One of the most beautiful things about the desert is the red rock, the way the rocks and dirt in some areas look like they are trying to artistically render the concept of heat visually. It's a burning red, not the glow of coals but the blush of stone that has baked in the sun, the orangey-red being the inanimate version of the human phenomenon of a tan. It's the kind of color that makes you feel cozy warm just to look at it.
My grandfather, a photographer, and my grandmother, a painter, used to spend hours trying to capture the beautiful red rocks of Southern Utah. In the last months of his life, he spent hundreds of miles from those beautiful sights. My grandfather used to ask me to take him on drives to pass the time. Every time I would get into the driver's seat I would ask him where he wanted to go. "Oh, just keep driving 'til you see red rock," was his reply.
Here in Las Vegas, we not only have beautiful red rock, we have an entire conservation area dedicated to it. The Red Rock National Conservation Area is about 10 miles west of Las Vegas and boasts 197,000 acres, 30 miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, a visitor's center and a 13 mile scenic drive. You could spend a month there and not run out of things to see or do.
Of special interest to parents and children is the Lost Creek Discovery Trail. On the road to Willow Spring, a trail has been engineered specifically to help children enjoy the desert and learn about the environment, wildlife, plantlife and former residents of the area.
The trail begins at "Wash Out" where children learn about flash floods, one of the many dangers in the desert. Ironically, water is the greatest force for erosion in the desert, even though it rains infrequently. The next stop on the trail is "Naturalizing," a vegetation area where you can find such desert plants as the Desert Manzanita, the Old Man Prickly Pear, the Pinyon Pine and the Utah Juniper. At "Wild Food Find" you'll learn of the Paiute Indians, Native Americans who were on the same trail hundreds of years ago in search of their major food source -- the Agave Plant. They used to roast it and eat it like an artichoke, but be careful when you find one of these plants! Their leaves are extremely sharp.
At the next stop, "Hunters and Gatherers," you'll get a chance to see the rock shelters of the Paiutes and well-preserved petroglyphs and pictographs. Enjoy these artifacts, but remember to enjoy them only from afar. Climbing within 50 feet of them is strictly prohibited. Further up the trail at "Environments," a desert meadow shows off the animals and plants of the region. Just a few yards away a trail leads to a nearby box canyon where you can see a waterfall.
Or you can venture to the next stop on the trail, "Water Music." At this point the trail nears water running over a rock creekbed and children are encouraged to listen to the sounds and "music" that running water makes. The seventh stop on the trail, "Old Friends," invites children to closely examine the trees in the area --what does the bark feel like? What might it feel like to spend all day reaching for the sky? The final stop focuses on "New Friends," younger plants, such as the desert willow.
If you have the time, you might want to continue on to Willow Spring to view an agave roasting pit. Located less than half a mile from the Lost Creek parking lot by trail, you can also drive to the Willow Springs Picnic area where the roasting pit is about 50 yards from the restroom.
A map is located below, but the most simple way to get to the Lost Creek Discovery Trail is to take Charleston Blvd west to Highway 159 and follow the signs to the Visitor's Center. Remember your hiking etiquette and enjoy the beautiful desert red rock. It only takes one look to capture your heart entirely.
More information: Red Rock Canyon Interpretative Association
Photo by Exothermic
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