Red Rock Canyon Part 2: Guided Night Hikes

Red Rock Canyon Night HikeProbably the safest and most educational way to hike in Red Rock Canyon is to join one of their many guided hikes (free with paid admission to the park, $7 per car). These hikes are led by a qualified guide from the Red Rock Interpretive Association. They require advance reservations, a waiver of responsibility, and a commitment to stay together as a group. With these requirements satisfied, they offer many hiking experiences that would not be available to solo hikers. One such experience is to hike at night when the park is otherwise closed.

I discovered the Moenkopi Nocturnal Animals Night Hike led by Aaron Leifheit in the events section of the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association web page and called about two weeks in advance to book our hike. My reservation was confirmed and I was given a time and location to meet up with the hike. I was told to bring water, a snack and a flashlight. Although this wasn’t mentioned to me over the phone, having completed this hike I would also recommend wearing hiking boots. I was glad I did. The hike was mild enough that it could have been completed in sneakers, but the added traction and support of hiking boots made me feel safer and helped me enjoy the hike more.

We arrived about fifteen minutes ahead of the scheduled meeting time, which gave us enough time to use the facilities, pack the aforementioned water, snack and flashlights, plus a camera, sign the waiver and meet our guide. Aaron made sure everyone from the reservation list had arrived, that we all had everything we needed, and that we were all physically capable of completing the hike. He identified one regular hiker to use his radio to get assistance should something happen to him, and laid out the ground rules: Everyone stays together, stay on the trail, etc.

Red Rock Night Hike Yucca in BloomThen he reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out two “bat detectors”. These are small electronic devices that pick up the sounds that bats make and translate them into a lower frequency that humans can hear. He engaged the two children in our hiking group, lending them the detectors, showing them how to use them, and asking them to use them to help us “hear” any bats that we encountered on the hike. He also produced a special UV flashlight. This flashlight, he said, would cause scorpions to glow blue. He gave the children a stern safety talk about not shining the UV light at anyone, including each other, asked their dad to keep an eye on them to enforce this, and gave them the shared responsibility of finding scorpions. Both children were engaged and well behaved throughout the hike, and I’m sure that Aaron and his bag of tricks had a little something to do with that. Sadly, we never saw any scorpions.

Red Rock Night Hike Joshua Tree in BloomOur first stop on the hike was beside a yucca tree. Aaron again engaged the children, asking what the plant was. He explained that this was a rare opportunity, as the time and weather were just right for the yucca, and it was in bloom. It hadn’t bloomed in two years. He also pointed out a nearby joshua tree that also was blooming. Aaron glowed with enthusiasm, and it was contagious.

We continued on our hike, crossing the scenic road and dropping down into a valley where one of the more than forty (according to Aaron) natural water sources in the park lie. Just before we began our descent, Aaron gathered the group and brought out a plastic case containing tiny bat skull from his bag of tricks. He talked a bit about the bats, how they are the only mammals that fly, Red Rock Night Hike Water Sourceand gave a few other interesting facts while one of the children showed off the skull to each member of the group. Then we made our way to the water source. Here we encountered the bats. The kids aimed their detectors so we could hear them and I aimed my camera, trying to catch a picture of one. It’s not as easy as I thought, but I did get one picture that is clear enough to tell it’s a flying bat – barely.

Red Rock Night Hike - BatHiking back up out of the valley we caught some glimpses of the city lights off in the distance. It was completely dark now, the park was closed, and we were using our flashlights to see where we were going. We stopped to rest for a moment and Aaron brought out another skull from his pack – this time it was the skull of a horned owl. One of the kids showed it around while Aaron told us a bit about how an owl sees and hunts in the darkness.

We continued along the trail, down behind a ridge that shielded us from the city lights. Aaron stopped and asked us to turn off our flashlights – if we dared. In the darkness behind this ridge on this new moon night we were able to clearly see many constellations that could not be seen from the trail above, much less from the city below. We spent quite a few minutes there as Aaron pointed out a handful of constellations and told the stories behind them.

Red Rock Night Hike Wild BurrosWe continued on, heading back towards our original meeting point, and our cars. Along the way someone in the group saw a a movement in the distance. We stopped and shined our flashlights. Although Red Rock Canyon takes some measures to keep them out (because it can be a danger to both the wildlife and the people if people start feeding them) a family of wild burrows was wandering through the canyon, maybe fifty feet away. It was quite the sight.

Red Rock Night Hike Owl SkullThe entire hike took about two and a half hours over mostly easy trail. Our small group of a dozen or so hikers got a real treat – a chance to experience Red Rock Canyon in a very different way than most visitors. Aaron was a fantastic guide, keeping us all together and safe, teaching us about the canyon and why it’s so important to protect it, and most importantly, sharing his enthusiasm with us all.

Red Rock Canyon has numerous guided hikes throughout the year. Some are day hikes. Some, like the one I attended, are at night when the park is closed. Some are centered around cleaning up the grounds (a worthy cause!), some focus on the stars, some on geology, others on the wildlife that inhabits the canyon. Check their events page to see if one fits your schedule and give them a call for a reservation. It’s a great way to experience Red Rock Canyon!


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Red Rock Canyon Part 1: Driving the Scenic Road
Red Rock Canyon Part 3: Hiking the Calico Tanks Trail

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