Thursday, February 07, 2008

Colorful Calico Basin

One of the most accessible spots in Southern Nevada’s magnificent Red Rock Canyon is Calico Basin, located at the national conservation area’s eastern edge, near the ever-expanding metropolis of Las Vegas.

The basin is unique in that it’s one of the few places in Red Rock with privately owned homes. In fact, visitors drive through the neighborhood of about a dozen small ranches in order to reach the parking lot and trailhead.

Adjacent to the parking area is a small cluster of picnic tables, fire grills, trashcans and restrooms.

But the real treat can be found by strolling onto a wooden boardwalk that is accessed from the parking lot. Rebuilt in 2005, the developed trail gradually leads up the side of a hill to Red Springs.

Along the way, several interpretive displays describe the local flora and fauna as well as the history of the area.

At the top, there are actually three natural springs, Red Spring, Calico Spring and Ash Spring, which flow into a small saltgrass meadow in the center of the basin. Interestingly, the flow from Red Springs comes from inside a small cave in the sandstone walls above the meadow.

With rock walls protecting it on three sides, the meadow is, according to the Bureau of Land Management’s information, sheltered and moist—making it a perfect habitat for a variety of birds, animals and plants.

For example, the BLM notes that a handful of different kinds of trees can be found in the basin including cottonwood, ash, shrub live oak and honey mesquite.

The boardwalk encircles the springs and meadow, keeping visitors from trampling on the vegetation. Near the end of the trail, if you look closely, you can find the foundations of a ranch house that once stood in the meadow.

The basin also offers great views of the nearby Calico Hills. Hiking trails lead north from Calico Basin to the hills and other parts of the conservation area.

Since Red Rock Canyon encompasses 195,610 acres, there are plenty of other places to see in the recreational area. Without a doubt, it is one of Southern Nevada’s most scenic places with its dramatic banded limestone and sandstone cliffs and mountains.

The unique rock formations here were formed thousands of years ago when the earth was literally turned upside down.

Shifting landmasses caused the older strata of rock (limestone and shale) to actually become piled atop the younger deposits of red sandstone. Formations exposed in the Red Rock area record more than 500 million years of geologic history.

A good place to get an overview of the entire conservation area is at the Red Rock Visitors Center, operated by the BLM. Inside are excellent displays describing the geology, history, plant and animal life, archaeology and recreational opportunities available in the area.

To reach Calico Basin from downtown Las Vegas, head west on Charleston Boulevard for about 15 miles. About 1.5 miles before you reach the scenic road that leads to the Red Rock Visitors Center, you’ll spot the turnoff for Calico Basin. Follow the signs for about a mile through homes to reach the parking lot.

For more information about Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, contact the Bureau of Land Management, HCR 33, Box 5500, Las Vegas, NV 89124, 702-363-1921.

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