Red Rock Canyon was designated as Nevada's first National Conservation Area. It is located 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip on Charleston Boulevard/State Route 159. The area is 195,819 acres and is visited by more than one million people each year. In marked contrast to a town geared to entertainment and gaming, Red Rock Canyon offers enticements of a different nature including a 13-mile scenic drive, more than 30 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, road biking, picnic areas, nature observing and a visitor center with exhibit rooms and a book store. In 1967, the Bureau of Land Management designated 10,000 acres as the Red Rock Recreation Lands. By 1990, special legislation changed the status of the Red Rock Recreation Lands to a National Conservation Area, which also provides funds used to maintain and protect it.
180 million years ago, here stood a vast field of towering red sand dunes that stretched across the Southwest. This immense dune field was one of the largest that ever existed on earth. The region was very arid and looked similar to the dunes of the modern-day Sahara Desert in Africa. Over time underground water moving through the dunes carried away much of the red color and left calcium carbonate. This process cemented the sand into rock. This rock forms the colorful cliffs and hills of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
The first humans were attracted to the Red Rock area due to its resources of water, plant and animal life that could not be easily found in the surrounding desert. This made Red Rock Canyon NCA very attractive to hunters and gatherers such as the historical Southern Paiute and the much older Archaic, or Desert Culture Native Americans as far back the Tule Springs Paleo-Indians as long as 11,000 years ago.
Sources: Bureau of Land Management brochures and signs and Wikipedia
Saw this small cave in the side of the mountain
Red Rock Canyon from Old Spanish Trail Overlook
Spain began searching for a direct land route to link its New Mexico and California colonies in the 1700s. American Indians in the region had traded over great distances before the Europeans arrived and short routes were developed by Mexican traders and American trappers. The trail known today as the Old Spanish Trail combines Spain's early routes with ancient Indian foot paths and sections of trails used by traders and fur trappers. The 1,200 mile trail began in Santa Fe, New Mexico and crossed portions of the Sonoran and Mojave deserts to reach settlements near El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles, the capitol of the Mexican province, Alta California. It crossed portions of what would become six states. In Nevada, the trail stretched for more than 150 miles as it ran from one water source to the next. The artesian springs at Las Vegas made it one of the most dependable stops on the journey through the desert. Congress designated the Old Spanish Trail as a National Historic Trail in 2002 and several segments of the trail through southern Nevada are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Today, modern roads and Interstate highways follow the general route of portions of the trail.
Up Close and Personal - Calico Hills Overlook and Trail
Calico Hills is the most popular spot to experience the splendor of the colorful Aztec sandstone rocks. Red Rock Canyon was once at the bottom of a deep ocean. Water and winds shifted sands back and forth, and formed angled lines in the sand which is known as cross-bending. Over time the layers of sand compressed together forming the Aztec sandstone. The iron in the sand in oxidized and that process resulted in the swirls and curls of color. The high concentration of iron results in the deep red color of the rocks that are present at Calico Hills. However, whole cliffs of sandstone can be stained bright red by less that one part per million of iron oxide. Although I did not see any while I was there, rock climbers from all over the world are drawn to Calico Hills by the number and variety of climbing routes that are available there. Red Rock Canyon has an estimated 1700 climbing routes of varying lengths and difficulties.
Poker chip rocks
In the two photos above you can see the effects of the shifting dunes. The layers, known as cross beds, were developed while the dunes were still active. As the wind blew, the dunes migrated and their sand formed inclined layers. The tops of old dunes were reformed and new ones were built, leaving this record of cross-cutting curves in distinct multiple layers. For more information conduct a search for "cross beds."
From Other Overlooks
In Red Rock Canyon, the ancient grey rock of La Madre Mountain and Turtlehead Peak rise high above the younger stone ot the colorful Calico Hills. Younger rock layers are usually found above older ones, but here the order is reversed by faulting. About 65 million years ago, a vast series of thrust faults developed that built mountains throughout western North America. The older grey limestone and dolostone were thrust over the younger tan and red sandstone. This process formed one of the most spectacular and easily identifiable thrust faults in the world, The Keystone Thrust. The fault movement stopped millions of years ago. Since then, much of the top layers of rock have eroded away. This process has left the Red Rock Canyon that we see today.
A desert wash or arroyo is a water carved gully or creek bed. Although appearing dry much of the time, the deep sandy soil of these stream beds store water from wetter seasons. This additional moisture supports a plant community that differs from the adjacent uplands. Plants of the same species will appear more robust and healthier than those not in the wash. A thunderstoem in the nearby mountains can cause a flash flood and this stream can become filled with water flowng two miles per minute. The water level can rise in seconds and once it reaches its peak can often move two miles per minute. Six inches of water at 120 miles per hour will knock a person off their feet and two feet of water can easily sweep a car away. Flash floods are the number one cause of weather related deaths in the United States.