We visited this 200,000-acre conservation area in April, 2016 and
enjoyed it enough to want to explore more of the trails during our visit
to the Las Vegas area this month.
Last time Jim rode his bike around the Scenic Drive loop
while I walked Casey on the Moenkopi Trail near the visitor center. Then
we drove 13 miles around the scenic loop so I could see the rock
formations and other landscape features that Jim had enjoyed on his bike
Red Rock Canyon NCA on a sunny day in
I'm glad we got to see inside the visitor center three years ago because it
was closed this month due to the partial government shutdown.
Despite the shutdown, however, today some people -- volunteers
with the Southern Nevada Conservancy perhaps? -- were manning the
gate, cleaning the restrooms, and picking up trash, jobs that have not
gotten done in most of our national parks, recreation areas, and
conservation areas since the shutdown began in December.
Even though the visitor center was closed today, we were able to get
a new visitors' guide with maps at the entrance station. We had our old
guide with us just in case.
Red Rock Canyon today
Today was a chilly, overcast Monday with low clouds hanging over the
mountains so we thought we'd practically have the place to ourselves.
Not! While there were fewer people in the park than during our warm,
sunny day in April three years ago, we were surprised to see as many
visitors as we did.
Red Rock Canyon is located just to the west of metro Las Vegas. We
drove through the northern part of it on NV 157 and 156 to reach the Spring Mountains
National Recreation Area a few days ago. The part of Red Rock Canyon
with the scenic drive and all the trails is in the southern half of the
huge conservation area, on NV 159:
I put a red dot where the scenic
drive and trails are located.
Red Rock Canyon has
an entrance fee unless you have one of the various types of
national park passes. We got in free with our senior NPS passes.
Leashed pets are allowed on the trails and at the parking areas and
overlooks. Park officials strongly advise against leaving
pets unattended in vehicles because they can quickly heat up even on
sunny winter days in this climate.
Neither heat nor cold were a problem for us today,
with low-hanging clouds and temps in the 50s.
The park's high, dry desert terrain can be dangerous for humans, too
-- very hot in the summer, very cold in the winter, depending on
where you venture.
Elevations at Red Rock range from about 3,500 feet in the canyons to
8,150 feet at the summit of La Madre Mountain. Very few people go up to
the summit, however. Most do go to (or past) the visitor center
(3,720 feet elevation) and the High Point Overlook on Scenic Drive
(4,771 feet elevation).
Here is a more detailed map of the main area of Red Rock
Canyon from the Southern Nevada Conservancy
You can see a more legible version of the map on the internet at that
link. I highlighted in yellow the trails we hiked today, a distance of
about two miles at Lost Creek and Petroglyph Wall.
If you have only a short time available at the park, the two most
important things to do would be going to the visitor center to get a map
and learn a
little about the history, geology, and wildlife in the park, then drive
the 13-mile long Scenic Drive loop, stopping at overlooks and parking areas
to gaze and take photos as time permits.
If you have more time, by all means get out and explore one or more
of the trails. The visitor guide describes at least 27 of them around
the loop and farther south on NV 159.
The trails range from easy to strenuous based on the terrain,
elevation gain and loss, and distance (from less than a half mile up to
14 miles). Trails can be hiked singly or combined into various configurations for
This nice paved road begins at the fee station just off NV 159 and is one way CCW.
It meanders for 13 miles in an elongated sideways U-shaped loop past the main
features in the middle of the conservation area and ends a few miles
farther south on Rt. 159. You can see it clearly on the trail map I showed above.
Scenic Drive is wide enough to be safe for cyclists to
use the road in the same direction as traffic. If I was running or
walking on the road I'd want to go the other direction, however, so I
could see traffic coming toward me.
Look carefully at your map and drive slowly so you don't miss any turnoffs. If
you miss a trailhead, you can't just turn around and go back -- you
have to complete the loop and start over! You don't have to pay again,
though, if you do it the same day.
If you're driving in from the northern end of NV 159 like we did both
times, you'll start to see the red sandstone and lighter colored
limestone mountains and rock formations in Red Rock Canyon before you
get into the park:
Today was overcast, with low clouds that give a much different
"atmosphere" to the place than the completely sunny day when we visited
in 2016. The colors were much more muted today.
The next photos in this section are mostly in order as we drove CCW
around Scenic Drive:
Past the visitor center, driving toward Calico I
and II parking areas/trailheads in the Calico Hills
Calico I, looking toward the right
Four hikers under arrow,
dwarfed by the rocks at Calico I
Calico I at observation area and trailhead
Looking L. from Calico I toward Calico II,
which has darker red rocks
Calico II trail area
The far end of the Scenic Drive loop courses below Turtlehead Peak,
the White Rock Hills, Keystone Thrust, and other mountains. Clouds obscured some of the peaks
but made for some interesting pictures today.
The road curves and undulates but doesn't go through the mountains:
We stopped to soak in the panorama and take some photos at the High
Point Overlook about six miles into the loop . . .
Mountains to the west, with a little snow at the
Above and below: looking back
at the Calico Hills
. . . then continued a couple miles farther to Rocky Gap Road:
We parked near the red dot for our hikes.
A little more than halfway around the loop we turned right at Rocky Gap Road, which
is paved for about a mile back to the pleasant Willow Springs Picnic Area and continues
as a dirt road farther south to some other trailheads. You can see the road in the
Four trails start in this area before the pavement
runs out: Willow Spring loop, SMYC connector trail (I don't know what those letters
stand for), Lost Creek/Children's Discovery Trail, and Petroglyph Wall Trail.
We hiked the latter two, both described as easy, starting with the Lost Creek Trail. We
hiked out and back on it for about a mile total:
Lost Creek starts out very easy the first couple hundred yards but gets
more difficult through the rocks as it switchbacks up and down some slopes:
I think there might be a petroglyph in
these rocks but it may have been grafitti so I won't show it here.
We continued farther up the road to the trailhead for the Petroglyph Wall
Trail across from Willow Spring picnic area. We hiked the short and easy trail
out and back.
There are just a few ancient petroglyphs (carvings) and pictographs (paintings)
on the rock walls. We found one pictograph but none
of the petroglyphs, although an interpretive
panel shows some of them:
There are many more petroglyphs at Valley of Fire State Park and
they are much easier to spot. I'll show some of them in the next entry.
Desert bighorn sheep frequent the rocks above the Willow Spring
picnic area but we didn't see any today.
Next entry: hiking and sight-seeing at Valley of
Fire State Park north of Vegas
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Casey-Girl, and Holly-Pup
© 2019 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil