Las Vegas. America’s "city that never sleeps." One hears the “ka-ching” of slots and screech of traffic long after your return to the quiet — and sleep — of home. Of course, the 1953 "cop and hooker" movie by that name called Chicago the original sleepless city. Or is it New York City, Sinatra style; or Seattle, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan?
Whatever the city, unless you are a fearless, two-wheel messenger, biking is hazardous in the urban madness, a roll of the dice pitting your 19-pound Scott Scale Limited against heartless two-ton vehicles.
Red Rock Canyon is only 17 miles west of Las Vegas’ glitz and glamour.
Biking in congested Las Vegas is perilous, but just 17-miles due west of The Strip on West Charleston Boulevard, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a premier bike venue, one of the best in America for scenery and excitement!
A Great Cycling Backdrop
A stunning contrast to Las Vegas, the sandstone cliffs — called the Calico Hills for their deep red, orange, pink, tan, purple, and white colors — petroglyphs, and muscular geography of the 197,000-acre Red Rock Canyon, are a magnificent backdrop for cycling.
The intense beauty of the Canyon is embedded in the colorful rock formations to the north and the sullen mindfulness of desert mountains to the west and south. From the overlook at the head of the canyon, visitors gaze east over the sprawling city of Las Vegas. Beyond is the great Mojave Desert — west and south, mountains tower 4,000 feet above the Canyon floor.
Traditional highway rides begin at either the small town of Blue Diamond, south on state road #159, or at the Canyon Visitor Center. Experienced cyclists watch for loose gravel around secondary entrance roads and slippery burro droppings along the shoulder, for several hundred wild mules and horses live in the Canyon. Hardy bikers enjoy the 37.3-mile circle from Las Vegas through the Canyon Scenic Loop, Blue Diamond, and back to Vegas via state road #160.
No water is available along bike routes; cyclists must carry extra water.
The Scenic Loop is 16 miles long, including a stint on #159. The first third from the Visitor Center is steep and undulating. This uphill stretch tests a biker’s endurance and ability to gear-down without stalling. The mile or so at the upper end includes numerous switchbacks — short, steep climbs, and fast descents to yet another climb.
The second half of the Scenic Loop is an exhilarating thousand-foot drop to #159. Here, one must ride with control, because the Canyon is administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and federal cops enforce the 35 mph speed limit!
Take Enough Water
This is desert country and water is unavailable except at the Visitor Center. Bikers must carry and drink extra water, because on the steep uphills, the body loses water at an alarming rate. A repair kit is also highly recommended as there is plenty of sharp-edged desert gravel — both on and off road — and no aid is available.
Although you may never leave the pavement — except for overlooks or the rugged Cottonwood Valley off-road trails, which is highly recommended — bikers share the road with motorists. It is crucial to ride to the right, in single file. This is easy to forget in the strain of pedaling up the canyon or the excitement of zooming downhill seven miles from High Point Overlook (elevation 4,771 ft.), beginning your return "flight" to the Visitor Center (elevation 3,720 ft.).
Although the Scenic Drive is two-lane, it is one-way. This should give cars and trucks plenty of room to avoid cyclists. Sadly, we know this is often not the case. Red Rock Canyon offers numerous, crowded pull-off locations to watch rock climbers, take pictures, picnic, and hike. If you absolutely must bike the Canyon on weekends, try to confine your rides to the off-road Cottonwood Valley trails as this will help avoid collisions with America’s lousy motorists.
Temperatures in the Canyon can vary from about 10- to 120 degrees Fahrenheit winter to summer, and it is often 10 degrees cooler in the Canyon than in the city of Las Vegas.
Winters can be harsh and a brutal wind may blow for days, but when temperatures rise to the 60s, winter becomesThe Season for biking. Climbers scale the Calico Hills; families