Red Rock Canyon Natl. Conservation Area Review: 3 Unmissable Sights

Before I visited Las Vegas, I thought that the red rocks I’d seen in Denver were the most alien landscape I’d ever seen. But when I visited Red Rock Canyon on the outskirts of Las Vegas, I stood corrected.

Because this place is basically Martian.

Don’t believe me? By the end of this article, you will, because today I’m going to share with you the 3 top sights to see if you only have an afternoon to explore the canyon.

Even if you don’t have much time, you’re going to see some incredible rock formations. Like this one:

Red, Rusty, Eroded ridge under blue sky

But before we get to the canyon, I have a confession to make.

A Confession & A Goal

To be completely honest, by the time I reached Las Vegas my primary goal became very simple: to get home. Having been on the road for over 5 months, my money was running low. Actually, that’s not even the main reason.

The main reason was that my heart was homesick. I’d never travelled solo for more than a week before that trip, and by day 160 (the day of Red Rock Canyon) the pure adrenaline of adventure had already been worn off for a while, leaving only the desire for some time to truly rest. So, I had my eyes set on the East.

I switched hosts a couple times while in Vegas, waiting for any sane person who wanted to carpool with me to Denver, or any point east for that matter. Some people thought I was a bit crazy, but I knew something would work out. (Something did, but that’s the subject of the next article.)

And so, I waited. I waited for 8 days.

Turns out, the last Couchsurfing host I had in Vegas was a kind man who let me stay with him and his son. In the process, I taught him how to cook brown rice and sauté vegetables (resulting in incredible quesadillas), and he took me to Red Rock Canyon— yet another beautiful example of how Couchsurfing creates win/win situations.

Exploring the Red Canyon

Which brings me at last to our explorations of the Red Rock Canyon. After heading beyond the check point (most days it costs about $10 per car), we followed a narrow road past short cacti and bushes to the first stop. I’d heard good things about the Canyon, but I wasn’t expecting the formations to be so alien, which brings me to our first unmissable sight:

1. Somewhat More-Prepared People risking their Lives

Group of climbers along Rusty Cliff

Decidedly more intelligent than the people who risked their lives for my viewing pleasure back at the other park with red rocks, these people were actually outfitted with climbing gear and looked like they knew what they were doing. And it makes perfect sense. With over 1,700 climbing routes, Red Rock Canyon is a world-class climbing location, attracting climbers from all over the world.

People standing on ancient red boulders along ridge

Still, there were some people who were adventurous without climbing equipment, as you can see above. And as before, one part of me wished they’d been more careful, and another part of me enjoyed taking the picture. 😉

2. The Keystone Thrust

Turtlehead Peak and Calico Hills

Farther down the road that loops around the park, we came upon perhaps the most famous feature in the park: The Keystone Thrust. This set of sandstone peaks and walls showcases some of the oldest rock formations in North America.

See the grey peak to the left? That’s Turtlehead Peak which contains probably the oldest rock in the entire park. Although most of the rocks there have their origin in the towering red sand dunes that once ruled the area 180 million years ago, Turtlehead Peak stretches even farther back.

3. Las Vegas in Perspective

Las Vegas in perspective (from Red Rock Canyon)

Yet the most profound picture that day was one I took right before we left. Do you see the faint dots and lines in the valley in the distance? Beyond the red rocks but before the distant peaks. See that? That is the city of Las Vegas. (It’s easier to see in the larger version of the photo so you may want to click the photo to see it in the gallery once you’ve finished reading.) But that’s it.

All of the casinos, all of the greatest jackpots, and all of the inevitable losses. The old strip, the new strip, and everything around it is all contained in that valley below.

Kind of puts everything into perspective, doesn’t it?

— Bonus —

Marco appears in all 14 photos in the accompanying photo gallery. If you’re new to the “Where’s Marco” game, it’s similar to “Where’s Waldo” or “I Spy”.

Learn how to play →
Then find him in the photos! →

Coming up Next:

A journey back to Denver that ended up spanning over 1,200 km (750 mi). And despite this 12+ hour trip through the deserts and forests, I arrived in Denver in time to be invited to a hilarious Halloween party. That’s right. We did the entire trek in one day. The surprising part? The entire ride didn’t cost me a dime.

See what happened next →

All accompanying photos are in the Red Rock Canyon photo gallery. With so much free, high-quality content, why not tell a friend and share this article?

8 bits on Red Rock Canyon Natl. Conservation Area Review: 3 Unmissable Sights

  1. I have never been to this place and I think it will be one of the most unforgettable experiences in my life if I have the chance to visit this.

  2. I really want to visit this place. Very great view and the place is really beautiful.

  3. I hope I have a chance to visit this place. Looks so beautiful.

  4. Pingback Traveler’s Show & Tell: Earthly Alien Landscapes & Great San Diego Eats « Tui Snider's blog – writing, photos & travel
  5. Pingback Carnival of Cities for 30 May 2012 | Sheila's Guide To The Good Stuff
  6. These magnificent rock formations interest me far more than sin city itself will ever do. I hope to visit here myself someday. But I did find the faint dots and lines interesting from afar.

  7. The red canyon is a very beautiful place. I am hoping to visit it sometime in future.

  8. Pingback Lovely Word Vol. 41 « Writing as a Sacred Art