California’s remarkable rocks part 2 – Red Canyon State Park

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Turk's Turban

This is the second in our 3-part series about California’s rocks that we explored last January.  The first one is here.  Milkweed

Usually when we visit a state park our expectations are a bit lower than when visiting a national park.  Then along comes a small state park tucked away in the arid Mojave desert that surprised us with absolutely stunning landscape.

Enter Red Rock Canyon State Park, one of California’s best kept secrets, located 120 miles north of Los Angeles. It’s situated in the southernmost foothills of the Sierra Nevada range, just west of CA Hwy 14, between Mojave and US 395 which runs through the middle of the park.  We visited in January when there was hardly anyone else around, which is always a good thing.


Red Rock Canyon State Park

Our car is so lonely out there

Imposing cliffs composed of otherworldly looking red rocks created the scene as we approached the park on Hwy 14.  For a moment it felt like we were entering southern Utah, for the buttes of vivid color and layered rock formations were similar.  But these are California’s colored rocks so dramatic that it beckoned us to explore further.

Red Rock Canyon State Park

Layers of white, pink, red and brown cliffs grace both sides of Hwy 14 and blend into the distance

As with our last stop, we had only one dry day to explore as the winter storms were nipping at our heels.  We followed three trails: Ricardo Camp South Loop, Hagen and Red Cliffs (just across Hwy 14).  These treks gave us different perspectives and views of the area badlands, and we loved the exposed angled and layered strata that spanned both sides of the highway in the Mojave Desert.

stiff breeze ridge

At Stiff Breeze Ridge we had expansive views of Hagen Canyon to the left and Ricardo Campground below the cliffs to the right

Red Rock Canyon State Park

A nice view of tilted rock layers and the Visitor Center (lower left)

Red Rock Canyon State Park

Joshua Trees dominate the desert landscape here

Hagen Canyon was named by a German immigrant, Rudolp Hagen, who acquired the land and then built a small outpost with a diner, bar and post office.  He is attributed with starting the area tourist movement by operating Red Rock Canyon as his own private park, offering maps of rock formations, most of which he named.

After his passing the land transferred to his family before becoming a State Recreation Area in 1969, followed by an elevation to state park in 1982.

Hagen Canyon

Steve ponders the layers and colors within Hagen Canyon

We followed the Hagen Trail to see the rock formations Mr. Hagen had named.  I even named one myself!

Hagen Trail

I named this one the Resting Giant Lizard

Window Rock

Window rock with a happy occupant!

Next we crossed over Hwy 14 to explore the Red Cliffs on the east side.  We know from past explorations that the bright red coloration is due to oxidation (rusting) of high iron content rock in some of the sedimentary layers.

Red Cliffs, California

Only a few of us were at the base of these 300-foot sandstone cliffs on this day

Red Rock Canyon State Park

Fluted folds or drape curtains are the result of the usual wind and rain erosion over many years

The park can be explored in a day, but you can definitely spend more time wandering off and immersing yourself in the geological wonders of the area.  Hans and Lisa alerted us to this hidden gem, and we’re very glad we altered our route slightly to see these remarkable rocks of California for ourselves.

If you find yourself traveling on Highway 14 near Mojave, be sure to pull over and explore this place.  It’s definitely worth a look!


Next up:  California’s rocks part 3 – Joshua Tree National Park


A place NOT on everybody’s “Must See” list – Tecopa, CA

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Clay and rock

After days of exploration and fascination at Death Valley National Park its time to say goodbye to one of our favorite places and move along.  We didn’t have a firm destination, but rather a tentative stop in mind before crossing into Nevada.  We took highway 190 E and at the junction turned right onto 127 S, where we traveled through the expanse of the Amargosa Valley.  We initially hesitated to stop at our first tentative destination, for it was in the middle of nowhere and we didn’t know much about it.   But what the heck, lets check out this place called Tecopa Hot Springs.  We saw what looked like a little oasis up on a plateau to the east, so we turned left and followed the sign.  Our GPS directed us to the first RV park, Petersen’s Tecopa Palm RV Park.  At registration we learned we’d be hooking up to natural mineral water, which means it’s not so good for cooking, drinking or using in your coffee.  Also, since we were in the desert there was no cell, internet or tv.  Hmmm, sounds exciting!  So we decided to stay for the night.

Mineral Water Content

Even if Tecopa is off the beaten path, this town seems to be a snow birder’s destination.  As we socialized with folks during the 4pm happy hour we learned that the big attraction here is the natural baths, local hot mineral springs they claim is healing.  There is a public hot springs administered by Inyo County at a cost of $5 per day, where you must shower first then bathe in the nude.  Oh.  Lucky for us, the RV park had their own  private Hot Mineral Baths, natural hot spring water piped into soaking tubs.  The rules are the same, shower first then soak in your  birthday suit.

Hot Tub

The sign says, “Welcome to Paradise”.  Well, maybe if your idea of paradise is scalding hot water!  Too hot for us…

Our planned one-day stay became three days in short order, as the desert landscape and quiteness got to us, plus the natural hot springs.  The mineral water did not bother us much, nor did being off the grid again.  Tecopa is beautiful and has a mix of rolling hills and desert flats.  From our site we enjoyed a 360-degree mountain view, interesting vistas and more.  This place is no Death Valley, yet it has its own character and is worth seeing and enjoying.

View from our Betsy

The view of Tecopa from Betsy

On our second day we hopped in the car and followed the sign pointing to China Ranch, about 7 miles north of Tecopa.  At the end of a twisting road between chalky cliffs cut into desert seemingly barren of plant life, China Ranch came into view.

China Ranch

To China Ranch we go

What the heck is China Ranch? Well, it’s a family-owned small farm in a hidden oasis in the Mojave Desert.  The ranch fills a little valley with groves of stately date palms, stands of cottonwoods and thickets of vegetation, all amid the tranquil sounds of trickling spring water. P1240476

There’s  a bakery with yummy home made bread and cookies made of dates, assorted dates for tasting, a gift shop, landscaping nursery, a one-room museum

and miles of hiking trails.  Mine shafts abound in China Ranch, as the area has a rich history of mining booms and busts.  Lead, Silver, Gypsum and Talc were the primary minerals that were extracted here.

Date Palms

Groves of Date Palms ready for harvest

We were thrilled at  the assortment of hiking trails!  Off we went  without a trail map (the gift shop was not open yet) or drinking water, thinking we’d be back in less than an hour.  In short, we were winging it and feeling adventurous.

Gold Rock

Gold Rock next to Clay hills

Despite the lack of trail markers, this was really a wonderful area to hike and explore.  It is unique, with an assortment of intriguing scenery.  As we were walking along the ancient lakebed sediments, we saw light-colored clay hills mixed in with darker hard “gold rock” mountains.  We also explored a couple of canyons leading between mountain peaks which ended in very high dry waterfalls.  We could just picture the water cascading down those falls and through the canyons we were exploring.

We enjoyed looking at interesting formations and checked out some  veins of gypsum running through the clay hills.  Then we walked down the ridge and flood levee. Rockhounds would love this place with all the colorful rocks strewn in the area.

Waterfall in the desertFinally, we saw a waterfall in the middle of the desert.  Parts of the various trails run along the grade to the old Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, and we found many of the 100+ year old track ties discarded along the way.  As we kept walking and admiring the view of badlands, colorful rhyolitic volcanic rocks, marshes and salt flats we lost track of time and were feeling a little lost in the wilderness.  The half-hour walk became a three-hour trek, and it was pretty awesome.  After arriving back at the park we availed ourselves of the  mineral bath to ease our aching muscles.  Not for long though, that water was super-hot!

The lack of  quality drinking water in Tecopa, a community  built around natural hot springs, does not deter those who seek a destination off the beaten path. Our spur-of-the-moment decision to stop here illustrated that even though it’s NOT on everyone’s must-see list, that only makes it more  alluring.  It was a stop well worth it!

Here are some interesting things we admired along the way.