Red Rock Canyon State Park

By Levi Clancy for לוי on
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The entire area was at the bottom of a massive lake some ten million years ago.

Sediment from the Old Sierra Mountains washed down, accumulating in layers. Tectonic shifts caused the valley floor to lift up, and the lake drained. When two plates came together at the Garlock Fault, one of the plates was driven upwards. Thus millions of years of sediment layers were exposed. Wind and water erosion formed the spectacular formations visible today, with harder red sandstone layers protecting softer layers from disappearing under rainfall.

For thousands of years, the gash at the western edge of the El Paso Mountain range was on the trade route for Native Americans.

About 1850, it was found by survivors of the Death Valley trek including members of the Arcane and Bennett families and some of the Illinois Jayhawkers.

Prospecting was done in the 1860s, and in 1893 gold activity began with hundreds of miners sifting the canyon's sands.

It was also a passage for driving large flocks of sheep northward; a stagecoach stop; a railroad route; and later, a truck stop. More recently, it became a favorite site for filming. It became a state park in 1968, the first state park in Kern County.

Ricardo campground

Red Rock Canyon State Park Ricardo CampgroundRicardo Campground in the distance from what may or may not have been a trail.

This was our first stop: we wanted to get oriented and figure out an itinerary for the day. The visitor center was particularly lovely, if not a little further along the road than we initially expected. Bearskin, tortoise shells, and other taxidermies complemented an array of fossils and a life-size diorama with a manikin of a Native American. The fossils caught my eye -- there were camel bones (apparently, millions of years ago, camels roamed North America), some microfossils and a few casts. There were some photos of the aftermath of a nasty deluge that wiped through the park, and a nice collection of literature on glyphs, trails, flora and fauna.

The trails didn't make much sense. Perhaps I've been spoiled by clear, non-overlapping trails, but at Red Rock Canyon my friend and I consistently found ourselves much more pleased when we just walked across the mostly open landscape to find things ourselves. The Ricardo Nature Trail was our first choice, but it didn't seem to go anywhere at all besides a thicket of joshua trees. Thus we opted to take a dirt road we found, which led us to Ricardo Camp and the dramatic cliff face. The sights there were great, and I adored getting up close to the formations. Next we walked until we encountered the Desert View Nature Trail, then climbed up to the top of a hill and found Whistler Ridge.

Red Rock Canyon State Park Ricardo Campground

Red Rock Canyon State Park Ricardo Campground

Red Rock Canyon State Park Ricardo Campground

Red Rock Canyon State Park Ricardo CampgroundThe sparse, primitive charm of Ricardo Camground.

Red Rock Canyon State Park Ricardo CampgroundRicardo Campground from its adjacent cliff.

Hagen Canyon

Red Rock Canyon State Park Hagen Canyon
Named by German immigrant Rudolph Hagen, who acquired the land by buying mining claims in the area.

He eventually had a small outpost in the Ricardo Campground area where he built a diner with a bar, primitive lodging and a post office. He operated Red Rock Canyon as his own private park, offering maps of the rock formations, most of them he named. Mr. Hagen thus began Red Rock's history as a tourist destination. After his death, the land transferred ownership within his family until it become a State Park in 1969.

Turk's Turban, Window Rock and Camel Rock are notable formations.

I didn't find Turk's Turban because, quite frankly, the photo in the guide was indistinguishable from just about every other monument there. Window Rock was smaller than I expected, but if you head closer to the mountain from the window you will find a low cave. There was some rubbish in the cave. Camel Rock is a tad off the trail, alongside a wash that hugs the mountain. If you follow the wash to the right, it culminates in a lovely ravine where water seeps from the ground.

Red Rock Canyon State Park Hagen Canyon

Red Rock Canyon State Park Hagen Canyon

Red Rock Canyon State Park Hagen Canyon

Red Rock Canyon State Park Hagen Canyon

Red Rock Canyon State Park Hagen Canyon

Red Rock Canyon State Park Hagen CanyonCamel rock.

Red Rock Canyon State Park Hagen CanyonWindow rock.

Red Rock Canyon State Park Hagen CanyonCave near window rock.

Red Rock Canyon State Park Hagen Canyon

The wash was still damp and there were lots of grasses and flowers on Nov 19 2011. The wash leads to an isolated ravine where the rocks are red, green, purple and beige -- spectacular. Water sprung from the wall of the ravine.

Red Rock Canyon State Park Hagen Canyon

Red Rock Canyon State Park Hagen Canyon

Red Cliff

Red Rock Canyon State Park Red Cliff
This iconic monument features incredible erosion, and wonderful, recessed niches that offer great opportunities for exploration. It's breathtaking.

Red Rock Canyon State Park Red Cliff

Red Rock Canyon State Park Red Cliff

Red Rock Canyon State Park Red Cliff

Flora and fauna

I found lots of dung, owl pellets and bones. Also we saw what appeared to be tracks from equestrian visitors at Red Cliff. We are also blessed to see a jackrabbit go hopping up a hill when we were at Hagen Canyon.

Red Rock Canyon State Park Red Cliff

Red Rock Canyon State Park Red Cliff

Red Rock Canyon State Park Red Cliff