keep your eyes on the road

We first heard about Red Rock Canyon over 20 years ago. We were climbers in college back then, and we saw it in a magazine. Ok maybe we weren’t real rock climbers. Real climbers were hanging off the edge of half dome in a hammock suspended only by pieces wedged into the rock. That being said, we were weekend warriors who could sport climb (5.10-5.11) and appreciate the sport. When we saw Red Rock’s colorful hues and smooth surface in the magazine, it beckoned us from our Southern California apartment five hours away. 

red rock canyon

red rock canyon – steep overhanging climbing route in calico tanks

 A climber looks at mountains and rocks differently than everyone else. Just as a photographer is always scanning the scenery while driving instead of watching the road, a climber is always looking up at the rocks and mountains. The first thing a climber notices about Red Rock Canyon is its smooth hard sandstone surface that won’t tear fingers apart like granite does. Throw in the gorgeous colors, 5 minute approach, and beautiful mountain scenery and you have a climbers paradise.  

red rock canyon

red rock canyon – hiking/scrambling up calico tanks

“When I was a kid, we walked through 10 miles of snow to get to school”

Times were much different 20 years ago though. The visitor center you see today didn’t exist, and Siri wasn’t at your fingertips waiting to tell you how to get to Red Rock Canyon. The internet barely even existed then to the average person and hardly anyone had a cell phone. Ok, we didn’t walk through 10 miles of snow to get to school like our parents did, but you get the picture. Times were wildly different and information was scarce.    

red rock canyon

red rock canyon – mount wilson, oak creek canyon and rainbow peak (left to right)

Exploring the outdoors two decades ago involved gathering information the old fashioned way. You had to get your hands on a hard cover climbing guide and a fold out map. Even with those, your adventure involved many wrong turns before you reached your destination. 

red rock canyon

red rock canyon – view of keystone thrust from calico tanks

Remember pay phones?

If you got lost, no one would know for days or weeks because when you stayed in a hotel room, you didn’t use their phone. It cost too much to call out-of-town from a hotel phone. Sure, there were pay phones in the lobby, but even back then, using a pay phone wasn’t that much less ridiculous than it is today. Pay phones were for emergencies. People didn’t hang out at phone booths and use them to update their friends and family about their cool selfie pictures and awesome day.

red rock canyon

red rock canyon – calico tanks

The only people you talked to on vacation were the people that were physically right in front of you. If you documented your trip with a few photos, you didn’t see any of the pictures until a few weeks later when you paid a fortune to develop them. People knew you made it home safely only after you arrived home and made a phone call from your land line.

red rock canyon

red rock canyon – calico tanks

“huh – I expected the red rocks to be redder than this”

Now you might be able to understand how we failed to find Red Rock Canyon twenty years ago. Somehow we ended up in the middle of the desert with no red rocks in sight. It sounds ridiculous now given how easy it is to find the visitors center these days. It’s only 30 minutes from the strip, but we lived in an information dark age then. Wherever we were that day, we bouldered around for a few hours and then returned to our casino hotel. The visual and auditory stimuli of the Vegas casinos took over and we forgot all about our failed attempt. We lost interest in climbing a year or two after that trip as adult responsibilities took over.

red rock canyon

red rock canyon – turtlehead peak

“ok mr. double down”

Gambling blood runs deep in our family, and so we have been to Vegas about 20 times since then. Unfortunately, we never bothered to make a second attempt at Red Rock and nearly forgot all about it. The architects that design the casino mazes are great at their jobs. They managed to keep us at the craps table all those visits instead of venturing outside the strip. Nonetheless, we usually had a great time with only a few regretful nights trying to exceed my ATM withdrawal limit. You know its time to go to bed when even the pit boss doesn’t want to let you take out more money.  

red rock canyon

red rock canyon – climbers on calico tanks

red rock canyon: 20 years later

This year I finally left the casino and had an incredible experience at Red Rock Canyon. Part of me wished I was climbing it, but part of me was happy to just explore it. It’s easier to just wander and appreciate its natural beauty without the heavy gear or a specified climbing route. Besides, I’m 20 years older now, physically at least. My knees can no longer handle hiking with heavy climbing gear, and I have to carry around peppermint for when my heartburn acts up. Mentally, I may not be a full 20 years older, but I do worry more than I did back then.

red rock canyon

red rock canyon – calico tanks as sun begins to go down

The park host at the new visitors center said the scenic loop drive would take about 45 minutes. Instead, I managed to spend 7 hours hiking and exploring.  I didn’t stop until the park closed, which fortunately didn’t happen until just after sunset. It’s the only time I can remember being happy that it gets dark as early as 5pm in the winter. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have witnessed this crazy sunset. I thought lava was about to spew out of Rainbow Mountain.  

red rock canyon

red rock canyon – sunset at rainbow peak

There is still so much more to explore at Red Rock Canyon. Next time we are in Vegas, I may even take my climbing gear. That shouldn’t be long from now as you know we are gamblers. Our Vegas trips will now include at least one morning at Red Rock Canyon instead of 10am gambling (8pm gambling still perfectly ok)!

red rock canyon

red rock canyon – hiking the keystone thrust

 

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