Monday, September 30, 2013

Hike 2013.048 -- Calico Hills Trail, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, NV

Hiked Saturday, September 28. Fall flowers are in bloom! The temperature was also a perfect mid-70s, sunny, with light winds. It's one of those relatively rare days in Las Vegas where you think this place is just perfect for the outdoor enthusiast.

Although I've hiked in Red Rock Canyon probably a dozen times or more over the years, I don't think I ever actually did the Calico Hills Trail. It always seemed like this trail would be too crowded and not challenging enough, so I usually tried something with a bigger climb and a longer distance from the road. So it was that, on this day, I figured I might as well do a hike I had never done before.

Turns out Saturday was National Public Lands Day, which meant free admission to federal lands that charge an entry fee. This might have led to slightly larger than usual crowds. It also rendered my America the Beautiful pass moot. Oh, well.

The south end of the Calico Hills Trail starts just inside the fee station for Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. It's on the right side of the road, and there's a large sign there. It indicates 1.5 miles to the visitor center,

There's no parking there, so you'll probably park up near the visitor center. Where ever you park, you'll head down through the lowest level of parking, and find a small Trail sign heading downhill, towards the visitor center. There are a few road crossings before yo pop out near the sign for the Calico Trails System. The sign says it's 1.5 miles to the visitor center, 1.1 miles to Calico I, 2.0 miles to Calico II, and 3 miles to Sandstone Quarry (where I started my hike to Turtlehead Peak, back in March). The 1.5 to the visitor center would be via a looping route, which branches off near Calico I. It does not count the 1/4 to 1/2 mile down from the visitor center it would take to get down to this trailhead, so the full loop is between 2.25 and 2.5 miles.

As you may immedi-ately suspect, nearly all of this trail is within sight or sound of the main Red Rock Canyon loop road. That's part of why I never took it before. But, today, I was feeling good about my choice. As soon as I drove in, I saw a carpet of small yellow flowers near the entrance, and this trail was going to let me walk right among that carpet. They formed a nice foreground to either the hills across Blue Diamond Road from where I stood, or all the way across the drainage, at the Rainbow Mountains, or up towards the Calico Hills and Turtlehead Peak.

As I walked, a steady flow of cars headed up the road, on my left. I wondered if they knew a trail was here, just a few feet from where they were driving, and the view of the flowers was so much better, here?

Meanwhile, ahead of me, I repeatedly saw the red sandstone of the Calico Hills. As I got closer to them, they covered more and more of Turtlehead Peak, and the La Madre Mountains, beyond. The twisted, stacked sedimentary layers were also obvious, and one can only imagine the amount of uplifting and folding that must have occurred over the years. This must be a very geologically active place here, that's for sure.

As the trail approaches Calico I, the road is not 15 feet to your left. Many people are parking (illegally) right along the road, and walking across to near the trail to look upon the Calico Hills. On the hills are a number of rock climbers. They all seem to be tied down, which is good. However, I rarely watch rock climbers, because I'm afraid I'll see one fall.

Nonetheless, at Calico I, the trail briefly heads directly down from the road towards the cliff, and the rock climbers are right in front of you and impossible to miss. After about 100 feet of this drop, the trail Calico Hills trail bears to the left, paralleling the road and the cliffs.

In this section, the trail runs near the base of the V-shaped canyon. The road is well above you, on your left. The cliffs are even higher above you, on the right. On both sides, numerous wildflowers bloomed in this somewhat-shaded area of valley. And, in an occasional spot, was pooled water from the unusually heavy rains of September.

The largest of these pools was right near the trail that headed back up towards the road, at Calico II.

Right around here, I feel I lost the official trail. I'm not sure if I should have headed somewhat up towards Calico II here to catch the real trail. Instead, I went downward, following a trail that dropped to the very bottom of the canyon. It crisscrossed the dry stream bed a few times, and it seemed to me this was no longer the trail. But since it was near where I thought I might turn around, I was not concerned.

I made my way up one of the drainages, picking my way to the top. I passed wonderful red-orange sandstone, some of it carved into little arches and alcoves.

Once at the top of a decent cliff, I stopped, drank and ate some, rested, then turned back. On my return trip, I mostly just retraced my steps, except near the end. There, rather than heading down towards the entry station, I took a more direct route towards the visitor center. I'll estimate about 5.25 to 5.5 miles for the day.


  1. That view of Blue Diamond Hill is awesome.

  2. Thanks, Shon! It was a photogenic day. I had to hike without my DSLR, but I do still like my little Kodak Easyshare. It still lets me set my exposure for the highlights, the shadows, or the average, and to play a little bit with the depth of field. And the glass is surprisingly good.