Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Time: 2 hours
Distance: 3.5 km (return)
Elevation Gain: 124 m
How To Get There: From Las Vegas, take Interstate 15 to exit 42 and follow Route 95 west. Take exit 81A for Summerlin Parkway and then use a ramp on the right to get on Clack County Route 215 South. Next take exit 26 to reach an intersection with Route 159 (Charleston Boulevard). Turn right and drive to the start of Scenic Drive in Red Rock Canyon. Turn right, pay the entrance fee, and drive up the road to a turnoff on the right for Sandstone Quarry Trailhead.
To celebrate the fact that Matt had just turned 30, I surprised him with a trip to Las Vegas. And of course, any trip to a new place for me means a chance to explore the area is in order, even a place like Sin City. Luckily, there are plenty of hiking opportunities in Nevada, most of them right on Las Vegas’ front steps.
It was a beautiful but cool sunny day, perfect weather to hike the desert. We chose Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area because of its close proximity and the fact that there were tons of hiking options that would fit our condensed schedule (after all, we had Vegas shows to attend that night!).
One of the most easy and popular hikes in the park was Calico Tanks trail. So after finally finding a place to park our rental car in an overpopulated parking lot, we set off on the wide and well-maintained gravel trail.
It was incredibly neat to see all of the different rock formations. There’s definitely nothing that looks like these in the Canadian rockies.
After walking along the flat pathway along a gravel wash for a short while, we came to sign that told us we were going the right way, so we continued on. The path narrowed slightly after this point as we crossed over the wash.
The vegetation is quite a bit different in the desert!
On the other side, the trail curves to the right and proceeds north to a junction, 400 metres from the start of the trail. We curved to our right at the junction in order to stay true to our destination, enjoying the temporary shade of canyon live oaks. Staying straight takes you to Turtlehead Peak.
Once we left the wash, the terrain turned more into a sandy landscape as we began moving through the bottom of a canyon.
We passed a cairn village where rock piles are stacked on a ridge of sandstone along the left side of the trail. It's about this point that you can really start to see the tan surroundings on one side of the canyon contrast with the deepened dusty red on the other.
I read later that apparently Iron oxide in the Aztec sandstone accounts for the red color.The trail through the canyon splits at times, leaving you to pick between parallel routes. We chose to stay on the right side, which is a bit more tricky than the left. You'll reach a point where there is a large amount of boulders that have fallen over the bottom of the canyon. Stick to the slopes of the canyon walls to get around.
We continued to proceed up the bottom of the trail, taking advantage of the layered rock that often formed a convenient set of stairs.
The canyon varied often between easy walking to having to squeeze, shimmy and climb our way through.
There are plenty of interesting formations along the way, including a couple of shallow caves to hide out in.
The further we hiked along the trail, the more rugged things became. Apparently there are a couple of small pools of water along the trail in the spring that help indicate whether the tanks will be full or not. But we were well into fall and there wasn't a drop of water to be found.
Once we were abut three quarters of the way through, we were once again halted by large boulders and a drop in the canyon floor. In order to get past this point, just take the staircase on the right which was built in a grove in the rocks.
The trail finally comes over a rise and then down again into a sea of...tall grass. Where the pond (basin of water) is supposed to be was a plethora of brown marsh land. In the spring time, a wide shallow pool sits, cradled by the surrounding sandstone. The water levels are seasonal and vary based on the rain and snow fall.
The trail technically ends here, about two kilometers from the start, but there is the recommended option to continue past the basin, up a rock slope to a ledge on the far side.
We made up the route and found that the ledge suddenly drops down to the southeast, allowing for amazing views of the vast desert below us.
From our vantage point, Las Vegas can be seen clearly enough which is a great bonus for those that don't turn around too soon. We could see the casinos sitting along the strip.
The trail is an interesting one, filled with different vegetation, varied rock formations and a beautiful view to top it off (provided you go far enough). It's also a popular one, so don't expect to be alone. But like I always say, if a trail is popular, there's probably a pretty good reason for it!
Check out a quick video that shows the view we were able to take in at the end of the trail!