While in Las Vegas, if you take a drive out of the city on Charleston Boulevard, you will run into Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, about 15 miles from the Strip. A 13-mile scenic drive takes you through this beautiful part of the desert, and true to its name, red rocks make up a great deal of the landscape.
A few weeks ago my boyfriend, his daughter, sister and I were warming up for our hike into the Grand Canyon and spent some time hiking one day in Red Rock. This was my fourth trip to the park and the third trip with my guy. I’m a red rock freak. On our first trip we climbed Turtlehead Peak. As we started and I looked at the summit way in the distance, I remarked how the trail was so well maintained. Wouldn’t you know it, not long after I said that the trail petered out. We picked our way up through desert scrub and boulders for the rest of the hike up to the summit, pretty grueling but fun in a sick way.
From the cold and windy summit of Turtlehead you can see the Vegas strip and hundreds of miles around. The hike down had its challenges as well since it was really gravelly and slippery. As we aimed for the bottom, we often found ourselves instead at the edge of a cliff — grrr, back up the slope to find another way down. As we picked our way down under the setting sun we heard coyotes in the distance. It was a hike I’ll never forget — tough and rewarding — but also the first one my honey and I did together, setting a precedent in many ways.
Last year we spent some time exploring two canyons in Red Rock — Pine Creek and Fern Canyons on either side of the Mescalito, a huge tower of rock popular with climbers. What should’ve been a five or six mile hike turned into a lot more because of course we had to go off trail and explore. Not my choice, that’s my guy, he likes to push it. Lots of bouldering — which I don’t mind when I’m feeling fresh but when my legs are tired, not so much. Once you get way back into the canyon, the trail ends and scant paths meander off. They’re not as well traveled and it is the desert, so they’re easy to lose. On our way back out of Fern Canyon we lost the trail and found ourselves higher up then we had intended. But it was a good thing. We flushed out four big horn sheep and saw them clatter off down the cliff — a memorable moment.
This year, after taking a short hike into Lost Creek Canyon — nice waterfall back there — we brought our cohorts to Pine Creek and Fern Canyons . We only got lost once, maybe twice. People leave cairns behind to help others find their way but it’s easy to lose the trail — there really isn’t much of one. The canyons are beautiful places, a mix of terrain — down at the bottom there is the creek bed with oaks, pines and ferns, and as you climb it becomes high desert scrub and a variety of rocks. The rock faces are gorgeous and imposing. You don’t see many hikers back there, off the normal trail, except for climbers.
There’s more to explore in those canyons. The trails are barely there, if at all, but I’ve read that the rewards are stunning — natural bridges and arches, caves, summits. Am I brave and strong enough to go further back (and up) next time?
On your way home from Red Rock, stop at Big Dog’s Brewing on North Rancho. They have excellent beer, particularly their specials, plus now they have a great selection of guest taps too.
Yes, Vegas is a great hiking hub. Besides Red Rock, there are the Spring Mountains — we had a nice hike in the snow there last year — and the Valley of Fire with its petroglyphs. Next time you go to Vegas, bring your hiking boots and get out of the city!