Las Vegas, NV: Red Rock Canyon

With some free time on my hands this morning, I fueled the body at the famous Blueberry Hill Pancake House, and then decided to fuel the mind and soul at Red Rock Canyon, just west of Las Vegas.  If you have ever gazed west from the Strip or downtown, the red rocks, and multi layered hues of brown and red are ostensibly unique given the flat, sandy, and sometimes barren desert of Vegas

I know you are now dying to ask the question, “Why are the Rocks Red?”  Well, precisely 600 million years ago, give or take a few, this land was at the bottom of a deep ocean basin.  With time, and changing sea and land levels, sediment from the ocean and continent was deposited and later became the gray limestone found at Red Rock Canyon today.

Then, about 180 million years ago, a large sand dune field formed over what would become the western United States.  The strong winds (often called Mariah, not Carey) shifted the sands to and fro, up and down, left and right.  This resulted in angled lines in the sand.  With more time (of which there is plenty), the weight of the layers of sand compressed into stone.  This resulting formation is called Aztec Sandstone.  This hard formation formed the cliffs of Red Rock Canyon.  Then, exposure to the elements caused some of the iron-bearing elements to oxidize, or in kid speak, a “rusting of the sand”.  Voila, the result is red, orange, and tan colored rocks.

Little did I know that I would get to see wild horses and burros.  Unfortunately, feeding encourages these animals to congregate along State Route 160,and other roadways.  Many are killed and injured by vehicles.  Conversely, people are injured by burros when trying to feed and pet these animals.  Feeding causes them to lose their natural fear of roads and cars.  The resulting injury may require compresses of Burrow’s Solution (haha).  But wild horses and burros are protected by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.  You will be cited if you attempt to feed, ride, handle, harass or disturb these animals.


Though I did not take any hikes, many petro glyphs and pictographs are found on the canyon walls or boulders along the escarpment.  Most of the time, the dark layer, called the patina or varnish, is broken away to allow the lighter, un-weathered rock to show through.  These types of petro glyphs are often found near rock shelters.

Pictographs are less common, since both weathering and fading occur.  The paint used for pictographs consisted of pigment, a binder, and a vehicle.  In this area, red, white, orange, and black are most common, though blue, green, purple, and peak may also occur.

Of the nineteen hiking trails, many are in the category of easy and moderate.  Some are defined as strenuous, and some are combinations.  Obviously, this is the best time of the year to hike up here, as it is cooler, though somewhat windy in the canyons.  The average hiker should drink at least one gallon of water per day.  Dehydration is common all year long due to the low humidity.  Rattlesnakes, scorpions and venomous spiders are located under boulders, rocks, and shrubs.

Naturally, the rules of our national Parks prevail.  Very few trails are paved, meaning dogs are not allowed out beyond the parking lots.  This applies to my little dog Buddy as well.  This park is a hidden gem in the Vegas area, and I strongly encourage you to get up close and personal with the rugged beauty of Red Rock Canyon.  It certainly costs a lot less than gambling and shopping!

Gerry Kataoka Written by:

Gerry is semi-retired after a career at Kaiser, and lives in Pleasant Hill, CA. He travels as much as he can, between short assignments performing Phase 1 clinical trials on investigational drugs. He also volunteers with two health care related relief organizations. He has traveled to every continent except Antarctica. His favorite places are: Angkor Wat, Amazonia, Hanoi, Laos, Queenstown, Torres del Paine, Penang, and Tokyo. His favorite US places are: Seattle, Washington DC, Pebble Beach, Antelope Canyon (AZ), Napa Valley, Hawaii, and New England. Sporting events and music (rock and classical) are special interests. He has recently taken an interest in Amtrak. Golf, cycling, and yoga are his primary forms of exercise. When home, he enjoys the company of his German Hunting Terrier, Buddy.