Video lets hikers trade solitude for tour guide

There’s something ironic about making hikers take their smartphones up the wooded trail to Cathedral Rock.

But that’s exactly what the U.S. Forest Service is doing.

"I really think about it sometimes," the agency’s Bob Loudon said. "Our whole goal is to disconnect people from their video games, music — things that take them away from the place. But this connects them to the place."

The agency is offering a new way of learning about the environment enveloping the hiker — an on-demand tour guide.

A 15-minute video has been assembled using computer animation to show the geologic processes that transformed the Spring Mountains from a vast ocean to the desert oasis of today. It’s downloadable at html and is broken into nine segments played as hikers reach checkpoints marked by numbers along the trail.

It’s meant to attract the younger generation. But does it enhance the experience or defeat the point by just adding to the distraction?

To find out, this Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter downloaded the video, headed 40 miles northwest and 5,000 feet up through Kyle Canyon to the trail head.

Good thing I so happened to have shorts and sneakers in my Jeep’s backseat. Otherwise, I would be sweating and slipping 1.5 miles up the rocky slope in loafers and slacks.

In mere minutes, I ran into the video tour’s target demographic, a 15-year-old girl wearing earplugs, pop music spilling out for me to hear a couple feet away.

She, her two younger sisters and father, Louie Santizo of Las Vegas, have been here before but never to the top. Their mother couldn’t make it. But they were determined to reach Cathedral’s summit today, unaware of the hike’s new video tour guide.

Nevertheless, Santizo said he could see the appeal. From there on out, his daughters were occupied trying to find the numbers correlating to the video clips.

But they couldn’t find any until reaching No. 5, a square sign the size of a pack of cigarettes with the number on it. We only noticed that one because it was attached to the bottom of an uprooted stump in the middle of the trail.

Where were one through four?

No. 6 gave the answer. The small signs are attached to trees banking the trail, their brown backgrounds camouflaged into the brown bark, making it an often losing game of "Where’s Waldo."

We were so preoccupied looking for numbers, we missed much else.

Hiker Robert Stein chuckled at that. He doesn’t want any earphones in his ears, educational or not.

"I don’t listen to music or anything. I just listen," said Stein, 55, who has summited the peak 30 times.

He returns for the whisper of wind tickling the leaves of aspen trees, their thin limbs hugging the trail tight on both banks. He lets the hum of water wash over him as it does the rocks in the distance.

He’s a hiking purist.

"I can only handle five days at a time in Vegas," he said. "I need some clean air and privacy."

But if the video tour can persuade children to leave their computers, it will have been worth it, he said.

If Bob Cloutier had known about it, he wouldn’t have had to work so hard persuading his 12-year-old son to come along, he said.

"I had to drag him out here away from his computer game, Worldcraft, War of the world …" he said, still unable to nail down the name.

"World of Warcraft," I said.

"That’s it."

Two of his other sons came, but the two oldest refused, not seeing the reward in walking.

Fifteen-year-old Marisa Santizo, who was listening to pop music, realized the reward by the time she reached the top. Pine-covered peaks rose into the deep blue sky almost all the way around.

Marisa’s hands were empty. No iPod. And her ears were wide open. No earphones.

Nature didn’t need any help this time.

"It was worth it," said her youngest sister, 8-year-old Samantha.

Stein, who arrived much earlier, sat above them on a rock, smiling. Summit No. 31 for him.

"I wasn’t supposed to live," said the two-time cancer survivor, while looking far down Kyle Canyon, marveling at a view he has seen many times. "Never gets old."

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at or 702-383-0279.

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