Posted by: GeekHiker | July 29, 2009

Travels: Red Rock Canyon State Park

I’m going to go out on a limb and speculate that most of you have seen California’s Red Rock Canyon State Park (Wikipedia Page here).  No, really, you probably have.

RRCSP pops up out of nowhere along California’s Highway 14.  One moment you’re rocketing along through the flat scrub of the Mojave Desert, having just passed through the town of Mojave itself (launching place of both the Rutan Voyager and SpaceShipOne) when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, you’re crossing through a canyon filled with various shades of red, white and pink rock, slanted at steep angles and bizarrely weathered.

Then, as suddenly as it was there, it’s gone a couple of minutes later.

All those weird rocks have made their way into the movies, naturally enough, being only a couple hours north of LA.  Various alien worlds, otherworldy environments such as “Westworld”, and the desert scenery in “Jurassic Park”… yep, you’ve probably seen RRCSP a dozen times before without even knowing it.

Most folks though, on their way to camping in the eastern Sierras or skiing at Mammoth, don’t stop.  And, really, that’s a shame because the park actually has quite a lot to offer.

Red Rock SP Photomerge 01
Layers of ancient seas, uplifted and tilted in Red Rock Canyon State Park

So it was that a friend and I headed up there a few weeks ago for an overnight photo-trip.  Summer in the desert is, most decidedly, the off-season, with daytime temperatures topping 105 and nighttime lows in the 70’s.  Still, it didn’t feel that hot when we explored outside (though one could feel the liquids being dried out of the body pretty quickly), but it did keep us off even the short nature trails, hence this isn’t a hiking post.

Besides the nature trails, the park also has some backcountry roads (some 2wd, most 4wd) and a nice campground with running water nestled under some weathered cliffs.  It was here that we camped, BBQ’ing turkey burgers and drinking beer.  That night I slept in the open bed of the truck under a canopy of stars.  I woke at about 3 in the morning, stayed awake for a couple of minutes, waiting for a shooting star to go by, before going back to sleep.

Most of the time, though, was spent driving in 4wd and taking pictures.

Red Rock SP 03
Sunlight and shadows passing over the landscape

Red Rock SP 08
Late afternoon on a sandy stretch of backcountry road

Red Rock SP 13
Weathering on the rocks: harder rock caps the softer rock which is eroding away beneath it

Red Rock SP Photomerge 02
Sunset light, looking east from the campsite

Red Rock SP Photomerge 03
Sunrise light on the white cliffs in the park campground

There’s life out there, too:

Red Rock SP 15
Lizard staring contest (he won)

Red Rock SP 09
Dragonfly, backlit

Red Rock SP 10
Dragonfly silhouette

We also left the park boundaries at one point, heading into the El Paso Mountains (BLM Land) along a sometimes sandy, sometimes rocky road.  We stopped at old mines and various geological points, seeing what was left of those who tried to find their fortune in the desert.

Red Rock SP 16
Sunlight streaming into an old mineshaft

We also visited Burro Schmidt’s tunnel.  (Wikipedia info here)

What is Burro Schmidt’s tunnel?  Well, it’s basically a mining tunnel, built by William “Burro” Schmidt.  Over the course of 40 years.  Almost entirely by hand.

Red Rock SP 17
Entrance to Burro Schmidt’s tunnel

Oh, and did I mention that it’s over 2,000 feet long?

Schmidt started the tunnel originally to move his ore closer to the railhead at Mojave.  Why he finished it, no one is entirely sure.

The desert is a very interesting place, sometimes.

Anyway, as I said, this was a photo trip, and you can find the whole set here.

Red Rock SP 18
The view from the end of Burro Schmidt’s tunnel, looking south over the wide expanse of desert towards Mojave



  1. This looks so pretty! I’m so glad you take lots of pictures! 🙂

  2. Wow, great photos! The landscape is awe-inspiring. I esp. like Mr. Lizard and Ms. Dragonfly!

  3. Oh, the the sun streaming through the mineshaft one! You should come to Oregon to check out John Day Fossil Beds:

  4. I meant, “and the sun…” Grrr…

  5. omg, your pictures are incredible! I love the dragonfly against the muted gray background with the silhouette of leaves in the foreground. That is simply breathtaking. And the rocks! The sunset! And the glow of those white cliffs. Wow, what a treat.

    So, you must have been IN the mineshaft pretty far to get that photo. I worried just looking at it! Whew, you made it back sans hantavirus and collapse. 🙂

  6. ps. oh and the lizard cracked me up! (“he won” – lol!)

  7. Oh man! I wanted to go to Burro Sscmidt’s tunnel but I didn’t think the Honda would have made it in one piece.

    Looks like an awesome trip and awesome pictures. I really like the sunrise on the cliffs.

  8. We go to red rock canyon in Colorado whenever I visit my sister, it’s beautiful. My brother in law is a geology nerd also so he spouts off all the fascinating stuff about rock formations and whatnot.

  9. Wow. Just wow. These photos are amazing. There’s such beauty in the desert that often goes unnoticed.

  10. MissMcCracken – Heh, you should see how many I shoot just to get these!

    K – It is a pretty amazing landscape, in spite of the heat.

    K – Another park I’ve always wanted to visit

    K – LOL, no worries!

    Spleeness – I like that shot too. The mineshaft is actually pretty shallow, maybe 50 or 75 feet, and pretty large, so no real worries

    Spleeness – Heh, he really didn’t blink…

    Homer-Dog – Nope, the Honda definitely wouldn’t have made it!

    S’Dizzle – Sounds like someone I’d enjoy traveling with, as I do love the geology!

    Dingo – Aw, stop, you’ve made me red in the face. There is, but most people don’t notice because they’re too busy racing to Vegas…

  11. Sorry I’m commenting so late– but wanted to let you know the pictures for this post are phenomenal! They are lovely. I especially like the sunlit mine shaft.

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