Welcome to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area just outside Las Vegas.
National conservation area? What’s that? I read the definition on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s web site and concluded it’s just some bureaucratic ball-bouncing with nomenclature.
More relevant for this post is “when is a national park NOT a national park?” That appears to be the case with Red Rock – a particularly pristine piece of public property just outside Las Vegas. In terms of scenic attraction, recreational value and popularity (two million visitors per year), Red Rock is the full equivalent of a national park.
However we choose to classify Red Rock Canyon, we’ll focus on it as our destination this week.
Hiding in plain sight
Let me ask you something: When you’re rumbling up or down Interstate 15 next to the Las Vegas Strip, do you ever look toward the western horizon? Of course not! Other than the level of concentration needed for driving, you’re looking east at the Strip’s spectacular lighting and skyline. So even though you may have passed a nice view of Red Rock Canyon, you may have never really looked at it.
How else would you hide 195,000 acres other than in plain sight?
We’ll change that now. It won’t take long – maybe 600-700 words plus a few photos and a YouTube link. I’ll show you what the place looks like, what you can do there, and how to get there. (You won’t need help locating accommodations, will you?) You’ll want to allocate a half-day to a full day for your actual visit.
The park is only 20 miles from the Strip. Directions are simple: Exit I-15 onto Charleston Blvd., then head west. Continue until the city abruptly ends. That’s a common phenomenon with many western cities; it signifies the boundary between private land and public land. You’re now on SR 159. After a few miles, a sign will direct you to turn right. Just ahead are a fee booth and the Red Rocks Visitor Center.
The park entry fee just went up in February. It’s now $15 per day for cars, $10 for motorcycles and $5 for bicycles. The visitor center is open 8-4:30 daily. In it you’ll find pretty much the same setup as in any national park – exhibits, special programs, bookstore, helpful rangers, etc. Phone (702) 515-5350.
Leave your cell phone turned off
Up this close, it’s apparent that the escarpment is neither straight nor smooth. It’s more like a series of plateau tops divided by numerous side canyons inviting exploration. This is the starting point of the 13-mile scenic drive, which winds along the base of the escarpment. Traffic is one-way – counterclockwise only. The speed limit is 35 mph. There are turnouts for 26 trailheads; there are also a dozen restrooms and four picnic areas. The scenic drive and trails are open 6 a,m. to sunset. Want great photos? Dawn offers the best light. Need cell phone service? Don’t count on it.
At this point, let’s pause and view our 2:43 YouTube video, which will help you transition from the frenzy of Vegas to the mellow vibe of Red Rock Canyon.
As you set out on the scenic drive, keep in mind there are 26 designated hiking trails ranging from easy to strenuous. It’s wise to plan ahead and select which ones interest you. For a hiking guide, go to www.redrockcanyonlv.org/wp-content/uploads/rrc-keystone-2016_vfin.pdf.
Just as important are climbing routes. Red Rock is considered one of the country’s best destinations for rock climbing. In fact, I found several complaints on Trip Advisor about rock climbers aggressively defending “their” spots. If you’re a rock climber, be sure to get a “late exit” permit in advance if you’ll need to leave the park after the sunset closing time.
Red Rock has a 71-unit campground open Labor Day to Memorial Day. Sites, which go for $20 per night, are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. The campground has fresh water and restrooms, but there are no hookups or showers, and no RV dump station. Rumor has it the campground is a big hangout for rock climbers.
Thanks for joining me today. Next week’s tentative destination will be the funky river town of Hannibal, Missouri. After that, we’ll offer you a two-part plan for a road trip vacation to the northern California coast.