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Calico Hills are a complex (though relatively short), beautifully colored sandstone formations just north of the entrance to the Scenic Loop Road. Most who visit Calico Hills are not there to "bag a summit" but rather to enjoy the nearly countless single pitch routes on the numerous walls (a mix of trad and sport routes) as well as a few two pitch routes. Urioste's guidebook logically divides the Calico Hills into three areas: Sandstone Quarry (on northwest edge of the hills), the Southwest Side (runs parallel to Scenic Loop Road and is over run with tourists), and the Calico Basin. Descriptions on how to reach the individual areas are given below. Note that the elevation given is a "guesstimate" that will be refined once better inforation is available. It is uncertain exactly where the highest point of the hills is located and what level of climbing is required to reach it (to be modified once better info. is available).
From downtown Las Vegas (or from I 15), drive west on Charleston Blvd. through a suburbia of Vegas (apartment comlexes and shopping malls). As you leave the human development (just drops off beyond one of the intersections) behind, Charleston turns into NV SR 159. From here, Calico Hills climbs can be accessed in one of the following ways:
For the Sandstone Quarry area, you must follow NV SR 159 until you see a sign for the Scenic Loop Road entrance. Take the Scenic Loop Road for 2.7 miles from the entrance and turn off at the Sandstone Quarry parking lot. Some of the walls that can be accessed from here include the Trophy, Holiday Wall, and Sonic Youth Wall.
For the Southwest Side area (long distance photo of that side) , you again turn off from NV SR 159 onto the Scenic Loop Road and follow it to either the First Pullout (1.1 miles from the entrance onto the Scenic Loop Road) or the Second Pullout (after the First Pullout & before Sandstone Quarry). This area probably has the largest concentration of single pitch bolted routes at Red Rocks and is over run with tourists (and climbers). It offers a good option for a "rest day" from the multipich routes. Bolted (and some trad) routes of all difficulty levels can be found here - use caution, quality of bolts varies greatly from route to route.
For the Calico Basin area, turn off NV SR 159 onto Calico Basin Road (signed). When coming from Las Vegas, the road comes after the 13-Mile Campground access road and BEFORE the entrance into the Scenic Loop road (from this direction, it's a right turn onto the Calico Basin Rd.). Follow it for 1.2 miles to a T-intersection where you make a left into the Red Spring Picnic area (two parking areas with portajohns). Note that this area is under the same rules as the Scenic Loop Road (same closure times) but no late exit permits are issued here. Walls such as the Moderate Mecca, Red Spring Wall, Cannibal Crag, Riding Hood Wall, and Happy Acres are accessed from this parking area (and others not on Calico Hills).
The scenic loop road is open 6am to 5pm in winter and 6am to 6pm in summer. Having your car parked at one of the trail heads along this road outside the "open hours" will earn you a $50 ticket. This can be avoided by requesting a "Late Exit Permit" which is free of charge by calling 702-515-5050 and leaving a detailed message (can call on day of the climb before 4 pm). HOWEVER, late exit permits will not be issued for any of the relatively short routes on Calico Hills.
The Park Service charges a fee of $5 per day (per vehicle) or $20 annual pass to access the scenic loop road. The annual National Parks' Pass also works. The toll booths are unattended (hence you get a free pass) on certain holidays (ex. Thanksgiving).
Park service allows dogs in the backcountry. Please keep them leashed and pick up their feces.
When To Climb
As it is true for all climbing in Red Rocks, the question of "when to climb" (or more specifically, "when to climb comfortably") varies from route to route.
"When NOT to climb" is easier to answer: DO NOT climb after rain. Give the rock at least 24 hours (or more depending on duration/intensity of the rain) to dry out following a rainy period. According to Swain's guide book, sandstone becomes more brittle when wet.
The "13-mile campground" on NV-SR159 (driving from Vegas, you will see a sign for the campground located on left side of the road before reaching the Red Rocks marker) provides the closest overnight accomodations in the area. There are no reservations except for group sites - first come, first serve basis. In addition to the standard drive-up sites, there are numerous walk in sites (park in the communal parking lot and walk to your tent). The campground charges $10/night for both types of sites (self issued). Despite the proximity to Las Vegas, the campground has a safe feel to it as it is frequently patrolled by the Park Service. The campground has running water and numerous rest rooms. The campsites have picnic tables and fire pits. There are no trees on the premises - the campground is no doubt extremely hot in the summer months.
BLM Red Rock Canyon
National Conservation Area
HCR 33, Box 5500
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89124
Phone: (702) 363-1921
Climbing Rangers at Red Rocks (very nice and helpful):
The Falcon guide to the area, Rock Climbing Red Rocks by Swain, is an excellent resource. Contains some pictures of routes, nice approach maps, and great topo's of some of the more popular routes. Swain, however, does mention the fact that he has not climbed any of the routes listed for Mt. Wilson for example. No topos and no photos are given for Physical Graffiti for example (you don't really need them anyway).
An out of print guide book by one of the Red Rocks climbing pioneers, Joann Urioste (the little red book) can also be found (was able to buy a used copy of it at Amazon.com). Urioste mistakenly calls Physical Graffiti a 5.9 route. There are no route topo's in her guide book but she does provide some route overview photographs for select routes (incl. Physical Graffiti).
Even though some overlap exists between the two guide books, each DOES contain some unique material. For those planning on doing the less popular routes at Red Rocks, Urioste's book is definitely worth having.
- Calico Peaks
There are a few non-technical peaks surrounding Calico Basin -- quite beautiful, rarely visited. By far most people I see there seem bent on climbing a wall to nowhere. The only peak >5000' is Greycap -- also a nice climb, by two or 3 routes -- with a hidden tinaja near the top.
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