Natural Features and Perspectives
Petrified sand dunes, frozen in time, offer visitors to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (NCA) a unique perspective of nature and the effects of millions of passing years. The sight of suddenly emerging waterfalls cascading into wooded canyons evokes mystery and appreciation.
Just 10 miles from the city of Las Vegas, the mountains rise to a great colorful escarpment, formed along a fault zone with peaks over 8,000 feet and huge cliffs and ravines banded with gray, white, and red rock. The most prominent geologic feature of the NCA, the Keystone Thrust Fault was formed when a collision forced one crustal plate over the top of another. The outcome of this process is clearly visible where the gray carbonate rocks of the ancient ocean sit above the younger tan and red sandstone.
Wide empty plains of the Mojave Desert beneath the hills are studded with Joshua trees, contributing to this impressive spectacle. The Mojave, smallest of the North American deserts, is home to approximately 2,000 species of known plants, a quarter of which are found nowhere else in the world. Although the desert landscape is dominated by dry shrub vegetation, lush pockets can be found in the cool, well-watered canyons of the escarpment.
A perennial supply of water and vegetation supports a variety of wildlife in Red Rock Canyon. Visitors to the area may see over 100 bird species, such as Cooper's hawk, golden eagle, loggerhead shrike, rock wren, roadrunner, and white-throated swift. The NCA is also home to more than 45 species of mammals, most nocturnal, including coyote, kit and gray fox, bobcat, mountain lion, hare, mule deer, desert bighorn sheep, and wild burro. Introduced by the Spanish, the burro population is managed by the BLM under the 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act (Public Law 92-195). To prevent destructive levels of grazing, burros may be captured and offered for adoption. The desert tortoise can also be found, although it spends much of its life in underground burrows. Loss and degradation of habitat through fragmentation, off-road vehicle use, military desert training, mineral extraction activities, grazing, and development has put the desert tortoise on the federal list of Endangered Species.
Unlike the surrounding desert, Red Rock Canyon NCA is home to dozens of springs, as well as natural catchments known as potholes or tinajas. This precious resource has made Red Rock Canyon an important travel destination of humans for thousands of years. Nomadic hunters and gatherers, including the Southern Paiute and the Archaic or Desert Culture Native Americans, came seasonally to the Canyon where various edible plants and animals accompanied the concentration of water. Evidence also suggests that more settled agricultural groups, like the Patayan and Anasazi, traveled to Red Rock Canyon or traded for its resources. The NCA is rich in cultural resources, and present day visitors to the Canyon can read the history of their predecessors in rock art (petroglyphs and pictographs), recovered tools, and circular roasting pits of limestone, some several yards high.
On November 16, 1990, Congress created the 197,000 acre Red Rock Canyon NCA.