If you go just a little bit west of Las Vegas, you get to Bureau of Land Management areas which means they are owned by the Federal Government and managed by the Department of the Interior, but are not cool enough to be designated as National Parks or Monuments. These are primarily wilderness areas that are owned by “we the people.” There are 221 of them, most of them in the 12 western states, including Alaska. The mission of the BLM is “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
Most of the BLM land is undeveloped. Dispersed camping is allowed – also called boondocking – and is free. Tom and I haven’t been brave enough to try camping on BLM land yet but we did spend two days hiking at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
Because it is so close to Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon is a very popular place. There are hikers, bike riders, and people gawking at the beautiful rock formations from their cars along the 13 mile scenic drive. The Visitor Center is one of the best we have seen with wonderful desert gardens and many helpful interpretive exhibits. Lots of people use Red Rock Canyon for rock-climbing and, although we saw lots of climbers during our two days there, we were not tempted to try it.
Instead we did the best we could to avoid the crowds and enjoy the area. The first day we arrived at Red Rock Canyon in the afternoon and all the parking places at most of the lots were full. We finally found a parking place at the far end of the park and hiked around the Willow Springs area.
The second day we visited Red Rock Canyon was a Saturday, so the Canyon was even more crowded, but we were wiser to the ways of the Canyon. We parked at the Visitor Center and hiked to the Calico Hills, 1.5 miles from the Visitor Center, up the trail along the hills another 3 miles, and then back to the Visitor Center along the ridge trail and road. The scenery was spectacular and there were relatively few people who ventured off the overlooks onto the trails. Most of the time we felt like we were hiking alone.
At one point we heard voices behind us and looked around to see a group of energetic Webelos coming down the trail. They resembled a flock of colorful redbirds with their red Class B shirts and they were chattering and laughing as they scrambled easily over the rocks. There were 35 boys and 9 adult leaders with them – all from the same Cub Scout Pack!
There were lots of people rock-climbing and it was fun to watch their various approaches. Some were beginners who got scared coming down. Some people scrambled over the rocks like ground squirrels. Some were obviously experts who had climbed many times and still enjoyed the challenge of the area.
We ended up hiking close to 10 miles the second day, which was a little much with the ups and downs for my feet. But afterward we were able to enjoy a movie with a soft drink and soft pretzel without guilt.