  Arigatō, Shin!
As Zosia would say, "Best Christmas Ever!" At the Japanese restaurant, Sonny, Shin and Zosia pose with a giant Christmas stocking.