Calico Hills Trail Hike (RRCNCA)

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This page last updated on 04/10/2018
Destination: Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Distance from Point of Origin: 22 miles.
Estimated (One Way) Travel Time: 40 minutes.
Directions: From the Stratosphere Casino take a right onto Las Vegas Blvd south (the Strip) to Sahara Ave. Turn right onto West Sahara Ave (NV-589) and continue to follow W. Sahara Ave for 10 miles until it turns into Desert Foothills Drive. Continue on for another 4.5 miles and turn left onto NV-159 W Charleston Blvd. Continue to follow NV-159 (which becomes Blue Diamond Road) west for about 4.5 miles and turn right onto Scenic Drive which leads into the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (RRCNCA). After paying the entrance fee, bear right at the fork to stay on the 16 mile Scenic Loop road. Drive 2.75 miles to Sandstone Quarry Road and turn right. Drive about .10 mile to the parking area. This is the trailhead to the Calico II hike.
Area Description: Once inside the Red Rock Canyon park, the Calico Hills are a 3.2 mile long section of brilliantly red sandstone cliffs, easily what is one of the park’s most beautiful features (1). Along this stretch that parallels the parks’ 13-mile loop road, there are two main stopping parking areas, Calico I and Calico II. Below the road, at the base of the hills, there are numerous trails that traverse open country with interesting rocks, fossils, birds, rock art, contrasting vegetation types, and grand scenery all around. The trail known as The Calico Hills Trail runs one-way from the Entrance Station to Sandstone Quarry. The trail (in red) show on (Fig. 02) is actually the southern half of the Calico Hill Loop Trail.
Special Attraction or Points of Interest: Between Calico II and Sandstone Quarry, there are some large boulders that contain some ancient petroglyphs. 
Primary Activity: Hiking and Photography.
Secondary Activities: Birding.
Elevation: The elevation from the trailhead at Sandstone Quarry is 4,308 feet. Heading south the lowest point of the trail is 3,521 feet for a total drop in elevation of 787 feet. 
Best Time To Visit: During the cooler months of Spring and Fall.
Hike Description
: This hike can be considered a series of trail segments that can start and stop at any of 4 trailheads; 3 along the Scenic Loop Road and 1 at Red Spring south in Calico Basin. If you start at the Sandstone Quarry trailhead and hike all the way to the Red Spring trailhead in Calico Basin there is a cumulative hiking drop of 837. Unfortunately, hiking the washes at the base of the Calico Hill, you end up hiking up and down a series alluvial fans, rocky outcroppings and gullies that add nearly 300 feet of uphill climbing as you descend the full length of the hike. If you don’t park a second car at Calico Basin, you would have to hike up nearly 800 feet to return to the Sandstone Quarry trailhead.Difficulty
:  Though many of the trails are a lot of loose stones and gravel, most of the runs on easy, gently sloping trails, but there are a few steep parts and some off-trails in a wash. Needless to say, we thought this trails was more difficult than we had anticipated.                           
Facilities: There are facilities at both the Sandstone Quarry and Red Spring south trailhead, but nothing for the length of the roughly 3-mile hike in between. 
Estimated Round-trip Time: The total distance of the hike shown in (Fig. 02), including some backtracking we had to do in one of the wash canyon areas (D) on (Fig. 02), was 3.84 miles. Because we made many stops for conversation, talking with other hikers, watching climbers on the walls of the hills, taking pictures, etc. this hike took us nearly 4 hours. I estimate that most people could complete the entire round trip hike in about 4.5 hours. What we did was to take two vehicles, parking one at the Red Spring south trailhead and then driving the other vehicle to the Sandstone Quarry trailhead, thereby eliminating the return hike.

(Fig. 02)
12/09/2015 Trip Notes: Today, Harvey Smith, Blake Smith, Robert Croke, Ron Ziance and myself decided to head out to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area to hike the Calico Hills Trail. To do this hike, we decided to leave a vehicle at the Red Spring trailhead in Calico Basin and then drive a second vehicle to the Sandstone Quarry trailhead above Calico II. We then hiked the Calico Hills Trail to Calico Basin (Fig. 02). For a more detailed description of the hike, refer to the information noted above. Unfortunately, it was a very overcast day and did not provide the best lighting for picture taking, causing many of today’s pictures be a little dark. 

Sandstone Quarry Trailhead to Calico I: From the Sandstone trailhead, the view in (Fig. 03) is looking southeast toward the trails first ridge. After topping this first ridge, the trail started working it way down, closer to the bottom of the wash at the base red sandstone cliffs. In the wash we spotted some large eroded sandstone rocks, that almost appeared like a ‘spaceship’ (Fig. 04). About where the spot marked (A) on (Fig. 02) we spotted the first of several groups of people (Fig. 05 & 06) that were rope climbing the steep hillsides of Calico hills. After climbing up to another ridgeline we once again started working our way back to the wash. About halfway down, marked (B) on (Fig. 02), we came upon some large sandstone boulders, some of which contained some petroglyphs (Fig. 07). After passing this area, the trail yet again worked it way up to the top of another ridge – near (C)  on (Fig. 02). Taken from the top of this ridge, the view in (Fig. 08) is looking back (northwest). The very dark red sandstone boulders in the center of this picture are where the petroglyphs are located. . Looking forward from this ridge (Fig. 09), you can see the the trail leading up to the Calico II parking observation area at the center of the picture. (Con’t below)

(Fig. 03)
(Fig. 04)
(Fig. 05)

(Fig. 06)
(Fig. 07)
(Fig. 08)
(Fig. 09)

Calico II to Calico I: From Calico II the trail once again drops down into the wash, following the base of the red sandstone hills (Figs. 10 & 11). As you approach Calico I the trail follows along a wash that is filled with green vegetation. The view in (Fig. 12) is looking back  (northwest) towards Calico II. Again, as you approach the Calico I observation area, the trail climbs up to a point just below Calico I, and then heads steeply down to the wash once again.

(Fig. 10)
(Fig. 12)
Calico I to Red Spring at Calico Basin: A short distance after leaving the Calico I area, the trail led steeply down back into the wash. At the bottom, the trail splits. (see close-up in Fig. 13) . As seen in (Fig. 13), the upper trail (red & yellow) to the left heads down, deeper into the wash. The lower trail (red) to the right is a 200 foot climb up yet another very steep hill to the top of the ridgeline (marked (B) on (Fig. 13). After hiking about 0.3 miles down the trail to the left, we were confronted with some difficult bouldering. We found this area, marked (A) on (Fig. 13). too be too difficult for us, and we turned around and headed back to the intersection and the took the trail to the right up the very steep hill. The (Fig. 12) shows the elevation difference between these to trails. As you can tell from the close-up map in (Fig. 13), this route not only required a difficult uphill hike, it was much longer than the hike would have been down the wash. From the top of the hill, the picture in (Fig. 14) is looking down onto the trail that ran down the wash. Just beyond this point we were confronted with the unusual rock formation seen in (Fig. 15). After descending this hill the trail crosses the wash, area (C) in (Fig. 13), and then begins uphill into an area of red sandstone that had some very interesting boulders that had been shaped by thousands of years of erosion (Figs. 16-19). We even found another boulder with some petroglyphs (Fig. 19).(Con’t below)


(Fig. 14)
(Fig. 15)
(Fig. 16)
(Fig. 17)
(Fig. 18)
(Fig. 19)

The Final Leg – Red Spring: As we rounded the southern most tip of the Calico Hill (Fig. 20) we could see the old jeep road (Fig. 21) that led to the top of the ridge overlooking Red Spring and Calico Basin (Fig. 22). The view in (Fig. 20) was taken looking back (south) from halfway up the old jeep road. If you click on this picture to enlarge, you can see my fellow hikers (middle right) of the picture. The view in (Fig. 23) is looking south, back toward Red Rock Canyon. The pictures in (Figs. 24-29) are some miscellaneous pictures taken along the course of our hike. After a nice picnic lunch at the Red Spring picnic area, we got into our car for the drive back to our hike trailhead at the Sandstone Quarry inside Red Rock Canyon park. Though this hike ended up being much more difficult that any of us had anticipated, we all agreed that it was a good day. I must pay thanks to my fellow hiker, Robert Croke, for the maps and hike data provided by his GPS.
(Fig. 20)

(Fig. 21)
(Fig. 22)
(Fig. 23)
(Fig. 24)
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(Fig. 29)