Red Rock Canyon State Park, California

November 25, 2023.

4.7 mi. | 550′ ele. gain | 3:30 hr.

Photo album

If you want to see red rocks, you’ve got a lot of options. A quick Google search lets me know that there are:

  • Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV
  • Red Rock State Park, Sedona, AZ
  • Red Rock Park, Church Rock, NM
  • Red Rocks Park, Denver, CO

But today we ventured to Red Rock Canyon State Park, located east of Bakersfield, California. I’d never heard of this one, but we were in the area. Our tour began at the visitor center, as it usually does. Visitor centers are usually hosted by informed staff or volunteers who are happy to offer up advice or suggestions for activities. I’ve gotten a wide range of information from such people, and usually I’m able to learn something new. Whenever possible, I recommend talking to someone who knows the place before you step foot on it, if you’ve done extensive research or none at all.

This visitor center also had a few displays on native inhabitants, geology and wildlife. A great opportunity to begin to understand where we were.

Cholla

We began our hike along a nature trail leading up from the parking area to a viewpoint. Along the way, we stopped to read the information in the brochure about each numbered sign (I love a nature trail brochure). From that vantage point, I began to see what the topo lines on the map I scoured the night before actually meant. We followed some user paths on a quest to make an off-trail loop through some of the park’s spectacular rock formations. This would turn out to be a non-trivial objective.

We found ourselves on top of a canyon with steep-sided walls dropping into a series of washes below. The rock formed crumbly slopes or vertical drops, neither was good for un-roped travel. So after several thwarted attempts to get down into the wash, I finally found a break in the cliff band. We gingerly made our way down the moderately steep, grassy slope to the badlands underneath. Safely down in the flats, we meandered between hoodoos, slots, arches and other features eroded from the volcanic ash and sandstone.

Rocky wonderland

Long afternoon shadows gave the rock walls more depth and mystery. The cliffs standing above us on our snack break looked like drapes cascading down from a tall mansion window. The whole place gave me Cathedral Gorge vibes.

We delighted in the silence that came from being off trail, then braced ourselves for the inevitable return to the state park slew of people. For being a holiday weekend, it actually didn’t feel that crowded. We ran into folks within a 10-minute radius of the other parking area, then it was back to quiet. A wash paralleling the road helped us loop back to where we started a few hours earlier. I did not see any desert tortoise or other creatures I’d hoped to run into, but it was still a delight to be out there. We found many flowers in bloom, including the surprisingly beautiful desert dandelion. I’m still in awe that things are colorful in late November!

If you like cool rocks, choose-your-own-adventure style hiking and desert weather, this park is your jam. It’s pretty out there, but a worthy stop on any road trip if you’re in the area. I’d definitely go back in the early spring or after a rainstorm. I bet the wildflowers really put on good show then!

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