Nevada Adventures – Red Rock Canyon – Sandstone Quarry Trails – Calico Tanks

Nevada Adventures – Red Rock Canyon – Sandstone Quarry Trails – Calico Tanks


There are a number of established trails in Red Rock Canyon that range from easy through to rather difficult. The paved roadway through the conservation area is a one-way circular route with a few established parking lots at, or near, trailheads. The first popular area for hiking and climbing that one encounters after leaving the visitor center is the Calico Hills formation (see previous blog for images of Calico Hills). Following further along the roadway, the next parking lot provides access to a number of trails collectively known as the Sandstone Quarry Trails.


With our available time, we decided to check out the Calico Tanks trail which follows along the back side of the Calico Hills formation and is considered to be of moderate difficulty and 2.5 miles round-trip. There are not a lot of signs marking the various trails but we did get to the right trail and headed off toward the Calico Tanks destination.

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I’m not sure how the person atop the rock formation in the above right image got to that lofty perch but perhaps next time around I’ll try to find out.  This time though my goal was the much more simple trail to the Calico Tanks and with Graeme toting the tripod and 300mm lens, I was able to take it a lot easier.

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The first part of the trail up from the parking lot has a gentle rise to it and large sandstone blocks stand as reminders of why this area is called collectively the Sandstone quarry trails. Although the cacti were not yet in blossom, a number of other plants were beginning to show their stuff.

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A short distance form the parking lot, the trail passes an Agave roasting pit which, according to the informative placard that was nearby the pit, would have been used by native American peoples such as the Paiutes and Mojaves as a place to roast various foods for communal events. Fires in the pits would heat limestone rocks and the food would then be buried in the hot rocks until cooked. The “used” limestone rocks would later be pushed to one side and a mound would eventually increase is size around the pit.


The initial part of the trail follows a “wash” and, although rain is not a common occurrence in this part of the world, hikers need to be aware that in the event of a rainstorm the washes could be dangerous places to be if the rain is sufficient to cause ‘flash’ flooding.


Although there is evidence of red rock on this side of the ridge, it is pretty clear to see that geological upheaval of the area has occurred at some time in the distant past and exposed a different layer of sandstone with a much yellower tone to it. Looking off in the distance, the red rock demarcation layer is clearly visible at yet again a different relative elevation.


As we climbed up through the wash, small lizards would dart across our path. Two different species stopped long enough to have their picture taken. The one on the right is the Mojave Collared Lizard (Crotophytus sp.)and I’m not certain of the i.d. of the one on the right.

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A pink flowered tree and a smaller flowering bush were attracting the attention of numerous bees and butterflies and definitely making the wash a more colourful place to be hiking. An interesting lichen was a bright yellow as were some of the blossoms of other desert plants. A Northern Cloudywing butterfly was one of many species flying in the canyon but the only one that would alight in range of my camera.

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Although the first part of the trail was a rather gentle climb following the “wash” it wasn’t long before the steepness of the trail became more noticeable and it wasn’t too long we could look back and realize why we were finding the going to be a bit tougher than a gentle stroll in the park.

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It was too long before we reached our original destination, the Calico ‘Tanks’.  I’m using the plural but we only located one ‘tank’ and didn’t go looking for any more since our secondary destination was the ridge of rock on the other side of the ‘tank’.  We had been told that the ridge offered a beautiful panoramic view of Las Vegas Valley and we weren’t disappointed when we go there.



There are a number of vantage points from which to view the valley and Graeme and I tried out a few under the watchful of eye of a local squirrel.

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We soon turned around and headed back toward the car knowing that there was more of Red Rock Canyon that we wanted to explore before heading back into the chaotic surroundings of Las Vegas Boulevard. A number of people had come up the trail behind us and were exploring the shores of the ‘tank’ as we chose a route higher up on the side of the canyon wall.


Since graduating to progressive focus glasses, I have found that going downhill is often more difficult than going uphill since the area where my feet will be placed is often viewed through the lower reading part of my glasses and therefore partially out of focus. I can still enjoy the scenery but no longer a mountain goat with sure footing so it wasn’t long before Graeme was descending far ahead of me.  He waited at a convenient spot, though, knowing that I had the key to the car :-).


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Going downhill is still quicker than going uphill and we were soon once again walking along the fine sand and pebbly gravel of the wash and enjoying the shade and the beauty of the surrounding vegetation.


Rated as moderate, this trail is relatively easy to navigate and the view at the top of the ridge is spectacular.  Well worth the time and effort!

About Ron

Ron has long had an interest in photography and traveling and, in recent years, has had more time to devote to both activities. Long a Pentax user, Ron switched to Nikon gear when he went digital. The advent of the digital SLR camera, and the ease of the internet blogging process, has provided a venue for sharing his photography and travel experience at the local, national and international level. More about Ron
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