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Trails Of Nevada: Calico Tanks - MODERATE

When searching for a hike suitable for your taste at Red Rock Canyon, there is no loss for option as numerous trails of various skill levels abound around every corner. After taking on one of the lighter and more novice trails at the park, I decided to return on another day for a slightly more challenging adventure.

Selection of my course was difficult with so many options. Did I want to see another waterfall? Was I wanting to do more rock scrambling? Did I want something which would challenge me with altitude? What was the best option for the day??

Joined by Anika and Lawrence on the Traill, I knew we wanted to find something with a brilliant view for this outing as it was Lawrence’s first trip on the trails with me and Anika and I had been craving a great outing. We opted to take one of the more popular hikes in Red Rock, the Calico Tanks trail, a 2.5 mile Moderate to Strenuous hike scaling through not only a canyon but upward toward one of the best views in the park.

An estimated 2 hour hike, we embarked on it a little after noon, knowing that in winter months the sun would begin to fade around 3 and fall to complete darkness by 4:30. Prepared for the cooler conditions of the shaded areas with light jackets, the day didn’t seem to merit it in the long run as the conditions were excellent for the hike. So excellent in fact that the trail, midweek, was a bit congested in some areas with other hikers attempting to see the same wonders of nature as we were.

The trailhead is located on the third turnout of the park past the Visitor’s Center noted as the Sandstone Quarry. This is the same entrance as both Turtlehead Peak and Grand Circle Loop so it is important to watch for signs along the entrance of the path.

The opening to the trail is graveled and wide and empties into the opening of the canyon where the ground quickly changes to a slick damp sandy texture. Scattered rocks interrupt the path as you walk closer to the canyon still leaving the path easy to navigate.

By the time we had arrived to the large red rocks of the canyon for the first of many challenges we were climbing off the Trail and taking advantage of the amazing viewpoints. The rocks in this are are easy to climb and quickly Lawrence was bounding from rock to rock to soak it all in.

As we pressed onward the first of many challenging passes emerged with narrowing paths and some light rock scrambling. We discovered many stairs, positioned rocks to make the climb to the top a bit easier, however we found many areas that were lacking in these and would require use of hands for stability.

This was one of the more intense hikes when it came to rock scrambling I had been on thus far in Nevada. At one point we had to climb over a fallen tree that was shaky to find a footing to lift ourselves to the next level.

Sandy paths would stop and dart to another area high atop a rocky ledge and you would have to search for the best path to connect the bottom and the top while climbing.

Lucky for us, Lawrence was leading the way on this hike with his energy and found many of the paths and best footholds for us. Anika and I were struggling with the climb a bit more due to the large amount of “stairs” which made for a challenge.

At one point we had reached an area that was no more than a foot wide and leaned into the canyon wall. I found it was best in this case to lean inward as the footing was a bit slick with the sand even in my hiking boots. The sand would be an ongoing thorn in our side as it made many of the rock facings slick to the touch.

We reached the Calico Tanks area and the water was much lower than expected from photos and descriptions. Much like the waterfall I had seen on Lost Creek Trail, the water flow was not as substantial as it is in spring months. We questioned at the time if in fact that was the Tanks area at all based on the shortage of water.

When we reached this area, a downward almost slide like rock structure was the best way to enter. While there is a high road you can take, it does not lead you to the tank itself and bypasses it instead. Taking the slide downward we noticed there was a better way to return on the opposite side which resembled stairs.

When you reach the tanks, there is only one way to the viewpoint and that path looks daunting for those who are not as secure in their rock scrambling. To be honest, Anika and I both were doubtful but when we walked closer from the tanks we noticed that despite the height it was a very do-able surface with several footholds and push points.

Anika led the way and found a path, I found another one to follow both using the areas of our own strength to make our way to the top. I will say on this section the most important thing you can do is have confidence in yourself, the sand will make for an uncertain feeling but after you plant for your footing you can do it!

Once we finally caught up to Lawrence who was already atop the mountain meditating in the beauty, it made the struggle up the final crag worth it all as you could in the distance see the Las Vegas Strip and in the not so distant view the entire Red Rock Canyon. Absolutely spectacular.

Down is always so much easier than up in most cases. You already know what to expect and have a general idea of what did or did not work. On our trip back toward the trailhead, we corrected our path on several occasions realizing that we did not have to use the downward slide or navigate over the tree like we had before. Congestion really kicked in on the way down as many hikers were using the same trails and since it was getting closer to sundown were trying to exit the trail before light was lost.

Going downward typically you can take you hike time and divide it by half, on this trip however since it was so late in the day and there was so much congestion, it still took around 3/4 of the time to return.


Tips For This Trail:

  • Brace Yourself - If you have ankle or joint issues consider using a wrap or brace before tackling this one. The uneven terrain coupled with the scrambling can cause strain on weak joints.

  • Sturdy Shoes - While some hikes do not require shoes with thick soles or knobs for traction, I would recommend for this path considering a hiking based shoe to allow you to have a more firm grip for the rock scrambling.

  • Dog Friendly - While this trail is considered dog friendly, be prepared to assist your pet in the upward climb, some areas might not be ideal for your family pet.

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