Red Rock Canyon Part 3: Hiking the Calico Tanks Trail

Red Rock Canyon Visitor CenterThe Calico Tanks Trail is a moderately strenuous two and a half mile (round trip) out and back hike through the valley and up the Calico Ridge. It took us about two and a half hours to complete the hike, including photo and rest stops. Your mileage may vary. I would recommend wearing hiking boots, though it is possible to traverse in sneakers. At minimum, you should bring plenty of water, a snack, a flashlight, a camera, and a hiking buddy. This time of year, early morning is probably the safest and most comfortable time to go – it can get very hot during the day and there is limited shade along this trail. You may just want to save this hike for when things cool off a bit.

Red Rock Canyon Calico TankWe did the hike one afternoon in early February. Weather-wise, Spring or Fall would be the best time for this hike. That gives you plenty of time to plan. Refer to the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association website for park hours and admission rates.

Upon arrival, it’s worth stopping at the visitor center before you start so you can use the facilities and get up to date information and advice from one of the friendly and informative guides. That’s how we found out about this fantastic hike in the first place. We asked for an easy to moderate hike that could be accomplished in 2-3 hours in sneakers. After getting an idea of our fitness and experience levels the guide told us about the Calico Tanks Trail. She said that visitors from outside of Las Vegas tend to enjoy the view at the end of this out and back hike. I think she may have downplayed it a bit.

Red Rock Canyon Calico Tanks TrailYou can access the Calico Tanks Trail from the Sandstone Quarry Trailhead. This is the third parking area past the visitor center, off of the scenic loop road. Like most hikes in Red Rock Canyon, Calico Tanks Trail provides interesting biology and geology with beautiful panoramic views along the way. The hike follows a sandstone path, then climbs towards the Calico Ridge over slick stone and boulders. There are a few mild ridges, and the trail requires some scrambling. There are stairs cut into the steeper sections.

The reason I recommend this particular hike is the payoff at the end. The Calico Tank is kind of neat. It’s large pool of collected water in the middle of the desert. Maybe you could get a cool photo with the mountains reflecting off the surface or something. You might see some small fish in the tank, or a larger desert animal stopping for a drink. But, this isn’t the real reason for hiking all the way out here. When you reach the tank, don’t turn back yet – the best is yet to come. Hike up around the saddle to the right and just beyond the tank…

The ultimate picnic spot!

The ultimate picnic spot!

For the most amazing panoramic view of Las Vegas! You can see the valley below, you can see the downtown Fremont Street casinos. You can see the strip from end to end. It’s breathtaking! There are a couple of well placed flat rocks that are perfect for a little picnic (don’t forget, leave no trace). It’s not the easiest or the shortest hike in Red Rock, nor is it the highest or most challenging. But as far as effort / reward ratio, this hike is a jackpot win! Plan some time to soak it all in, get some photos and relax a bit. Just remember to turn back before it gets too hot (especially in summer), or too near to closing time. I hope they will offer a guided night hike out here so I can take in the view at night!

Click to view the full-size panorama (8000 x 1166 pixels)!

Click to display full-screen and click again to view the full-size panorama (12883 x 1878 pixels)!

Tips:

  • Really, if you haven’t already done so, click the panoramic image above. If that doesn’t convince you to go on this hike, nothing will!
  • The Bird and Hike website offers a great detailed trail guide for this and many other Las Vegas area hikes. Print it out before you go.

Website: www.redrockcanyonlv.org

Connect with BAUSTIN on Google+

Related:
Red Rock Canyon Part 1: Driving the Scenic Road
Red Rock Canyon Part 2: Guided Night Hikes

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!

Website: www.redrockcanyonlv.org

Connect with BAUSTIN on Google+

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

Red Rock Canyon Part 1: Driving the Scenic Road

Pontiac Solstice at Red Rock CanyonLess than half an hour from the mega-resorts that make up the Las Vegas Strip, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is about as far from the strip as you are likely to get. Wildlife here comes in the form of lizards, burros and longhorn sheep. It’s quiet and peaceful here, and there is very little that is man-made. I have yet to spot a slot machine or a craps table here. So, if you’re looking for the perfect escape from the games, the resorts and the endless party that is the City of Lights – drive out here and you can get away from it all. It’s like a mini vacation. For the Vegas traveler, consider it a vacation from your vacation, so to speak.

The entrance to Red Rock Canyon is located just off Route 159 (West Charelston Blvd / Blue Diamond Rd) west of Summerlin. There is a small gate where you pay your entrance fee ($7 per car, $3 per motorcycle, cash only) and receive your park pass. Just past the gate to the left you will find a visitor center where you can pick up some souvenirs, learn a bit about the park and its wildlife, and get visitor information from one of their friendly, helpful guides. Restrooms and drinking fountains are available as well.

Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center

Visitor Center

The best way to experience the beauty and serenity of Red Rock Canyon is to get out of your car and go for a hike, and there are numerous trails of varying lengths and difficulties for you to explore – when you have the time to do so. I plan to share with you a couple of the trails I have enjoyed in upcoming posts. But, if you lack the time or the mobility to go hiking, there is still much that can be seen from the road.

Willow Springs picnic area, just a few hundred yards from the scenic loop road.

Willow Springs picnic area, just a few hundred yards from the scenic loop road.

The park loop road at Red Rock Canyon is one of the most beautiful drives I have ever been on. In fact, the photo I use for the Las Vegas Off Strip logo at the top of each page was taken while driving the park loop road (It’s okay, I was in the passenger seat at the time). The road is thirteen miles long, with lots of twists and turns and about a dozen scenic pullouts where you can stop, stretch, take pictures – even have a picnic. The speed limit ranges from 15-35 mph, and the road is one way, so plan at least forty minutes driving time – plus stops. I find that budgeting two to three hours gives me just enough time to stop and enjoy each of the scenic vistas along the way and get a few pictures.

Partial View From High Point Overlook

Partial View From High Point Overlook

If you only have time to stop at one turnoff, make it the “High Point Overlook.” It will be the fourth turnout after the visitor center. This is a large parking and picnic area at roughly the northern-most point of the loop. From here you get a stunning panoramic view of the mountains, and if the sky is clear (it almost always is) you might spot a couple of those mega-resorts in the valley below.

If you plan to picnic, the Willow Springs Picnic Area would be an excellent choice. There are a quite a few tables set up under a fantastic willow tree. There are also toilet facilities here. Wide pathways and gentle grade make this area (at least somewhat) wheelchair accessible. To reach it, take the second right after the High Point Overlook.

If you need a break from the loud, smokey, perfumed, artificial atmosphere of the casinos, take in some fresh air and beautiful mountain scenery in Red Rock Canyon. The short ride and small admission fee are well worth it. The road is well maintained and easy to follow, with plenty of places along the way to stop and enjoy the view. And unlike the rest of Sin City, the photos you take here will probably be safe to show to Mom.

Wild Burrows near the entrance to Red Rock Canyon

Wild Burrows near the entrance to Red Rock Canyon

  • While it may be tempting to pull off to the shoulder of the road, doing so is both dangerous and it’s against the rules. Use the designated pulloffs, there are plenty of them.
  • Do not feed the animals. Wildlife can become dependent on human feeding, and feeding them can also be dangerous. Admire the desert creatures from a safe distance, and keep your food for yourself.
  • If you are a fan of fast and exotic cars, keep your eyes and ears open. There is a sports car tour that comes through here regularly with Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other exotics. Go near sunset for your best chance to see them in action.
  • Sunset is the best time to see, and photograph Red Rock Canyon. As the sun gets low on the horizon it casts amazing shadows over the mountains and the desert.
  • Your admission is good for 24 hours, so if you miss something and want to go back you can simply re-enter the loop at the entrance gate.

Website: www.redrockcanyonlv.org

Connect with BAUSTIN on Google+

Related:
Red Rock Canyon Part 2: Guided Night Hikes
Red Rock Canyon Part 3: Hiking the Calico Tanks Trail