A short visit to Red Rock Canyon

It’s now my third time visiting Las Vegas in Nevada. The sound of it seems like I’m now a regular in town… reality is that with my visits spanning over a long period of time and the long-haul travel from the far distant Europe, it doesn’t really feel like I’ve been here often.

The first time I’ve been here was for AWS re:Invent, back in the year 2013. I’ve made the unforgiving mistake of focusing too much on my business assignment and missing a sightseeing tour.

I’ve redeemed myself of such on my second visit. Oh… what a great adventure on the Grand Canyon! I can still recall the feeling of falling in love with it and the wonder of bringing back the memories of the time spent there. I’ll forever be in love with it. And have plans of coming back one day… don’t know when, don’t know how, don’t know with whom but the certainty that it is destined to happen, that is so undeniable as the air I breathe.

As I planned to come to the city of lights for the third time, it was obvious that I’d had to include an adventure on it. With a tremendously busy agenda this time and not a lot of time around my business responsibilities, I’ve restrained myself from going somewhere far and minimised travel arrangements. No matter how much I try to diminish the impact of jet lag, it always curses my ability to feel truly awake and make the best use of time. With a late arrival in town and short nights insight, I thought having a good night sleep before venturing in a trail run on my last day in town would be my best chance to genuinely enjoy the experience.

Red Rock Canyon has been selected most suited destination. It’s merely a 30 min drive away from Las Vegas, has all the perks that a mountain enthusiast loves and a considerable set of trails to explore.

Piece of guidance: Red Rock Canyon is a US National Conservational Area and has an online website you can visit here, containing significant information on what you can find at the park and how to plan your visit in advance. The Visitor’s Centre is definitely worth a visit. Despite its relatively small size, contains essential media on the history of the canyon, a fine souvenir shop and an excellent central location to use as a starting point. It is open year-round.

The Red Rock Canyon presents awe-inspiring views most wouldn’t expect to see near a major metropolitan city. In contrast to the bright lights and hype of the Las Vegas Strip, Red Rock offers desert beauty, towering red cliffs and abundant wildlife. The mountains in the Red Rock area were formed by a number of geological forces including fractured faults where the earth’s crust collided over millions of years and fossilised sand dunes. Some cliffs can reach up to 900 meters. The sandstone rocks in the conservation area get their colour from iron oxide. Over centuries the iron oxide built up, producing the vibrant, crimson colour the canyon illustrates today.

I’m now at the car rental counter in Las Vegas, realising that the car type I chose online when booking in Europe doesn’t correspond a thing to the cars available at the station. The regular compact cars we’re used to for short rides are replaced by mid-sized vehicles and American muscle cars really easy. On the low end of the spectrum, cars come with a portable GPS device instead of a built-in one. The customer service representative informs me that I’ll actually pay less by having the car upgraded rather than what I have with the GPS device cost supplement. Okay… let’s do it then. What do I get? Now, this is turning out to be more interesting than I expected… I’ll be driving a convertible Mustang to Red Rock Canyon. Cooooooool….

I hit the highway with the roof on, as I’ll be cruising the next half hour towards the canyon. Leaving town is easy and the route there is pretty easy to navigate. At the entrance of the national park, I head straight to the Visitor’s Centre, which has plenty of parking space to pull over. After a short visit to the facilities, I get my backpack on and start running towards the Calico Hills.

Piece of guidance: Trail Run Project is an amazing website with a large repertoire of trails for runners. I’ve used it to map the routes I planned taking and recommend it as an easy way to find attractive places to visit. Second to that is obviously the Strava Global Heatmap, which gives you an overview of anonymised, aggregated data of all runners in a particular location of a map. You might want to choose the most used routes – as these surely have the highest relevance – or the least taken ones – they’ve often given me more exclusive, off the beaten track experiences.

The landscape is in tones of grey from the limestone, meeting red and tan from the sandstone. I cruise alongside the Calico Hills and will soon be turning right, inward, towards a narrow pass that will take me towards the Calico Tanks Trail. Elevation changes are minimal and the path is extremely runnable. I step over a few slabs, deviate from a couple of pools here and there and arrive at an outset where Las Vegas is visible in the distance. It’s amazing to see the city from afar… it goes so beyond the Strip…

A Japanese man starts a conversation about travel and how he, now retired, loves to go to places fundamentally diverse from each other. We talk about Switzerland, the Grand Canyon, Mount Fuji in Japan (and how there’s a famous ultra run there), locations in Africa, oh well… I lose track of time. It’s a sunny day and the best thing to do when you have time is to use it exchanging experiences with interesting people.

I head back through the same trail and aim for my next destination: Turtlehead Mountain. Can’t miss it really, as its summit sings a calling from the north. That’s where I can get my so desired elevation…

The uphill is mostly done on single trails, sandy and wide at the start, steep compact dirt afterwards. Vegetation is low. The trail goes around the mountain so that the basin of the canyon cannot be seen any longer. Anticipation builds as I’m on the face of the mountain opposite where the beautiful view is going to be. Shadowed from it. Waiting for the moment when, reaching the summit, a surprising view will delight the senses.

Despite its near 600 m elevation gain, reaching the top is easy. It’s time to refuel and take the opportunity to sit and relax. Enjoy the view. Start a conversation with a hiker which is doing exactly the same. Resting and eating a sandwich with delight. He’s lives close by. Works at the big city but wanted to have the feel of a small town to live with his family. I recognise the feeling 😉 I take my time to eat. Breathe deeply. Feel the breeze. Capture the sun on my skin. It’s nice here. It was worth coming here…

My ultimate plan is to go round White Rock. Now that I’m hitting the basin again, however, jet lag and a very intense week show its toll. I’m tired… deeply tired…

I decide to skip the original plan. Skip White Rock and head to Ice Box Canyon for closing the day. I run across the valley through a trail which is cutting it across, north to south. Fatigue keeps intensifying… I decide to cut left and go east directly to the Visitor’s Centre. I’m going through the river bed at this stage, with nothing more in mind rather than getting back to the car. While doing additional trails would have been great, there’s comfort in knowing that it’s always nice to leave something behind. It’s a good excuse for planning a future visit 😉

Piece of guidance: the Panorama Road is so worth doing. It is a 20 km (13 miles) scenic loop, which exposes drivers to the geological history and splendour of the canyon. There are several opportunities to stop for taking photos and you get a very good impression of the size of the canyon and the variety of its rock formations.

I leave with a full heart…
It’s clear that any future visit to Las Vegas needs to include a visit to one of the wonderful canyons around. I take the scenic route on my way out and recognise that my smile means I’m already thinking of which one will be next. Zion perhaps?

It’s time to hit the hotel, have lunch and pack. There’s an airplane waiting.
See you next time Vegas!

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