Las Vegas, for the uninitiated, is a city seemingly adrift among the vistas of the harsh Mojave desert. While there are several small towns and cities within an hour's drive of the ever-expanding edges of the Vegas cityscape, once you pass those you're pretty much in the wastelands. We're talking the land of infamous Area 51, the Nevada Nuclear test site, Graboids, and Fallout New Vegas. The benefit to all this expanse of unrepentantly rough terrain is that much of it is exquisitely beautiful if you dare brave getting to it. Red Rock Canyon is among these prettiest of places while conveniently close to the city limits and relatively low on the difficulty. You can certainly opt to scramble up challenging rocks and scurry through caves and cracks, but you do so at your own discretion.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is named for the signature red rocks that proliferate the land. Other colors also streak through the stones, providing contrast and context. Lighter stones could indicate mineral leaching from being underwater, while darker colors might indicate the presence of dense clays or different combinations of compounds. While I'm no geologist, I have to admit it's a bit awe-inspiring to peer upon stones that chart the changes of eons in their striata...and besides, the red rocks are simply pretty. Many of the plants that grow in the desert are a less vibrant shade of green than you see in forests or grasslands, but the subdued hues contrast against the red quite nicely.
Despite the unyielding temperament of the desert, animal and plant life still flourishes. After hiking around for a little while, we found this little amphibian and his pals in a small pond that had sprung up atop a stone during the last rain. Rain is a scarce commodity and the ecosystem has adapted to take full advantage of it when it finally arrives.
Driving back into Vegas from Red Rock is especially pretty during sunset, as the sky grows moodier and the city lights begin to twinkle to life. If you have the time to linger, enjoy the stars unhindered by the distant city lights.
Few things in life are quite as lovely as the stars in a crisp, clear desert sky.
Have you ever ventured into the Red Rock Canyon conservation area outside of Vegas?
If not, I highly recommend it during your next visit!