Ricardo Nature Trail

Nature's Communities

1. Red Rock Canyon is a landscape where people are greeted by the marvels of nature; a place where people have lived or gathered over centuries or even thousands of years to harvest nature's bounty and admire its beauty. The ground to your right was once cultivated by pioneer Rudolf Hagen. The trail ahead blends into a less disturbed world of special plants and animals which make this desert home. Join their world, as others have before, to learn of their community and ours.

2. Having passed strangely majestic Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) with their curled branches looming as the tallest Mojave Desert foliage, the trail now encounters the less attractive tangled branches and small green leaves of the Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata). Both Joshua trees and Creosote bushes are important species in the Mojave Desert as they create micro-communities valuable to a variety of desert plants and animals.

3. Two of Red Rock Canyon's four species of cacti occur along this trail. The cylindrical branches of the Golden Cholla (Opuntia echinocarpa) have developed quite a different shape from the flat pads of the Beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris). Both shapes are successful at ensuring these species' survival. These cacti have changed their once green leaves into sharp defensive spines, which protect the plants from disturbance, and excesses of heat and cold. Their green chlorophyll, able to produce food from the sun's energy, now colors their stems.

4. Depending on the season, this Indigo bush (Psorothamnus fremontii) may show bright green leaves and intense blue flowers or leafless white stems. Many people mistake dormant plants as lifeless and label the desert as a wasteland. The survival of many life forms in the desert depends on a time of dormancy known as estivation (summer) or hibernation (winter). The Mojave ground squirrel may be dormant for seven or more months a year to avoid harsh summer heat and cold winter nights. Normal winter rains, however, create abundant green spring growth. Resilient desert plants return from suspended activity to celebrate with colorful reproductive flowers and hidden animals re-emerge from their burrows.

5. The White House Cliffs form the sculptured backdrop of the Ricardo Campground. Erosion has etched the soft sandstone bedrock. The cliff we see today has been exposed during the last ten thousand years. A human community of campers explores hidden worlds in the furrowed cliff base. Above the campground, owls, bats, swifts, and ravens make their home on the rain carved ledges and cracks high in the cliffs. Both humans and wildlife share a benefit from their encounter with the powerful face of stone. The two worlds overlap in shades of sight, sound, and atmosphere.

6. Most plant communities on land originate from the soil beneath our feet. The soft sandy soil along the trail blends to darker rock on the ridge line ahead. Hot lava flowed here 10 million years ago, cooling to solid stone. Notice its rough texture. We can peak further back in time as we enjoy the distant red and gray sandstone and pink volcanic tuff, which were deposited some 11 to 12 million years ago. Light desert rains slowly erode these ancient rocks uncovering colors and textures we enjoy, while simultaneously creating soil from which life will bloom.

7. Local Joshua trees form dense thickets when new stalks emerge from the upper root zone. These compact woodlands are especially valuable habitat. Their highest branches provide perching and nesting habitat for birds. The shaded soils beneath their limbs produce green "grocery store-like" gardens of herbs and are a prime location for comfortable burrows. The resident plant eaters are captured by prowling predators, such as coyotes, owls, and bobcats. Even beneath fallen Joshua tree logs, night lizards and scorpions live and feed. All are dependent on this unique interwoven community for survival.

8. Water sculpts the canyon's cliffs and is essential to the local community of life. Local rainfall seeps underground and recharges several springs within Red Rock Canyon. Barrel Springs in the gully below has helped both wildlife and people survive this arid environment. The first people to use this canyon were the Native Americans, known as the Kawaiisu or Nüwa, who came to Red Rock Canyon primarily during the winter and springs months. In the 1800s, wagons and stagecoaches rolled through the canyon bottoms stopping to rest and obtain water at local stations. The Red Rock Railroad also cut through the canyon from 1908 to 1910. Imagine the unusual sights, sounds, and smells the old steam engines and stagecoaches would have brought to this desert oasis.

9. The living communities of Red Rock Canyon will continue over time. Discover the many young Joshua trees sprouting a few feet from the edge of the trail. As older Joshua trees die, these young plants will slowly grow to take their place. Both human and natural communities intertwine within Red Rock Canyon. Respecting and protecting the canyon will allow these seedlings to mature into majestic trees enjoyed by new generations who will receive our gift. Future footsteps will match those of today in relishing the special inspiration and beauty of Red Rock Canyon: a new community benefiting from our tender care.

10. Red Rock Canyon is enjoyed by many visitors like you. The moderate temperatures in spring and autumn are favored by most campers. These same seasons witness increased activity as a variety of colorful migrating birds visit Red Rock Canyon on their annual pilgrimage north and south.

We hope that your enjoyment will entice you to return again and again to the quiet solitude and colorful grandeur of Red Rock Canyon State Park.

Desert View Nature Trail

A Walk Through Time...

Red Rock Canyon State Park has been clearly marked by the passage of time. You are about to begin a half-mile self-guided tour, which explains the story of the high desert environment you see around you and suggests clues about its past. In this land of little rain, a remarkable natural heritage is preserved. Enjoy your discoveries!

1. As you look over this valley, you clearly see a desert. But over 10,000 years ago, as the Sierra glaciers were melting, huge lakes dotted what is now the Mojave Desert. Fossils have been found which indicate the saber-toothed cats, camels, horses, and rhinoceroses lived here in early times. Today, it is a very different place.

2. Life in the desert is harsh. Special adaptations are essential for survival. This Joshua tree, a giant member of the yucca family, grows quite slowly, as little as one inch in height each year. The Joshua tree you see may be 200 years old.

3. All life requires water, a rare commodity in the desert. The Cholla cactus you see here has leaves modified as spines, and photosynthesis occurs in its green stem. The shallow root system catches rain as it falls, and water is retained inside the succulent stem to be used later.

4. Even the desert has visible seasons. The sandy spaces between desert shrubs in spring host tiny green plants, which bloom, set seed, and die before the summer heat. Time and amount of rainfall, along with freezing and evaporation throughout the winter determine the intensity of the year's wildflower show.

5. With little water available, scars on the landscape heal very slowly. This road has been closed for several decades, but few plants have returned. The bare soil is exposed to further erosion by wind and rainstorms, leaving tiny seeds and young plants vulnerable to destruction. Desert plants are hardy, yet very sensitive to human impacts.

6. One of the most widespread shrubs in California's deserts, the Creosote bush is the oldest living thing on our planet. The ring of plants before you originated from a single bush. The Creosote bush grows by adding new stems and roots to its outside edge. Gradually, the inner stems die, and the growing outer edge forms a ring. This Creosote ring has likely been growing for 1,500 years.

7. Desert animals must adapt to this land of extremes as well. You may see tracks in this sandy wash where animals traveled to a burrow or to the shade of a bush for the afternoon. Watch for the antelope ground squirrel, which uses its white tail to reflect heat from its back. Or a jackrabbit releasing heat through its ears as it rests in the shade. Or a lizard soaking up the early morning sun on a rock. In the evening, you may spot a coyote, a bobcat, or a great horned owl on the prowl for wary prey.

8. The history preserved in the landscape unfolds more clues; the dark ridges before you and in the distance are reminders of volcanoes, which erupted to the north and south of the present park. Sometimes, the molten rock flowed for miles across the land. At other times, violent explosions threw material into the air, which fell in a rain of ash and rock.

9. Look closely at the cliffs behind the campground. These steep bluffs are composed mostly of sand and gravel carried by an ancient stream and deposited on its journey to a distant lake. Each textured "stripe" in a cliff is a different deposit of sediment, which was stacked atop previous layers. These soft strata tell the history of streams, which no longer flow.

10. Each stream deposit and volcanic event blanketed the previous ones. Only the most recent was visible until a major geologic fault began to slowly tilt the layers of rock and raise them skyward. As all Red Rock Canyon was lifted as a unit, water in the form of rain, snow, and flash floods carved the cliffs we see today.

11. As water and sometimes wind carved the cliffs, not all the layers eroded at the same rate. The hardest layers formed a cover, or a cap rock, over softer layers. As a cap rock is finally cut down by water, it breaks loose, the soft layers beneath erode into many intriguing shapes. The colors of the rocks in Red Rock Canyon are caused by various minerals including iron oxides, which cause the red shades.

12. The future...Red Rock Canyon continues to be shaped by nature's forces. We are still learning of the Canyon's past and present but cannot predict the future. The way we treat the land will affect the desert plant and wildlife communities. Human pressures on the desert will make carefully preserved natural areas even more important and valuable.

Red Cliffs Nature Trail

Learn the secrets hidden in the rocks and buried in the sand

Welcome to Red Rock Canyon and the Red Cliffs Nature Trail. This brochure will help you explore and understand some of the ancient secrets hidden in the sandstone cliffs and buried beneath the desert sands. Use your imagination as you travel back millions of years and then let Red Rock Canyon reveal its secrets for you.

Long ago this area was very different from today. A forest covered the terrain and ancient rivers, flowing from the surrounding mountains and draining into lakes in the center of the basin. Elephant-like creatures, rhinoceros, camels, saber tooth cats, and huge bear-dogs were among the many creatures that roamed the ancient forest.

For millions of years sediment washing down from surrounding mountains formed layers of sandstone, each layer faithfully recording the geologic history. Earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, and droughts were recorded in the individual layers of stone. Ancient plants and animals also lived and died during this period and their fossil record is trapped within sandstone layers. Uplift from earthquakes and mountain building processes twisted, bent and exposed the sandstone beds. While wind and rain slowly carved the cliffs and canyons, secrets were exposed for us to study and enjoy.

About 10,000 years ago, this area began to dry and develop into the modern desert. The juniper forest has briefly returned to the region during wet pluvial periods about 4,000 and 2,000 years ago. Wind rain, and earthquakes will continue to carve and reshape the canyons and cliffs.

During the last 10,000 years, local Native Americans have lived in the area. In recent centuries, the Kawaiisu or Nüwa used Red Rock Canyon and Tomo-Kahni in the Tehachapi mountains to the southwest as their seasonal homes. Archaeological sites have been found within the park boundaries, such as chert quarries providing clues to the quarrying and stone tool production techniques the indigenous people used.

Pioneers of the westward movement recorded their presence in Red Rock Canyon as early as 1850. Members of the 49ers, who were temporarily stranded in Death Valley, passed through Red Rock Canyon on their way to the settlement of Los Angeles. Miners sought their fortune in gold from 1863 through 1893. Most of them left with only empty pockets and memories of the Red Rock Canyon area. During this same time, a freight line began in 1868, a stagecoach station built in the early 1870s and a U.S. Post Office from 1899 to 1916, existed in Red Rock Canyon. A flood destroyed the buildings in 1909 and they were rebuilt where the visitor center is now located.

Rudolf Hagen, a German immigrant, came to Red Rock Canyon in 1896. He fell in love with the canyon and acquired many mining claims after the mining boom. He later filed a homestead patent and controlled the area until his death in 1937.

In 1908, a railroad was built through Red Rock Canyon to serve in the construction of the first Los Angeles aqueduct. The aqueduct can be seen today just four miles west of the campgrounds. A flood washed out portions of the railroad in 1909. It was repaired but was later sold for salvage and dismantled.

From 1920 to 1968, Red Rock Canyon was in private ownership and was used extensively by the movie and television industries to film more than 130 movies and numerous television commercials. The old movie sets are now gone, but some motion picture impacts are still visible in the canyon. Today, the environmental impact by film projects is carefully monitored and controlled.

The Red Rock Canyon area was acquired by the California State Park System in 1968 and has been carefully protected ever since, for all to enjoy. Red Rock Canyon is geologically spectacular and constantly changing. Wind, rain, earthquakes, and volcanoes will continue to reshape the canyon and expose new secrets for future generations to enjoy.

We appreciate your assistance in helping us protect the beauty and grandeur of Red Rock Canyon.