About 30 minutes’ drive to the west of the 24 hour casinos, all you can eat buffets, and somewhat glazed-eyed people of Las Vegas, is the beautiful state park of Red Rock Canyon. The open country, big skies, and incredible rock formations are a refreshing change from the city.
There are a variety of hiking trails to suit almost everyone. As you might guess, many of the rock formations are red – from the iron in the rock, but there are white and yellow rocks. I was particularly intrigued by the “spotted” rocks. Light coloured rocks with spots of rusty red scattered throughout, where the iron is visible. For such rocky country, there’s a surprising amount of plant life. Cactus are everywhere, also yucca, and twisted and stunted pine trees.
People used to live here too. The ever-resourceful native peoples of this region survived for thousands of years. They’ve left their mark in the form of petroglyphs and pictographs on the rocks. We can never know the meanings of these paintings, but they offer a small glimpse into a now-vanished way of life. Were the paintings and marks left to show future hunting parties where to find game, (they appear to show deer, maybe other animals), were they part of religious or spiritual rituals? Or were they scratched and painted by gangs of bored youths, who were perhaps meant to be doing something more useful, but decided to leave their marks on the rocks instead? We will never know for sure, but it’s fascinating to look at these drawings, and especially the handprints of long-gone people, and wonder.
About an hour’s drive to the east of Las Vegas, towards Lake Mead, is another region of gorgeous red rocks, aptly named the Valley of Fire. Here too, there are incredible rock formations, amazing colours and stunning views across rocks and valleys. The way that nature has shaped these rocks is never-ending, and always stunning. Beehive formations, holes and archways, rocks piled on top of rocks. There’s always something more, something different, around the bend. This is another area where there are well-preserved petroglyphs left behind by ancient peoples.
As we travelled east from Las Vegas to Sedona, the red rocks stayed with us. In Sedona, many of the rock shapes have been given fanciful names: Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, Coffeepot, Teapot and Snoopy. The rocks surround this little town, and change colour depending on the weather and the time of day, but they are always glorious. Hiking in the red rocks of Sedona is a very satisfying experience, as even relatively novice hikers like us can quickly walk and scramble up to what appears to be a high mountain, without too much difficulty.
On Cathedral Rock, we were quickly surrounded by swifts, swooping and diving to catch insects. We heard hawks calling, and saw footprints of javelina, the local wild pigs. As the light changes with the hours, the colours of the rocks become more intense, shadows deepen, shapes appear to change, and the sun drops behind the mountain. As the sun goes down, the wind picks up, and the air suddenly grows cooler. Night has indeed fallen.
I am writing this as we are driving from Sedona to Santa Fe, and still the red rocks are with us. We have driven through Navajo, Hopi and Zuni areas, always with red rocks around us. We’ve just driven through Albuquerque with its surrounding Sandia Mountains, named for the colour (Sandia means watermelon in Spanish). The red rock country of the US south-west is truly beautiful and worth preserving for future generations.
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