Just a few miles west of the Las Vegas strip is an oasis of extreme beauty. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (not to be confused with Red Canyon in southern Utah or Red Rock Canyon State Park in California) sports colorful sandstone formations known as the calico hills and provides a smorgasbord of outdoor recreation possibilities. If you’re tired of being buffeted by crowds and leaving money at the gaming tables, plan a day of rejuvenation for body and soul in a scenic wonderland.
Among the possibilities are hiking, rock climbing, biking and camping. Hiking is especially popular, as there are trails of varying length and difficulty available. Many visitors opt for a short hike in the colorful calico hills. Another popular walk that begins at the visitor center leads to a variety of desert plants along with scenic views.
The scenic drive
Before taking the 13-mile scenic loop, stop at the visitor center. If you don’t take the hike (described in the previous paragraph) at least spend a few minutes walking to the rear of the visitor center, where you’ll see agave plants and Joshua trees. It’s also a perfect spot to get an overview of the calico hills and an idea of the scale of this scenic reservation.
When you’re ready to move on, make sure you have a map of the scenic drive. This road is your highway to a day of strenuous activity or quiet contemplation of the surrounding beauty. While it is possible to zip around the scenic loop road in short order, that would defeat the purpose of coming here. Allow at least 2-3 hours to stop at all the pullouts and explore each area, perhaps including a short hike and maybe a picnic.
The first few stops on the scenic drive are in the calico hills. An important part of the story of the cliffs, composed of Aztec sandstone, lies in iron compounds deposited within the rocks which are responsible for the striking red colors. To the scientist, this area represents a challenge as well as a window to geologic history. To the artist, it’s a wonderful example of the inspiration that nature provides. The colors, the shapes, the patterns will survive in your memory long after you’ve forgotten what you lost at the craps table.