Las Vegas, NV: Calico Tanks, Red Rock Canyon

Check out the Calico Tanks Trail in Red Rock Canyon and you'll be face-to-face with interesting geology, cultural history, and diverse life.
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Check out the Calico Tanks Trail in Red Rock Canyon and you'll be face-to-face with interesting geology, cultural history, and diverse life.

The "tanks" is a natural water catchment hollowed into the surrounding Aztec sandstone. Also known as a tinaja, this tank stores seasonal rainfall which is precious in the desert. The trailhead is located past the pit toilets at the third parking lot on the Scenic Drive (aka, Sandstone Quarry).

Follow the sandy Calico Tanks Trail north where you'll see evidence of an old quarry which operated in the early 1900s. Pass by the Grand Circle Trail junction and walk across an open wash. Continue on the Calico Tanks Trail at the junction with the Turtlehead Peak Trail. Hike past an old agave roasting pit and on through some foliage (scrub oak, redbud) fed by year-round underground springs.

The trail turns east and continues southeast into a canyon in which you'll occasionally be scrambling, shimmying up a log, or stepping on a series of stairs carved into the sandstone. After gaining altitude for about a mile, the trail will flatten out and you'll crest a section where the tank becomes visible below you. Get up close and personal to check out the tripods and brine shrimp living in the water. Tripods are said to be older than dinosaurs.

Bonus: cross above the south side (the right side) of the tinaja and follow a well-worn user trail for about 50 yards up to a saddle above the tinaja. From here you can see over the Calico Hills. On a clear day, you'll be able to see over to the Las Vegas Strip and be thankful you chose to do this rather than gamble all of your money away. This is the best place to have a snack, sit, and watch the white-throated swifts pull off some air stunts.

To get back to the trailhead, follow the trail back the way you came.

Random Information
The red in the sandstone is formed by oxidization of iron. Agave roasting pits were used by Native Americans—think Southern Paiutes—to cook things such as agave hearts and desert tortoises. Look for insect galls (balls formed in tree bark) in the scrub oak areas of the wash. Scrambling on the sandstone is a fun, side activity (practice caution).

Trail Facts

  • State: NV
  • City: Las Vegas
  • Distance: 0.0
  • Contact: http://www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/fo/lvfo/blm_programs/blm_special_areas/red_rock_nca.html
  • Land Type: BLM Land