Red Rock Canyon Recreation Area,

Just West of Las Vegas, Nevada

In fact, it is just a few miles from our home:


Now, a question to ask is why one would visit Red Rock when there are other attractions in Las Vegas:

And the obvious answer is that one should see all of Las Vegas, of course. But speaking for those of us (that could be just me, I know) who have seen it all, the lights and glitz eventually fades in its appeal, while the grand display of beauty by Mother Nature continues to fascinate! In other words, I'm weird.

Red Rock sits north of Mount Potosi, pictured here:

Looking north from this place, this is what Red Rock's rim of sandstone cliffs looks like:

And from here, this is what Las Vegas looks like:


Named for its colorful sandstones overlain in places by an overthrust of much older marine limestones, Red Rock is a wonderland of contrasts in color and vegetation.  It ranges from below 4,000 feet to above 7,000 feet in elevation, and its higher reaches sport nice stands of pinyon pines, junipers, and a few white pines.  Its lower reaches have lots of mesquite, and in places where early shade reduce the relentless drying action of the sun, Joshua trees are plentiful and healthy.

The following photos show the sandstones at the eastern edge of the canyon, where rock climbing is a participant as well as a spectator sport.  Other photos show the long line of western cliff faces, reaching well over 7,000 feet in places.  As we enter a canyon called First Creek on the southern edge of the recreation area we look back several times to the east and north of the canyon.

After that general set of views we enter into the depths of the First Creek canyon, one of several and by no means the most spectacular.  There we see deciduous trees with just a touch of fall left on them (it is November, after all).  We then trace our way up the canyon until we come to a place where there is a steep cut in the canyon bottom rock where water seeps out of the cut rock, leaving pools over about a quarter mile of downstream distance until all the flow is again underground.

Less than 22 miles from Las Vegas, and just a mile or so from a very dry desert floor, there is water!  It furnishes life to plants as well as to wildlife!

Red Rock is a federal recreation area, so they charge you 5 dollars to enter and chase you out at dark.  The canyon itself more than makes up for these minor irritations, however.  In summer it is surprisingly tolerable in the side canyons even when the city is above 110 F.  In winter it is usually pretty nice in the daytimes, with occasional snows making the upper reaches, and sometimes the valley itself, even more spectacular than it already is all on its own!  Getting here from Las Vegas is easy, either go west on the road to Pahrump and Blue Diamond or go west on Charleston Blvd.  It is about 17 miles from the city.

Please enjoy the pictures!  I enjoyed making them one afternoon in November of 1999.

  Red and yellow sandstones marking the eastern extent of the Red Rock Canyon.

Behind and above the red sandstone lie the higher and much older limestones that have been thrust over the sandstone from as far as 60 miles to the west by the force generated from land masses joining the continent from the west.  Pictured here is Turtlehead peak, at about 6,000 feet a very nice hike from the parking lot at just above 4,000 feet within the Red Rock recreation area.

The western wall of the canyon, composed of massive layered sandstone cliffs, with massive layered limestones behind and above them.  The divide between the limestones and sandstones is a canyon behind the canyon, accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicle if you dare (road not maintained), and as always by foot and mountain bike.
A closer look at one of the western wall's cliffs, the darker thin layer on top and behind is part of the limestone overthrust.
The same sandstone formation, but backed away some to show the different layers of sandstone.  The red layer is the same one exposed on the east side of the canyon.  It is a dipping layer, dipping to the east.
A closer look at one of the higher sandstone cliffs to the west.  The sunset's remains are lightening up and coloring the left shoulder of this formation.  These sandstones were deposited when a few tens of millions of years ago this region, continuing well into the Grand Canyon are to the east, was covered miles deep, in places, by wind-blown sand.  The limestones are hundreds of millions of years older, and were pushed over what remained of these sandstones after millions of years or erosion.
Another look east, now from farther soutwest in the recreation area.  Turtlehead peak is on the left, and the peak to the right is about 7,000 feet high and a delightful climb from desert into sparse, but real, pinyon-juniper forest.
Looking north from the same location, just about to enter the trail into First Creek canyon at the southern end of the recreation area.
After perhaps two miles of walking up from the parking area, a narrow canyon within a canyon opens up and some deciduous trees sport what remains of their fall foliage.  Since the only other trees seen before this display were Joshuas (fancy versions of Yuccas) and a few isolated Pinyons as altitude is gained, this display suggests there is something different about the environment in this little narrow chasm.
Going uphill it does not take long to see what defines this environment as different: water!  Liquid elixir of life, oozing from behind, under and through rocks!
Imagine now coming on a verdant scene such as this one!  Green and lush and all within 22 miles of the dryness of Las Vegas!

as The clarity of the water beneath these rocks shows it is being refreshed at a good rate.  In some places gurgling and splashing can be heard, but quite faintly.  This water is its own secret!
But, like most secrets, it has to be shared!  This couple have recently moved to Las Vegas from Michigan to be English scholars at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.  They are in love with this place, they say, and observable evidence suggests they were also in love with each other.  (They said they didn't mind being in a picture on a web page.  I did ask.)
To move further upstream ( the presence of water moving downhill makes that a legitimate word choice), it was necessary to go under the rock from which our Michigan friends were admiring this place.
Where the watery quarter mile begins is now revealed: an abrupt break in the valley floor exposes the rock that is carrying water beneath the canyon flow from the upper reaches of the canyon.  Seeps and trickles feed a species of hanging plant here, and forms a pool that moves beneath the rocky bottom into the pools seen just downstream.
Above this water giving wall the canyon was dry, on the surface.  Plentiful deciduous trees in the canyon bottom showed the trees knew where to root for this subterranean water supply, however.
Since it was now getting quite dark, it was time to move away from this captivating scene up the narrow rocky trail on the south side of the cliff.  This is one last look back from that trail.
Less than a mile downhill from this magical watery place, we are back in desert vegetation showing no trace of subterranean water supplies.  The light of a setting sun ever so faintly catches one of the higher sandstone formations.

Just a few minutes later it was quite dark.  Too dark for more pictures.

There is magic everywhere.  But in the desert?  Well, it is just easier to find!

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