Red Rock Canyon State Park features scenic desert cliffs, buttes and spectacular rock formations. The park is located where the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada converge with the El Paso Range. Each tributary canyon is unique, with dramatic shapes and vivid colors.
Here are some of the unique shapes we found on a hike in Hagen Canyon, which is along the side road to the Visitor Center. This one reminds us of a raven's head. There is also a rock window in the lower left corner, and if you look closely, you can see Kathy peering out from inside:
This looks like a ramshackle castle:
This one is known locally as Turk's Turban. We felt this required some imagination to see, but the rock is still impressive:
The formations of sandstone were heaved up at a 17 degree angle and then eroded over millenia by wind and water. This photo gives you and idea of the scale of some of the formations:
Here are some more white sandstone columns with unique red sandstone caps:
This one is known as, "The Camel":
Not all of the wonders were rock. Kathy discovered the wonder of a Joshua Tree which we guessed had bloomed and was bearing fruit, or seeds. We've never seen this before.
After our hike in Hagen's Canyon, we drove over to the Red Cliff Preserve to hike the trail through its wonders. This is a view of the entire cliff face:
From the Red Cliff Preserve, we could drive an off-road loop to see a remote set of Scenic Cliffs. Even though we had planned to hike all day, we couldn't resist checking out the Scenic Cliffs. One of the bonuses was that, as the park ranger at the Visitor Center advised us, we were free to walk anywhere off-road or off-trail and explore for ourselves. We thought a random exploration of a remote site in the park might be fun, so off we set down a dirt road with deep, sandy ruts:
At last we reached our objective. Here is a view of the Scenic Cliffs, which we felt reminded us of drip-castles a child builds in sand at the seashore. Except, in this case, whereas the child builds the drip-castle by adding sand with water, nature has built these by subtracting sandstone with water:
We spotted two cave-like spots in the opposite corners of the cliffs, so we decided to hike over and explore them. The first was, indeed, a cave! Here, Kathy stands at the entrance:
On closer inspection, the cave clearly was cut into the cliffs as a mine shaft. We don't know what the miners were looking for, but the cave was perhaps 9 feet high and extended perhaps 20 yards into the mountain. A layer of pure white volcanic ash formed the lower part of the walls, while red sandstone layers rose above the white ash:
Having satisfied our curiosity about the first cave, we crossed above the desert floor over to the other end of the cliffs and found that the second "cave" was actually sort of well formed by the sandstone rocks, open on the top and front. Here, David explores its interior:
From the interior, we had a view of the desert floor, the mountain across the valley, and our Jeep, looking tiny on the dirt road:
Historically, the area was once home to the Kawaiisu Indians, who left petroglyphs in the El Paso mountains and other evidence of their inhabitation. This spectacular gash situated at the western edge of the El Paso mountain range was on the Native American trade route for thousands of years. During the early 1870s, the colorful rock formations in the park served as landmarks for 20-mule team freight wagons that stopped for water. About 1850, it was used by the footsore survivors of the famous Death Valley trek including members of the Arcane and Bennett families along with some of the Illinois Jayhawkers. The park now protects significant paleontology sites and the remains of 1890s-era mining operations, and has been the site for a number of movies.
Researching the site, we found that it contains the Barnett and Nowak Opal Mines, sites where fire opals were discovered and mined. Fire opals are colorful, transparent to translucent opals with a background color that is a fire-like hue of yellow to orange to red:
Kathy loves rocks, so we had to set out in search of the opal mines. Perhaps we would get lucky and find a fire opal!
The mines are accessible only by four-wheel drive road. After returning to the highway from our off-road adventure to the Scenic Cliffs, we set out to find Opal Canyon Road. We had a 5 mile drive through sandy washes and over narrow ridges, navigating turns and junctions based on sketchy information. Eventually, however, we arrived at the old mine.
To our surprise, the old mining camp was still there. It consisted of half dozen ramshackle, abandoned cabins, each built around an old trailer. Abandoned mining equipment was strewn across the site, as if the owners had just gotten up one day and left it all:
This cabin stood on the highest point of the site. The front porch still had a chair sitting on it, as if the owner might be back any day to site on the porch and survey his beautiful mining domain:
The mines are open pit mines, dug with caterpillar tractors that chewed into the hillside where veins of precious opals might be:
We found the main pit, and the vein of agate and volcanic breccia that would contain the opals, and we started poking around to see what we could find. Here, Kathy examines a huge, beautiful agate-like quartz rock. We couldn't bring it home because it was too big for our RV, and because the state park prohibits collecting from the site. But we could collect this photo:
After exploring the mine, we returned along the dirt road to Highway 14. But instead of turning back toward Boron immediately, we turned north toward Inyokern to taste some beer at Indian Wells Brewing Company. It tasted mighty good after a day hiking around in the hot sun! Just the way to end an interesting day.