The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in is an area managed by the as part of its , and protected as a . It is located about 15 (24 ) west of , and easily seen from the . The area is visited by over two million people each year.
The conservation area showcases a set of large red : a set of peaks and walls called the Keystone Thrust. The walls are up to 3,000 feet (910 m) high, making them a popular and destination. The highest point is La Madre Mountain, at 8,154 feet (2,485 m).
A one-way loop road, 13 miles (21 km) long, provides vehicle access to many of the features in the area. Several side roads and parking areas allow access to many of the trails located in the area. A is located at the start of the loop road. The loop road is very popular for ; it begins with a moderate climb, then is mostly downhill or flat.
Red Rock Canyon itself is a side-canyon accessible only by a four-wheel-drive road off of the scenic loop. The unnamed but often-visited valley cut through by is commonly, but incorrectly, referred to as Red Rock Canyon. The massive wall of rock called the Wilson Cliffs, or Keystone Thrust, can be seen to the west along this highway.
Towards the southern end of the National Conservation Area are , the western ghost town replica attraction of Bonnie Springs, and the village of .
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 the area very attractive to hunters and gatherers such as the historical Southern Paiute and the much older Archaic, or Desert Culture Native Americans.
As many as six different cultures may have been present at Red Rock over the millennia. The following chronology is an approximation:
- Southern 900 to modern times
- Culture 900 to early historic times in the 1800s
- 1 AD to 1150.
- Pinto/Gypsum (Archaic) 3500 BC to 1 AD.
- San Dieguito 7000 to 5500 BC.
- (Tule Springs) 11,000 to 8000 BC.
Numerous as well as pottery fragments remain today throughout the area. In addition, several roasting pits used by the early Native Americans provide further evidence of human activity in the past at Red Rock.
In the early 1900s, around the time the first people settled in nearby Las Vegas, a small was operated by the Excelsior Company near the northern area of the scenic loop. It proved to be uneconomical and was shut down. Evidence of the quarry's existence includes some of the huge sandstone blocks that have been left behind. In 1967, the designated 10,000 acres (4,000 ha) 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.
, developer of , has transferred land adjacent to the protected area, to provide a buffer between development and the conservation area. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is adjacent, on the west side, to the .
The conservation area is one of the easternmost parts of the ; the lowest elevation of the area, from 3,600 to 4,500 feet (1,100 to 1,400 m), is in the , while the area from 4,500 feet (1,400 m) up is in the . The character of the sandstone layers is such that a number of year-round springs may be found in the recesses of the side canyons.
Some 600 species of plants are known in the area. Common types in the valley floor include the , , , , and . Higher up the and Sonoran scrub oak (also called scrub live oak) come to dominate. is easy to spot in red rock niches, with its thick low leaves and flowering stem that reaches twice the height of a man. The Calico Tanks trail has a plaque about prehistoric agave roasting pits. may be found at the top of the valley, where it connects to the .
Wild are a familiar sight, as are and . are occasionally seen at higher elevations. During rare spring and summer rainstorms, tiny red-spotted toads can be seen emerging from pools of water.
The Conservation Area is protected habitat for the . There is a habitat at the Visitor Center that houses eight females and two males. One of the males, Mojave Max, is a mascot tortoise for the Clark County Desert Conservation Program and is used in educational programs.
|Climate data for Red Rock Canyon State Park, Nevada (Elevation 3,870ft)|
|Record high °F (°C)||71|
|Average high °F (°C)||53.0|
|Average low °F (°C)||29.7|
|Record low °F (°C)||0|
|Average inches (mm)||1.78|
|Average snowfall inches (cm)||0.8|
|Source: The Western Regional Climate Center|
The Red Rock area has a complex geological history, which over millions of years, helped to create the dramatic landscape that characterizes the region.
The Red Rock area was located under an ocean basin during the 600 million years ago. Up to 9,000 feet of limey sediments were deposited and eventually lithified to . During the 250 million years ago, the earth's crust started to rise due to tectonic shifts, and marine and were deposited. As the basin became isolated formations of and were deposited. Oxidation of the iron minerals in the sediments resulted in the red colors of some of the rocks. Deposition by streams and in swamp environments resulted in the formation of in the area.
By 180 million years ago, the climate continued to change and the area became a desert featuring vast expanses of huge shifting . These dunes accumulated over a broad area, up to a half mile thick, and were , cemented with and iron oxides, and are now the colorful . During a mountain building period called the around 66 million years ago, the Keystone Thrust Fault developed. The Keystone is part of a series of which ran through much of western North America and through the Red Rock Conservation Area. The movement of this fault forced the older gray sedimentary rock over the younger red rocks, forming the varicolored landscape that can be seen in the mountain today. The thrust is exposed over a distance of 13 miles along the Red Rock .
Red Rock provides a wide variety of activities, the most popular being , , rock , and . and are also allowed on specific trails and designated areas. Automobile and motorcycle clubs, such as Flat 4 LV (Subaru enthusiasts club) and Sin City Sportbikes, often do group drives through the 13-mile scenic drive. use is not permitted in the area.
Aside from the obvious dangers from climbing rock faces and cliffs, visitors should know that temperatures can routinely exceed 105 °F (41 °C) in the summer, so bringing plenty of water is a must. Visitors hiking into the backcountry off established trails should never go alone, and should inform other people of their plans. There is also the threat of venomous and flash flooding/lightning from .
Although the Yosemite-size walls offer a host of challenging lines, technical climbing activity is not known from before 1968. The first modern routes, climbed in the early 1970s, are described in several books. The rock is , a relatively solid variety with a hard surface varnish. Many climbs involve ascents of single crack systems hundreds of feet long. The climbs of Red Rock cover a broad range of length and difficulty. There are long, easy routes, making the area a common climbing training ground, but also many difficult climbs as well. In recent decades, this broad appeal and the classic nature of many routes has made the area an international destination for rock climbers.
Popular areas include the Calico Hills and Sandstone Quarry. Red Rock also has a multitude of areas including single pitch areas such as Brass Wall and Necromancer Wall, along with multi-pitch areas such as Eagle Wall, Aeolian Wall, Mescalito, and Solar Slab. Long free and big-wall aid routes are found on features such as the Rainbow Wall, first climbed over three days in 1973 by Joe Herbst and Larry Hamilton.
Red Rock has hiking trails and picnic areas. Trails are changed and diverted depending upon the needs of the ecosystem. In early spring, depending upon the precipitation, it is possible to see waterfalls on the edge of the canyons.
in Red Rock, especially those in the loop area, allow visitors to see both the damage caused by these events as well as the ability of the desert to heal itself over time.
While wildfires are nothing new to the Red Rock Area, recent fires seemed to have been in part fueled by the thick growth of and . They provide fuel for fires and also compete with the native plants in the area for resources. So far there have been no plans to control these weeds, as control methods such as using can be both costly and also damaging to the native plants.
Several significant wildfires have burned within the Red Rock Canyon NCA in recent years, including:
- 1998 - A fire occurred in the loop area. By 2003 regrowth made it difficult to find the burn area.
- June 25, 2005 - The Goodsprings fire at over 31,600 acres (12,800 ha), burned into Red Rock NCA's southern area.
- July 22, 2005 - Lightning caused an 800 acres (320 ha) fire in the loop area.
- September 6, 2006 - Yet another fire was started by lightning in the loop near the visitor's center and burned around 1,500 acres (610 ha).
- July 2013 - Carpenter I fire. Burned mainly in the Spring Mountain NRA, but encroached on the north west portion of the conservation area. Can be easily viewed from SR 157 Kyle Canyon Road. Caused by lightning in Trout Canyon nearby.