Calico Tanks is a classic hike leaving from the scenic Sandstone Quarry. Though hard to follow at times, this trail leads through a narrow canyon to a picturesque water tank. If you leave early you will have this stunning secluded spring all to yourself, allowing you to bask in its gorgeous natural presence in peace.
From Las Vegas follow Route 157 West as it exits the city. After less than 10 minutes of driving from the city limits you will reach the turn off for Scenic Drive, and signs towards the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Visitor Centre. Make this turn and pay your dues at the park entrance. Follow the one-way Scenic Drive until the third turnoff, signposted as the direction of Sandstone Quarry. Park in the relatively large (but quickly filling) parking lot.
|When to do|
Spring and Fall, avoid summer heat
Out and back
From the parking area of Sandstone Quarry start along the obvious trail beside the signs and outhouses. The path will soon pass a junction; continue straight. It will shortly also pass by a large boulder, where you will most likely see climbers.
After a little ways along this relatively wide and loose gravel path, you will reach another junction. Turn right here towards the Calico Tanks. Soon after the junction the path will turn into loose sand, which is extremely frustrating to walk along. After hiking along the sand for a short ways the difficulties of the trail will start to make themselves apparent. You will find several unmarked forks in the trail where both of the options look good. Typically in these scenarios each option does, in fact, lead to the tanks, so no worries.
Towards the end of the path the trail will run you up onto the sides of the canyon, where it will turn to sandstone. Here is where the trail is particularly hard to find, as there are very rarely any cairns or other trail-markers to follow. However – don’t worry – there are no turnoffs for other canyons along the way, so any route you may take through this small canyon is guaranteed to end at the tanks.
Remember when making these route-finding decisions to judge your scrambling ability. There is certainly a way to get around all the obstacles in front of you without climbing, it just sometimes takes a bit of problem solving. Though this hike is not especially physically demanding, the route finding skills required in this section are challenging, as reflected in the hike’s grade. Once at the tanks return the way you came.
When walking in the loose sand, stay to either side of the trail where it has been trodden on less, as it is typically firmer. Additionally, try to step on grass or boulders as they are always the more sturdy option.
If you’re a climber (or an aspiring one) consider renting a bouldering mat in Las Vegas to climb the boulder near the parking lot.
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