Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

 

Red Rock Canyon is a narrow valley that lies in the Mojave Desert just about 15 miles west of downtown Las Vegas and is one of the most scenic places to visit in Southern Nevada. 'Red Rock', as it is known to the people who actually live in Las Vegas, is so called because of the striking red coloured sandstone formations found throughout this small valley. A one-way loop road, 13 miles (21 km) long, provides vehicle access to many of the features in the canyon. Several side roads and parking areas allow access to many of the trails located in the canyon. A visitor centre is located at the start of the loop road, with information about wildlife, geology and flora. You can also find out about hiking trails and other recreation opportunities – for example there are special educational events like “Butterfly Day”.

A fee is payable to enter the canyon, and if you are in town without a car there are bus tours from Las Vegas which will drive you through the canyon with a commentary from the driver. For the more adventurous, there are off-road tours in a Hummer, a vehicle designed for the extremes of the desert environment. If a more stylish mode of transport appeals, you can drive a Ferrari, Lamborghini and Audi sports car through the canyon with one non-driving guest!

You may think this last option is a bit out of keeping with the natural surroundings of Red Rock Canyon, but hey, it is America, and Las Vegas at that! Where else could you go horse riding in the morning and have a Red Rock Wedding in the afternoon? But the valley has been a National Conservation Area since 1990, and most of the 1 million visitors a year come to experience the desert and study the ecology. This area became a desert 180 million years ago, and the sandstone cliffs formed from huge shifting sand dunes that were ‘lithified’. The red colour is the result of oxidisation of the rocks that were forced up from what had been a sea bed in the Mesozoic Era. Between 250 million years and 180 million years ago, the area was a plain with trees and rivers, and fossilized logs are still to be seen in the canyon today. The Aztec Sandstone of which the walls like the 900m (3,000 feet) Wilson Cliffs are formed is popular with climbers because of its hard consistency and the variety of difficulty of climbs it offers.

Of course the desert is far from lifeless, and you may see wild burros, desert bighorn sheep, rabbits and ground squirrels. If you go to the Visitor Center you will see at least one Desert Tortoise, as they keep one there. There are rattlesnakes in the canyon too. Common plants include the Joshua tree, creosote bush and blackbrush. Ponderosa pines, juniper and scrub live oak dominate at the higher altitudes.

Finally, you may have seen Red Rock Canyon even if you have never been to Nevada, for it has appeared in more than 130 Hollywood films since 1925. ‘The Big Country’ and ‘Jurassic Park’ featured the canyon extensively, and it appeared as background in ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’, ‘Poltergeist 2’ and ‘The Andromeda Strain’, as well as numerous westerns.

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