RED ROCK CANYON STATE PARK
Text and Photography: Robert Griego
The evening sun dips behind the towering sandstone cliffs at Ricardo Campground as I arrive at Red Rock Canyon State Park. I’ve never been here before, though I grew up in the desert community of Barstow, not far from here. Immediately, the desert solitude renews my soul. The sweeping desert view kindles fond desert memories.
Once, I served as acting superintendent at Joshua Tree National Park for the National Park Service, so protecting our desert jewels is important to me. The March 2017 issue of RoadRUNNER featured, “In Pursuit of Wildness: Joshua Tree National Park” which was my tribute to the late, Johnny Cash. When Sandy Smith, Executive Director at Destination Lancaster took interest in my desert perspectives, I was honored. I love the desert, and I think Johnny Cash did too.
Today, I’m astride my Indian Springfield searching for that perfect campsite, and honestly, all the sites look inviting. There is potable water and restrooms nearby. The sweeping views to the east with scattered Joshua Trees captures my imagination. A roadrunner darts through Rabbit Brush as I unload my gear at campsite 20, nestled below the sandstone cliffs. The moon will be out tonight and the evening sun is a perfect time to go visit Red Cliffs Natural Preserve, but where? There is another camper about a quarter-mile away who, as I pull off my helmet astride my motorcycle, is intently reading her book.
“Ma’am, where is the famous Red Cliffs Natural Preserve?” She lowers her reading glasses, lays down her book, and points her arm to the east: “It’s on the other side of Highway 14, a short distance from here.” Picking up her book again, she adds, “The evening sun will make for great pictures, you should hurry.”
ON TO THE RED ROCKS
The Red Cliffs Natural Preserve is impressive and trying to capture the towering presence is a challenge as the sun dips below the surrounding mountains. I park my motorcycle and gaze towards the red rocks cliffs, walking deliberately with camera in hand towards the massive 300-foot crimson cliffs. As I get closer, the rocks begin to take on different forms and shapes as the evening light changes.
I encourage you to leave the comfort of your car and walk. Walking into the desert is special, it always is rewarding. The quiet consumes me. I sit on the ground, gazing up at lofty cliffs. The screech of a Red Tail hawk breaks the silence as I put down my camera and head back to my motorcycle, now a half-mile away.
The towering crimson cliffs embraced me. If they could talk, they might whisper: “Robert, what took you so long to see this desert jewel”?
MOON, STARS, CAMPFIRE
Ricardo Campground with my warm cozy fire is perfect. The full moon provides ample light and that’s when I hear them.
One owl hoots. A second owl responds from a short distance away along the towering cliffs. The hoots alternate in perfect rhythm. The dueling owls seem to enjoy talking to each other. I wonder what they might be saying.
Then, a lone coyote shatters their personal rhythm as it uncontrollably shouts at the moon. Both sounds are comforting as I gaze up towards the billions of stars that hang within easy reach. Mars is directly before me towards the east; perhaps, that had something to do with the dueling owls and the lone coyote – nature’s music.
My comfort blanket is always the stars; their light always shines for me. As they tuck me into my bed, sleep easily takes over – a perfect day for my first visit to Red Rocks Canyon State Park.
Tomorrow, I plan to hike along some of the nature trails at this desert jewel before heading south to Lancaster to see some of the new murals along with The BLVD Cultural District.
Destination Lancaster describes The BLVD Cultural District as “A thriving and dynamic cultural center located in the California’s High Desert.” I knew that Lancaster recently hosted the 2020 POW! WOW! and I’ve always loved murals that bring communities across America alive.
Today, I strolled leisurely along The BLVD to capture some of the spectacular artwork. Yesterday, I walked beneath the Red Cliffs – each took my breath away. I can’t wait to return for a longer visit to these jewels in the desert.
OVERVIEW: PLANNING YOUR VISIT
Red Rock Canyon State Park is located in beautiful Southern California, 120 north of Los Angeles, and about 50 miles from Lancaster, CA. The park, located where the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada converge with the El Paso Range, was established to preserve 27,000 acres including the scenic desert cliffs, buttes, fossils, and spectacular rock formations. Historically, the Kawaiisu Indians once inhabited the area and left petroglyphs in the El Paso mountains. In about 1950, the 20-mule team freight wagons stopped by the colorful crimson rock formations for recognized land bearings and water.
THINGS TO DO
The best time to visit is in the spring and fall. The sun can be intense so always carry water in the desert.
Activities: Visitor Center, picnicking, hiking, camping, equestrian use, bird watching, biking, off-highway vehicle, star gazing, and wildflowers viewing in the wetter spring months. Guided nature hikes and campfire programs during the spring and fall. Desert View Nature Trail and Hagen Canyon loop trail are good for children.
Ricardo Campground has 50 primitive campsites with fire rings, potable water, pit toilets, and tables.
Red Rock Canyon State Park is open from sunrise to sunset for day use. Ricardo Campground is open 24 hours. The Visitor Center is open in Spring and Fall.
Day-use parking is $6, camping is $25 ($2 senior citizen discount), an additional motor vehicle is $6 and motorcycle and ATV is $6 per day.
For more information, see www.parks.ca.gov.