“Want to be a writer? A poet? A painter? Want to indulge in any of the fine arts? If so, go to Red Rock canyon.” – Bakersfield Californian/1920
Motivated by the previous adventure out to Saddleback Butte State Park – alongside the arrival of a new 27mm F2.8 lens for the Fujifilm X-E2 – I mapped out a course further north to Red Rock Canyon State Park for a solo expedition. Although I knew the wild flowers would be less spectacular than Saddleback Butte’s offerings, the photos I previewed of the park’s iron oxide tinted 300-feet sandstone-curtained cliffs was enough for me to fill the TDI’s tank, load up the backpack, and hit the road.
About an hour and 45 minutes from Silver Lake, and located in the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada and converging with the El Paso Mountains, the Mojave Desert State Park makes it immediately known from the highway view this land’s history spans geological eons. The towering cliff sides are striped like bacon, with a menagerie of rock formations of all sizes and shapes inviting nicknames beyond their official names (I was prone to give many of them names/references from Dune). The land before time landscape isn’t just fantasy. During the late Ice Age, Columbian mammoths, mastodons, horses, and even camels roamed these lands. Later the Kawaiisu called the region “the canyon with rocks on fire”, leaving petroglyphs and numerous sites archeological sites documenting history before the arrival of European settlers, most famously the Death Valley Forty-Niners who panned the sandy river beds for gold and collected fire and green opal in the surrounding mountains (I found some small samples myself, but left them as dictated by park rules).
Photographer Edward Weston wrote, “Justly famed for its extravagantly eroded and riotously colored formations, Red Rock Canyon is a source of never-ending delight for photographers and desert lovers”. It’s also one of the quietest hikes I’ve enjoyed, so much so I fell asleep under one of the platforms lining the canyon, lulled by the songs of desert Western scrub-jays, the slow migration of clouds above, and the dreamlike state one experiences hiking across a desert landscape so alien and curious as Red Rock Canyon. And now two days later, looking back at these photos, I wonder if it was all but a dream…