Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Hoodoos of McCann Canyon

Not too many people have ever seen the unusual and beautiful white stone formations tucked in McCann Canyon in the Monitor Range of Central Nevada.

In fact, when I joined a group visiting the site a few years ago, there wasn't evidence of any recent tire tracks leading to the canyon’s snowy-white rock spires and hoodoos.

McCann Canyon is located about 20 miles southeast of the ghost town of Belmont, on the eastern side of the Monitor Valley. Since there aren’t any road signs indicating how to reach the canyon, consult a good road atlas such as the Nevada Road & Recreation Atlas by Benchmark Maps. The trip to the canyon was definitely four-wheel drive country. After crossing the Monitor Valley from Belmont, we veered onto a fairly well maintained dirt road that led southeast into the Monitor Range.

After passing a handful of remote but picturesque ranches, the road narrowed and began to climb into the mountains. We drove for about a dozen miles through forests of scruffy piƱon and juniper trees before finally spotting the chalky white hills of McCann Canyon.

A more rugged dirt track branched from the main road and toward the small side canyon containing the formations. Here, the trees reluctantly parted to allow our vehicle to pass—and in some places they seemed to reach for us as we slowly drove by.

We continued driving for about a mile or so before deciding the hike the rest of the way. Our destination was the back wall of the canyon, which appeared to contain a large white cluster of jagged outcroppings and cone-shaped rock pillars.

As we grew closer, we could see that the formations were visually spectacular. To the sides, were coffee-colored cliffs, some with small caves that looked as if they had been created by a giant ice cream scoop. Ahead, we passed pointed mounds of rough, chalky stone that resembled large anthills.

Nearing the back of the canyon, we climbed a steep hill of loose, sediment—it was like walking up a huge sand dune—that provided a good overview of the canyon’s alabaster formations.

From here, the hoodoos were incredible. Some looked like massive shark teeth while others had rounded tops. While I’m no geologist, it appeared that the stone sculptures had been created by erosion, as wind and water wore away softer rock and left behind these magnificent shapes.

We climbed down into the forest of rock towers. Up close, they seemed to be made of different kinds of rocks. They were rough to the touch, feeling like badly mixed concrete.

Some were topped with knobs or flat blocks while others were pointed and sharp. If you looked long enough, you could begin to imagine there were faces in the stone or animal shapes. Some were etched with horizontal lines—perhaps indicating a water line or a different layer of stone—while others had lines that seemed diagonal, as if the area had been twisted like a wet dishrag by some kind of powerful geological force.

As we wandered the site, we were struck by the simple fact that it appeared no one had been there in a long, long time. There were no rusted cans, broken glass bottles, plastic wrappers or discarded gun shells—items too often found in remote, beautiful places in Nevada.

It was just the ghostly white spires, near-total silence and us. Occasionally, a squawking bird interrupted the quiet.

Carefully, almost reverentially, we explored the site, recording our discovery with cameras and our memories. We knew we were somewhere special in a remote corner of Nevada and that we would probably never be back.

And we wanted the next person or persons who stumbled upon this site to be able to have a similar experience.

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