Monday, September 22, 2008

Colorful Rainbow Canyon

The second half the journey through Eastern Nevada's magnificent Meadow Valley Wash country begins south of the scenic and historic Rainbow Canyon, about 20 miles from Caliente.

So named because of the range of colors found in the rocks of the tall walls lining this long, narrow natural depression, Rainbow Canyon was created by intense volcanic activity more than 34 million years ago.

Geologists say that over a period of many millions of years, layers of ash deposits—caused by the volcanoes active in this time—began to settle, and then form into rock called "tuff."

Later, these layers began to crack and hot water, laden with additional minerals, flowed into these fault areas, depositing gold, iron, copper, manganese and a number of other materials within the fractures.

Rainbow Canyon's broad canvas of colors was created when these mineral deposits stained the tuffs. Iron ores created the red and yellow shades, while copper caused the blue and green hues. The white cliffs are the remains of pure deposits of the volcanic ash.

About a million years ago, a volcanic chamber, under much of what is now eastern Nevada, collapsed, creating a large valley that eventually filled with water. Faulting at the southern end of this lake valley later allowed the water to escape and, ultimately, carved the area now called Rainbow Canyon.

The presence of water in Rainbow Canyon (a creek continues to run down the middle of the canyon) also helped attract Nevada's earliest residents. Artifacts found in the area indicate the presence of man some 3,500 years ago in Rainbow Canyon.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of places where we can still find evidence of both the geologic and prehistoric roots of the canyon. The latter are best represented by the large number of petroglyphs, which are prehistoric rock carvings, that are found in the area.

Some of the best of these rock writings can be seen about 17.3 miles south of Caliente. On the slopes of the west side of the canyon are a handful of boulders that have been carved with a variety of symbols and designs, including some remarkable big horn sheep drawings.

Farther down the road, on the east side (about 18 miles south of Caliente), are additional drawings depicting circular shapes, squiggles and other intriguing designs. Local folks indicate there are dozens of similar sites throughout the canyon.

The drawings are believed to be the work of the "Anasazi" or ancient ones, prehistoric people who resided in the American southwest. The meaning of these carved shapes remains unknown, although many believe they have religious significance related to the harvest and hunt.

In addition to petroglyphs, investigators have found other artifacts from these original residents, including arrowheads, baskets, sandal fragments and grinding tools.
The geologic history of the area is equally fascinating. At almost any place along the road, you will find the beautiful multi-colored, layered cliff faces that make the canyon so remarkable.

A particularly impressive formation is the sheer rock cliffs located about 15 miles south of Caliente. Here, you can find steep, gray cliffs that rise steeply above the road.

Only two miles before reaching Caliente is Kershaw-Ryan State Park. This small park is one of the most beautiful in the state and offers picnicking and hiking.

Mormon pioneers discovered Rainbow Canyon in the 1870s and 1880s. Within a few years, a handful of ranches cropped up in the area to provide produce and livestock for the booming silver camps at Pioche.

In the early part of this century, the canyon was the site of an unusual competition between two rival railroad companies, the Union Pacific and the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad. At one point, the two rail companies were building parallel grades on either sides of the canyon in a race to be the first to complete a line from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City.

Eventually, the two companies agreed to joint ownership and a single line was constructed. Since then, the track has been moved several times following major floods as the railroad has sought to find the safest route.

For more information about Rainbow Canyon and the Caliente area, go to the excellent web site,

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