Ode to Red Rock: The joy of crimson-colored destinations

Putting on a helmet and harness and hooking myself up to a rope to scale or rappel a sheer face is completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve learned that several times over in my life.Red Rock Valley of Fire Rock FINAL

However, there is one type of climbing, sans safety equipment, that I’m completely comfortable with – as long as it isn’t too steep and no higher than 20-25 feet! What I speak of is oftentimes called “bouldering.” In essence, it’s playing on rocks – red rocks. It’s something I’ve been doing for a long time and something that will never get old.

Red rock formations are playgrounds, their colors extremely photogenic. Every step, every foot upwards offers a new perspective.

Red rock formations are like clouds. It is easy to see them resembling real-life objects, animals, or even people. For example, there is the “Silent City” in Bryce Canyon, whose hoodoos resemble buildings. There is “Turtle Wall” in Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, which literally looks like a turtle’s head and shell.  Arches National Park is full of rock “people” with its “Court of the Patriarchs” and “Marching Men.” In addition to formations that look like something in real life, arches are a great payoff at the end of any trail – especially one you can walk or climb right up to.

The Turtle Wall in Red Cliffs Desert Reserve
The Turtle Wall in Red Cliffs Desert Reserve

Red rock formations are like friends. Experiences shared bouldering on them create unforgettable memories – memories I’ve shared at every stage of life, with high school friends, college buddies, and now my wife and daughters.

In the summer, I’ll go to the mountains to enjoy its greenery (partly because red rock locations are too hot to enjoy comfortably in the summer months), but in the fall, winter and spring, my prefered location for scenic serenity is among the red rocks – navajo sandstone.

That all being said, I pay homage to red rock today, providing my top five places to experience it:

5. Goblin Valley State Park, Utah: Easier to look at than to climb on, Goblin Valley’s plethora of rock “goblins” literally make visitors feel they are on another planet, which is why it was chosen as a filming location for the movie Galaxy Quest. Far from civilization, it is also near the spectacular Little Wildhorse Canyon

My 17-year-old self posing among a Goblin Wall in Goblin Valley
My 17-year-old self posing among a Goblin Wall in Goblin Valley

4. Pioneer Park in St. George, Utah: also known as “Dixie Rock,” the advantage of its location is its proximity to civilization – it is within St. George’s city limits. It’s a wonderland for kids, offering plentiful bouldering opportunities and crevices to explore most of which won’t give parents a coronary.

View of St. George from Pioneer Park, often called Dixie Rock
View of St. George from Pioneer Park, often called Dixie Rock

Pioneer Park even includes an arch and a mini slot canyon. Another advantage is its view overlooking the city of St. George. A disadvantage is its crowds, especially in the spring and fall when the temperatures are perfect to explore it.

3. Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, Washington County, Utah: encompassing a far-flung area of the county in Utah’s southwestern corner, one of the aims of its creation was to preserve desert tortoise habitat. It’s most popular spot is the Red Cliffs Recreation Area, near the town of Leeds and Harrisburg Resort, which includes a picnic area/campground and several trails, one up a fairly narrow red rock canyon which includes some pools and another up a hill to some Ancestral Puebloan ruins. Another great spot is the Turtle Wall Trail, accessed from a subdivision in western St. George just south of Snow Canyon State Park, which I consider an honorable mention on this list. Turtle Wall is excellent if you want to get away from crowds while Red Cliffs Recreation Area can be crawling with people at times.

Rock conglomerates in Valley of Fire.
Rock conglomerates in Valley of Fire.

2. Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada: This otherworldly location includes numerous places to pull off the road to do some bouldering and have a picnic, including easier bouldering locations ideal for children. Its six-mile scenic drive, which starts at its visitor center, is a must-see – incredibly spectacular red and white rock behemoths jutting out all over.

1. Arches National Park, Utah:  Hands down the grandaddy of all red rock locations, it includes easily the most famous red rock formation on earth – Delicate Arch.

My 17-year old self illustrating the difference in perspectives when it comes to red rock formations - left, climbing the backside of Delicate Arch (not as steep as it looks) and right, in front of it.
My 17-year old self illustrating the difference in perspectives when it comes to red rock formations – left, climbing the backside of Delicate Arch (not as steep as it looks) and right, in front of it.

Balanced Rock, the Windows, Devils Garden, and Fiery Furnace should all be on the itinerary when visiting. Fiery Furnace is literally a maze best completed on a guided tour and Devil’s Garden includes Landscape Arch, which is so thin in some spots it looks like it could break at any time. Sand Dune Arch is an ideal spot for younger children – a scenic arch with a natural sandbox at its base. The one drawback of Arches is its crowds because of its popularity, but it is 110 percent worth the trip.

My 17-year-old self at Wall Arch, which used to greet visitors along the Devils Garden Trail in Arches National Park, fell in 2008, a victim of erosion, a fate all red rock arches will suffer from eventually
My 17-year-old self at Wall Arch, which used to greet visitors along the Devils Garden Trail in Arches National Park, fell in 2008, a victim of erosion, a fate all red rock arches will suffer from eventually

Honorable mentions include Bryce Canyon National Park, Snow Canyon State Park, and Red Canyon (on the way to Bryce Canyon).

Exploring red rock will be a lifelong pursuit for me. One from which I will never tire. There are many more places for me to discover in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and beyond!

What’s your favorite red rock scenic area and why? I’d love to hear from you.

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