Sunday, January 19, 2020

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

My favorite site that we visited in Nevada wasn't the Las Vegas Strip but instead, The Valley of Fire located about 50 miles north east of Las Vegas. Cynthia Sanford the curator at the Clark County Museum took us on a road trip to the Valley of Fire. World-renowned for its 40,000 acres of bright red Aztec sandstone outcrops nestled in gray and tan limestone, the Park contains ancient, petrified trees and petroglyphs dating back more than 2,000 years.

The petroglyphs were etched into desert varnish, a layer of dark rock on top of the sandstone. With the black layer carved away, the petroglyphs reveal the orange rock underneath. The desert varnish is a patina of iron and manganese that leached from the rock and evaporated over the course of thousands of years.  The Ancestral Puebloans, also known as the Anasazi, passed through the Valley of Fire in prehistoric times. Their approximate span of occupation has been dated from 300 BC to 1150 AD. Their visits probably involved hunting, food gathering, and religious ceremonies, although scarcity of water would have limited their stay.

A Visitor Center provides exhibits on the geology, ecology, prehistory and history of the park and nearby region. Open year round, the park has numerous campsites equipped with shaded tables, grills and water, as well as many intriguing trails to tempt hikers.

I started hiking up a steep incline with Pam but she scrambled inside a cave and up through a gap in a series of rocks which I did not feel confident navigating. Instead of climbing up, I stayed in the shade of the cave and did this sketch. I placed a pencil on the ground at the edge of the cave shadow to see what direction the sun was moving. About 15 minutes into the sketch I could see that I would be safely in the shade for the duration of the sketch. Ive started using this trick more often since this trip to see what direction the sun is moving when I sketch outdoors.

People came and went walking along the trail at the base of the giant sandstone outcrop. At sunset this place must light up a glorious orange. The rocks are already a vibrant shade of orange.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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