Red Rock Canyon was established as a state park in 1968. It is a fantastic location for hiking and camping. Because it is a state park rock sample collecting is prohibited and nature preserves are set aside to maintain a natural habitat for all living creatures. It is an arid desert environment but there is great bio-diversity in plant and animal life. Plant wildlife such as goldfields, Indian paintbrush, sand verbena, desert holly, cheesebrush, fishhook cactus, red rock tarplant and joshua trees grow well in the sandy well drained soils of the desert plains but little plant life other than lichen grows on the cliffs and basalt flows. The temperature varies greatly from day to night but creatures such as roadrunners, hawks, scorpions, reptiles, small mammals and others thrive in this environment. Red Rock Canyon is on State Highway 14 north of the town of Mojave in Kern County, California.
Red Rock Canyon has been a significant location for a variety of reasons over many years. The local petroglyphs, prehistoric rock paintings, have been associated with the Kiwaiisu Indians. This area has been used as a Native American trade route, a passage for sheepherders, a stagecoach road, a railroad track, and a truck stop. During the California gold rush, Red Rock Canyon's sediment was panned for gold and mined for other natural resources. Along with those seeking their riches in from the earth came the usual assortment of those seeking to make their riches off of the miners; a community was formed in the area and supplied the miners with what they needed. After the rush, mining continued; two of the volcanic ash flows were mined for abrasives used in Old Dutch Cleanser from 1922-1947.
Red Rock Canyon and its beautiful cliffs have been used as a backdrop for many TV shows and films. Episodes of shows including Lassie, Bonanza, Wagon Train, and Lost in Space and countless others, especially country-westerns, have been taped in the park. Science fiction movies and many other films such as Gunsmoke Ranch, Law and Order, Were the West Begins, and Beneath the Planet of the Apes display scenes of the layered cliffs. Even though no dinosaur fossils have been found in or around the canyon, scenes from Jurassic Park were also shot here.
Most of the exposured formations in the canyon are from the Ricardo Formation and are of Miocene age (Figure 1). Changes in depositional environment and large eruptive events caused many different layers of different colors to form. These layers comprise the parks scenic cliffs where seemingly horizontal layers of red, white and black are exposed due to uplift and erosion.Sedimentary and Volcanic Deposition
The different layers of Red Rock Canyon are the result of different depositional events over time. There is alluvial sedimentation in the outwash plains of the El Paso mountains. The notorious cliffs of Red Rock Canyon stratigraphy is composed of three bed units; conglomerate sandstone, volcanic ash, and vesicular basalt. The sedimentary and ash layers may seem solid but weathering easily breaks the rocks apart. The bright red coloring of some layers comes from iron oxidation occurring in the exposed and weathering sediments. These sedimentary structures accumulated in the shallow lakes that once covered the area. The deposition of lake sediments was interrupted at times when a nearby volcano erupted covering the land in volcanic ash. The red layering has a conglomerate composition of quartz sandstone with large volcanic rock clasts of both ash and basalt compositions. The inclusion of volcanic clasts shows that during deposition the pieces of the lower volcanic rock beds were picked up and incorporated in the sedimentary layers. These conglomerates are in themselves sorted into layers varying in size but generally a few inches thick. This relates to their formation in a wet environment. The volcanic conglomerate clast layers have graded bedding with layers of generally equal size in the sandstone matrix. Some of the ash deposits are from original fall out but some of the beds were also caused by water saturated ash flowing into the lakes from the surrounding land and mountains. There were seventeen major regularly spaced ash flow events that can be correlated throughout the park. These ash flows as well as others create the white layers in the cliffs. Wind and rain caused the fluted folds in the cliffs by eroding softer sediment from under stronger cap rocks. Erosion created the cliffs and cut the canyon that comprise the park today. Due to differential erosion the layers have a unique. The black layers are two basalt flows. These are the result of two major volcanic eruptions when the lava flowed to great distances covering the land. These layers are comprised of vesicular basalt. The vesicles mean that water was present when the lava flowed, again proof for a wet environment in the past.
The stratigraphy of Red Rock Canyon is only visible because of major faulting and uplift events. The El Paso Fault created the El Paso Mountains. There are a number of faults including the Sierra Frontal fault that cuts north to south. The well-known San Andreas Fault is a right lateral strike-slip fault south of Red Rock Canyon. The Garlock fault is a left lateral strike-slip fault that cuts through the park. Because of their contrasting directions of motion these two faults create a section of land called the Mojave Block. This block is filled with other minor fault zones due to the land strain. The Mojave Block is bounded by the Garlock and San Andreas fault and is essentially moving away from contacts with the other side of these faults. This motion has caused the uplift of the originally horizontal beds of Red Rock Canyon. As seen in Figure 2 the basalt flows along with the other beds that were originally stacked are now dipping to the left.
Because Red Rock Canyon was a wet, possibly lake and floodplain, environment during the Miocene the fossil record for creatures this age is very good. Most of the fossils found are individual or fragments of bones due to alteration during bed uplifting. Over eighty-eight species have been discovered and many more are believed to have lived in this area. Some of the species included are animals such as camels, horses, mastodons, rhinoceroses, wild dogs, antelopes, deer, saber-tooth tigers, weasels, cats, goose and skunks. Plants such as pinyon pine, locust, cypress, acacia, and palm trees have been found. Because of this great fossil assemblage it has been interpreted that the annual rainfall in this area was about fifteen inches. That is three times the present rainfall so it is not surprising to assume that the land might have been a good grazing area of grasslands and trees.
When traveling North on State Highway 14 notice the flat desert landscape of the Mojave Block and then the mountain view ahead. The El Paso Mountains are the alluvial skirted mountains ahead on the right. The Garlock Fault that caused much of the uplift and creation of Red Rock Canyon is perpendicular to the highway. The San Andreas fault is South of the canyon and the Sierra Frontal Fault is on the left parallel to the highway. The first red cliffs appear on the left. By progressing into the park one passes through the El Paso Fault and El Paso Mountains. Turn into the parking lot on the right to get a look at the cliffs, mountains and gorge. Continuing further into the park notice the thick basalt layer cut through on the left. Notice the different layers in this one flow sequence. There may be over four flows here. At least one layer is more red and iron rich. Further up the road one can turn left into the Ricardo campground and visitors center at White House Cliffs. At the visitor's center one can find information about the park and the cliffs as well as see some of the fossils and artifacts that have been found in Red Rock Canyon. Once in the Ricardo campground area take a close look at the desert sand and cliff sediment composition. Notice the desert vegetation as well as stream channels. The desert is mostly dry but when the water comes it flows quickly and heavily through the sand. Take caution when climbing the cliffs because the coarse sediment acts as ball bearings on the steep cliffs.
There is a marked nature trail (where-face cliff/left) that leads up a cliff slope. Near the top of the hill the trail splits to the left and to the right. If possible be at the cliff tops during sunset or sunrise. To the right the trail disappears and one will find himself balancing over knifes edge, an eroded cliff top so thin a foot barely fits. Back at the fork in the trail one can take the left trail and walk up a basalt flow to a ridge top lookout. At night this is a very peaceful area to sit and think but take padding to lay down if spending the night up top. Look up at the stars and listen to the sounds of the owls and the wind. If the moon is near full one can wander through the desert without a flashlight. Take a blacklight and scan the ground for scorpions.
The campground sites are rustic. Parking is permitted at the site. There is a picnic table and fire pit. A short distance away are the latrines and waterspout, but there are no showers.As drive/walk-what see of cliffs