Take a Hike – Moenkopi Loop Trail

By Tom Pfaendler

If you’re an early riser, there’s a treat waiting for you at Red Rock Canyon called the Moenkopi Loop Trail. This easy two-mile walk is perfect for anyone who is hungry for a quick taste of desert life; but if you can get up coffee-early and make it out here by six in the morning, there is a special magic that you just can’t experience at any other time.

The soft light caresses the Wilson Cliffs revealing all the color and drama of the escarpment. The air is cool and sweetly scented. It’s quiet… still… Here at last is a place where you can start the day in peace, reflect on life, commune with the desert and all of its rich history and still make it to work by 8 o’clock! If you prefer a more social experience, the Interpretive Association offers the popular “Moenkopi Morning” hikes first thing every Wednesday.

Moenkopi is a Hopi word that means “place of running water”, but I recommend that you pack a bottle of H2O anyway, just in case. The trailhead is near the visitor’s center, at the southwest corner of the tortoise habitat.

The path is well marked and features several interpretive signs as you wind through the desert among the yuccas and creosote, black brush and desert trumpets. There are a couple of forks in the road that lead north to the Calicos and even link to the eleven-mile Grand Circle Adventure, but just follow the signs and stay on the Moenkopi trail to enjoy terrific views of the famous Calico Hills from this unique vantage point. As you begin the gentle ascent up the hill, the cement-like caliche in the path gives way to gray limestone, which forms terraces with little cactus gardens growing between the rocks.

A 230-million-year-old seabed forms the top of the hill. Look closely and you can find fossils of seashells and plants! There are some nice barrel cactus growing up here, a few strawberry hedgehogs and not one, but several pincushion cacti growing among the limestone! This is probably the best place in Red Rock to see this elusive little cactus.

A wooden bench marks the halfway point on the Moenkopi trail, and is a great place to sit for a while and take in the view. At 100 feet above the visitors center and roughly centered in the park, this spot serves up a really rich 360-degree view of Red Rock Canyon! The trail continues down the backside of the hill along a sloping shelf of limestone (this might be a likely “place of running water” during a rainstorm), then eventually deposits you onto an old caliche and gravel service road for the remaining half-mile walk back to the visitors center.

The Moenkopi Loop Trail is a dish best served in the morning. It gains a full point for the pincushions, but loses half a point for the rather boring return along the old road. On my one-to-ten rating system, the Moenkopi Loop Trail earns four-and-a-half boots, which is pretty good for a one-hour “Taste of Red Rock” experience!

Disclaimer Of Liability:

With respect to images, data, and narrative posted at this website, Friends of Red Rock Canyon makes no warranty, express or implied, including the warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights. Friends of Red Rock Canyon shall not be liable in any way for loss or damage, of any kind, to you, or any other person, for any inaccuracy, error, omission, or delay in any information posted or otherwise transmitted over this website.

While the website tries to accurately describe places and routes, conditions change over time and sometimes mistakes are made. If something posted on this site seems wrong, assume it is wrong and tell us that it needs to be fixed. Wildlands are inherently dangerous — always rely on your own good judgment. You are responsible for your own safety.

Take a Hike – Keystone Thrust Trail

By Tom Pfaendler

During the winter months when the days are short, it’s nice to have a few small hikes available that can be enjoyed in just a couple of hours. One of these is the Keystone Thrust Trail. It’s easily accessible, packed with interesting history and a pretty good workout, too!

To find this trail, drive about six miles around the scenic loop until you see a sign announcing White Rock. From here, a rocky dirt road leads north another mile to a fenced parking area that serves the White Rock and Keystone Thrust trails. This will be at least a three-mile hike, depending on the return route that you decide to take, so don’t forget to pack a bottle of water for each person. Even in these cooler winter months it’s important to stay hydrated while you’re in the desert.

At the north end of the parking lot you’ll find an interpretive sign briefly explaining the Keystone Thrust trail. As it turns out, this is a unique and important area for geologists, and they come from all over the world to study this thrust fault.

You’ll discover why as we get a little farther up the trail. Follow the rock-lined path north across the wash until you come to a sign directing you up a picturesque little hill with railroad-tie steps. At the top of the hill the trail intersects an old road. Turn left and follow the road around Hogback Ridge and toward the La Madre Mountains.

Legend has it; in the early days of Las Vegas this remote desert road was a popular place for stolen cars to be stripped. Those old vehicles were removed long ago, but if you look carefully you may be able to spot some small metal parts slowly rusting away among the rocks and shrubs.

Once you’ve passed Hogback Ridge you’ll come to another sign directing you toward the Keystone Thrust. This is the highest point of the trail and the views are really nice with Turtlehead Peak and the Calicos to the east, the La Madre Mountains to the north, and White Rock Mountain to the west.

The trail now leaves the old road, turns sharply east and descends into a wide red and gray canyon. This is what the geologists go bonkers over. Two exposed tectonic plates! These are gigantic slabs of the earth’s crust that move around to create earthquakes, mountains and continents. It’s actually possible to stand with a foot on each plate. Keystone Thrust Fault is one of the only places on earth where this can be done!

Normally, this kind of exciting rock action is taking place miles underground. Even for the non-geologist, it’s interesting to see the red sandstone on the west side of the canyon smashing into the grey limestone on the east side forming new mountains before our very eyes. Try to think in rock-years to get the big picture.

For most people, this is the grand finale. Time to turn around, hike back the way you came in and call it a day. But as a Boot Tracks reader, you’ll want to know that there are some hidden treasures to be found just a little farther south and deeper into the canyon.

The rocks become very dramatic and in the winter you’ll find pools of water reflecting the sky and trees. The jagged east side of the Hogback looms darkly overhead. Pick your way around a high waterfall area and carefully follow the canyon through dense shrubs and colorful boulders until the canyon slowly gives way to the open desert. The wash eventually leads back to the scenic loop drive, depositing you about a mile east of the White Rock turnoff.

If you decide to take this route, please stay in the wash and avoid shortcutting across the desert to your car. This is sensitive ground with areas of active cryptobiotic (living) soils. Use your tread lightly skills and be sure to leave no trace!

The three-mile round trip to the Keystone Thrust is a fun outing and a good workout with a major educational bonus at the end. It deserves six boots all on its own, but if you have the extra time and inclination, exploring the canyon a little deeper “thrusts” the overall rating to seven boots!

Disclaimer Of Liability:

With respect to images, data, and narrative posted at this website, Friends of Red Rock Canyon makes no warranty, express or implied, including the warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights. Friends of Red Rock Canyon shall not be liable in any way for loss or damage, of any kind, to you, or any other person, for any inaccuracy, error, omission, or delay in any information posted or otherwise transmitted over this website.

While the website tries to accurately describe places and routes, conditions change over time and sometimes mistakes are made. If something posted on this site seems wrong, assume it is wrong and tell us that it needs to be fixed. Wildlands are inherently dangerous — always rely on your own good judgment. You are responsible for your own safety.