The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is located approximately 15 miles west of Las Vegas, Nevada and can be seen from the Las Vegas Strip. It is managed by the Bureau of Land Management as part of its National Landscape Conservation System and is visited by more than 2 million people each year. The conservation area includes a set of large, red rock formations; a set of sandstone peaks and walls that are up to 3,000 feet high called the Keystone Thrust.
To visit the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, see below for hours of operation and cost.
Hours of operation:
Open daily at 6 a.m. Closing time varies by season.
The visitors center is open daily, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
$7 per car
$5 for commercial vehicles (tour buses and limousines, for example)
$3 for motorcyclists and tour bus riders
$30 annual pass
Alternately, if you are visiting Las Vegas for work or pleasure, hikes can be booked through various tour company’s like Escape Adventures, which I used for this tour while visiting the area. The package that I used included pickup at the hotel, bottled water and snacks, a guided tour, as well as transportation back to the hotel for a total of $120. This post is NOT endorsed but Escape Adventures, but the guide did such a fantastic job that I wanted to provide them as a recommendation for anyone visiting the area and interested in such a guided hike.
Calico Tanks Trail
The Calico Tanks trail is considered a moderate, 2.5 mi trails that starts in the Sandstone Quarry parking lot. The quarry itself began in 1905 and was one of the first industries in the Las Vegas area. One of the signs says:
The giant blocks, some weighing as much as 10 tons, were quarried with channeling traction equipment. These massive blocks were loaded onto wagons and pulled with a 17-ton steam-traction engine known as the “Big Devil”. The sanstone was then shipped by rail to markets in San Francisco and Los Angeles for use as decorative building facades. The sanstone was of high quality, but production was expensive and unprofitable. With the discovery of similiar sandstone deposits closer to the railway, the Excelsior Stone Quarry shut down in 1906. Later that same year, other operators reopened the quarry, but even with better equipment, the operation still proved to be uneconomical. In 1912, cutting at the quarry stopped forever.
We arrived in late morning and there was a significant line at the post leading into Red Rock Conservation Area. It cleared fairly quickly however and on parking, the group made a quick bathroom stop, got bags and water bottles ready and then proceeded down the trail from the parking lot. The trail soon divides and a sign indicates that you should take the path to the right which brings you past the Agave Roasting Pit that were used by Native Americans.
Continuing to the right the trail turns into gravel wash and then after approximately 40 yards you take an unsigned trail to the right for 3/4 of a mile before the trail disappears as you ascend the sandstone. One of the signs along the way interestingly explains some of the unique geology at work here.
In Red Rock Canyon, the ancient gray rock of La Madre Mountain and Turtlehead Peak rise high above the younger stone of the colorful Calico Hills. Younger rock layers are usually found above older ones, but in Red Rock Canyon the order is reversed by faulting. Approximately 65 million years ago, a vast series of thrust faults developed that built mountains throughout western North America. Here in Red Rock Canyon, the older gray limestone and dolostone rocks were dramatically thrust over the younger tan and red sandstone. This process formed one of the most spectacularly and easily identifiable thrust faults in the world: The Keystone Thrust.
As you make your way up the trail splits at times, but has helpful markers showing the easiest route.
The trail eventually comes to a wide shallow pool in a basin cradled by sandstone formations that we found a dog happily prancing through and cooling off.
This is essentially the end of the trail…. you have the option to walk down to the water’s edge or head to the right along a rock slope above the pond. From here the terrain drops away to the southeast and presents panoramic views east toward Las Vegas, with the strip being clearly visible.