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Fossil Falls

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The most prominent landmark in the vicinity of the turnoff is Red Hill. This is a small (well, "small" until you get close to it or try to climb it) dormant volcano chacterized by the almost bright red color of its lava. From the south at appears to be a perfectly symmetrical cinder cone, but if you proceed beyond the Cinder Road cutoff on Highway 395 you'll see that a past eruption blew out most of Red Hill's northwest side (like Mt. St. Helens) and it's actually shaped more like a horse shoe. Be careful poking around Red Hill; some (or all) of it is private property, and if you haven't read our section about private property on the Desert Driving Tips page, now would be a good time (assuming you're not sitting in front of Red Hill right now, of course). The map gives Red Hill's elevation as 3952 feet above sea level, but we don't know its height above the local terrain. Two or three hundred feet maybe. You will get to the parking area easily; just follow the signs. Before reaching the parking area you'll see a campground with 11 sites, complete with water hand pump and even a restroom. The camping cost is $6.00 per night, not a bad deal as government camps go these days. The parking area lies slightly beyond the campground. From the parking area it is a short walk of ".21 Miles" to the falls, according to the sign, but it's really only a few hundred yards. Unfortunately, even though you're walking on a trail, you're also walking on a lava flow. Very rough ground. You'll need some very sturdy walking or hiking shoes with a thick sole and good ankle support. The short walk brings you to the crest of the falls, and as you reach it quite abruptly, please be very careful. The bright sunlight on the dark basalt creates a great deal of contrast making depth perception difficult; the basalt has been smoothed by thousands of years of water flow, so traction is a problem as well. You can slip very easily. See the photograph; it's difficult to tell where the crest is, and the glare off the rocks shows how slippery this otherwise jagged lava rock has become. As dangerous as this slippery rock is for the layperson or day hiker, it is a paradise for the serious rock climber. Spring and fall days will find a multitude of rock climbers climbing up and rappelling down Fossil Falls' vertical slopes. Though rock climbing isn't for us, the climbers seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, so I'd say if you're a serious climber you ought to check out Fossil Falls. Us, that's just a little too much altitude to trust our frail bodies to a rope and a few carabiners, but we know there are people who thrive on that sort of thing, so I can assure those of you who thrive on rock-climbing adrenaline, Fossil Falls is the place for you.

 

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