One morning our mini reunion in Las Vegas managed to get outside the city to see the Mojave Desert of southwestern Nevada. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (Red Rock Canyon) is a 20-minute drive from the Las Vegas Strip.


It is an understatement to say that the difference between the Strip and Red Rock Canyon is like night and day. If we hadn’t just taken the short drive from the city, I never would have believed that the Las Vegas Valley with a population of over 2.25 million was just over the hill.

We arrived at the entrance just before our scheduled arrival time at 11:00. We allotted time for a tour of the one-way loop road and a couple of stops but not the numerous trails that entice visitors to get off the road and into the surrounding terrain.

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The first stop was the Visitor’s Center. It has indoor and outdoor exhibits explaining the area’s history, geology, and endemic animal and plant life. 

The Visitor’s Center keeps a low profile against the desert backdrop.

An Old West cavalry fort? No. Just a visitor’s center.



The center has a great view of Calico Hills, which was one of two places where we dismounted for up close views.

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Joshua trees. Dick Bowers photo

The Calico Hills area has two parking lots. Visitors can get out and walk up to the cliffs or take trails that go into the interior.

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Trails from this location pass several tinajas, depressions in the rock that hold water from desert rain.  Tinajas can hold water for months and are crucial for survival of many species.


A friendly visitor offered to take a group photo.

The Dartmouth College Butterfield Hall Gang. Front, Gary Craig ’74, Steve Geis ’73, Sandy Kryle ’72, back Dick Bowers ’73 and yours truly ’74.

Current residences for this crew are, respectively, San Diego, CA; Fort Worth, TX; New York, NY; Scottsdale, AZ; and Charlotte, NC.

Calico Hills is one of many places in Red Rock Canyon that is popular with rock climbers.  They say there are routes for all abilities.  I think my ability, or lack thereof, is an exception to that general rule.

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Red Rock Canyon is the product of several geological processes over eons.  The process  that seems to have the most influence over the area’s current appearance began about 180 million years ago when giant sand dunes were converted into sandstone.


The loop drive offers plenty of stunning scenery without having to leave your car.


We also stopped to see the Petroglyph Wall.  It is accessible from the Willow Spring turn off about halfway around the loop drive.  A short trail leads across a dry wash to an area were people carved messages and artwork hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago.



The trail keeps some distance from the petroglyphs which are partially hidden by vegetation.

Gary Craig photo

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Willow Spring is the trailhead for a couple of trails that begged to be taken. Reading posts about great hikes on blogs I follow, I’m a little ashamed that we didn’t make time for a hike.


Walking to the petroglyphs provided a limited opportunity for close-up glimpses of Mojave Desert landscapes, flora and fauna.

Chuckwalla lizard.
Prickly Pear cactus.  Here, they call this “beaver tail cactus.”
Apricot Mallow
Mojave Yucca (Gary Craig photo

Apache Plume  Gary Craig photo

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Cholla (jumping cactus). These plants have spines that are extremely difficult to remove.

Red Rock Canyon Hours & Entrance Fee

Red Rock Canyon’s hours vary by season:

  • November-February: 6 am to 5 pm
  • March: 6 am to 7 pm
  • April-September: 6 am to 8 pm
  • October: 6 am to 7 pm

The Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center is open daily from 9 am to 4:30 pm.

There are sections of Red Rock Canyon that you can get to without paying a fee. However, to reach the Visitors Center and/or drive the Scenic Drive, there is an entrance fee of $15 per car and $5/day per bike. . But, if you have a federal Annual Parks Pass, Senior Pass, or Access Pass, your entrance fee is covered. Reservations are required to access the Scenic Drive. You can purchase a timed entry ticket online up to 30 days before your visit.

Final Thought

Red Rock Canyon represents the Mojave Desert environment that completely surrounds Las Vegas and isolates it from other population centers. The middle of this environment seems like a highly unusual place to find a metropolis that attracts people from around the globe to its luxury hotels and casinos, elegant shops, fine restaurants, and world-class entertainment, and nightlife.