“We spend an awful lot of time on our holidays looking at rocks.”
A recent observation I made to North Nomad as we drove through Nevada on our way to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada.
Though, the rocks we’d seen were pretty spectacular – the massive caves at Kentucky, the hoodoos in New Mexico and Texas, and the huge cliff faces at the Grand Canyon.
Not exactly your every day dirty rock.
But still… rocks.
And here we were in Nevada, yet again, with more rocks.
This time it’s a 195,819 acre conservation area in the Mojave Desert, replete with a pretty funky education centre.
About 190 million years ago, Red Rock Canyon was inhabited with dinosaurs and recently fossils have been found in the area.
Paleontologists found three-toed tracks and believe that they were made by two-legged carnivorous dinosaurs, roaming the desert when it was still a giant sand dune, back in the Early Jurassic Period.
Aside from the dinosaurs, tracks from an ancient line of scorpion-like arachnids were found.
The park itself is made up of orange and red limestone and sandstone rock, with large monoliths and hills at various viewpoints. It’s interesting to imagine that once these small sandstone mountains were red sand dunes with meat-eating dinosaurs roaming through them.
Water and wind sculpted them over millions of years into the formations they are today, and their rusty colour comes from iron ore in the sand.
Apart from the rock formations, the park is covered in Creosote bush.
Creosote is unique in that it grows where most other plants can’t survive. The bushes can survive for hundreds or even thousands of years.
The education centre shows off some pretty cool lizards. Which is a good thing – despite much earnest looking on my part, we saw no wildlife. (And I was a little disappointed given signs were up saying turtles were about that day!)
The chuckwalla is a lizard that eats Creosote bushes and hides under them for shade. When they’re threatened by a predator, they run into crevices between cracks and puff up so they can’t be pulled out.
One of the most interesting things about the park that we learnt at the education centre was about the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in the area for about 500 years along the Virgin and Muddy Rivers.
They’d built pueblo dwellings, pit houses, and farmed corn, squash, beans, and other crops – but left around 1150 AD for reasons still unknown to historians.
The Southern Paiute also lived in the area, with their descendents still living there to this day. They thrived for 2,000 years with an intimate knowledge of the desert, and their hunting skills.
If you’re in Las Vegas and don’t plan on making it to Utah, Red Rock Canyon is a nice alternative. It’s not as striking as Arches National Park, but it’s an easy drive with plenty of viewpoints to check out the scenery, particularly if you have mobility issues. And on the other hand, if you are a keen hiker and walker, there are trials aimed at all levels of experienced hiking.
Location: 3205 State Route 159, Las Vegas, NV 89161
Contact Details & Opening Times: 702-515-5350. Open 7 days a week from 6 am – 5-7 pm(Depending on time of year). The Visitor Center is open 8 am – 4:30 pm daily
Cost: Private vehicle: $7
You can connect with South Nomad, Jessica, over at Google+.