Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Another weather adventure…

Weather reports showed wind advisories and winter weather alerts for the next two days. I was hoping the travel day would cut under the wind, but could definitely feel the buffeting as soon as I hit Highway 15. I am frequently thankful for the Avoid Highways feature in Google Maps, and used that as soon as we could. On our way out of Valley of Fire, we saw hoards of people lining up to come in. We were feeling pretty smug about how nicely our plans fell into place. The purpose of Red Rock was to be in a place outside the big city, with lots of cell service, and proximity to stores where we could replenish food supplies and catch up on all things civilized. It was also touted as being pretty, so again, we were doing the “We are the Smart Party” dance. In retrospect, The Hitchin’ Post might have been the better choice.

Bit of a bumpy arrival with people in our site…

We took Highway 215 in from the western outskirts of Vegas, with a stopover at Walmart. The winds were ever present, with warnings of a bigger storm coming in. The Red Rocks Campground does take reservations, which we had, which was lucky, because they were full to capacity, with many signs saying so. When we got to our site, there was a car parked in it. Richard went and alerted the camp hosts, who shook their heads in exasperation, saying, “I know exactly who it is.” They immediately jumped in their official looking pickup, with big orange lights flashing on top, and came straight over. Apparently, there was a family of three who, all week long, had kept setting up in vacant, but marked as reserved, campsites. They had a small tent set up in a walk-in tent site, but it’s a long haul from the parking area to the tent area, so they just really wanted one of those sites closer by, with a covered shelter. The camp hosts had had enough with them and kicked them out of the campground at that point. We felt bad watching them have to pack up all their things and lug them over to their car. We wondered what their backstory was, but we could tell they had pushed through multiple warnings and were not going to be given another chance. Their car was a Mercedes, so I tried not to worry about them too much.

Hills around campground say, “No service for you.”

To my deep and abiding dismay, there is no cell service whatsoever in the Red Rocks campground. Like on the road before the turnoff, there was decent LTE, but as soon as you drop down just a bit, the road goes behind a hill, which blocks everything. To get a signal, you can walk up a short path to a high point behind the loop, or drive a quarter of a mile to a pullout near the entrance. But from the site, nada. This was frustrating, because it was my plan to sit inside and do service things while the rain was happening. I was looking forward to that a lot. I thought for sure we’d get service, being right outside Vegas and all. And I’m sure that is true of every other freaking place, except this campground. Campendium even says there is 4g, but they lie. Or maybe there are specific sites out on the RV loop that can hit a tower, but not site 20, that’s for sure.

The 13 mile Scenic Drive is really impressive.

We got going early the next morning so Richard could ride the Scenic Drive before the weather arrived. It was already very windy though. In order for me to not perseverate, we put Dory’s roof down before we left, with a plan to turn her into the wind when we got back. That would make her as aerodynamic as possible, and protect the crescent windows from any loose flying objects while we were away. Arriving at the kiosk entry to the Scenic Drive, there was a man checking for time designated reservations, which we had, which was lucky, because they limit cars to keep crowds down. I am not 100% sure of this, but I think the man in the kiosk was the dad of the family who got kicked out for being in our site. He was masked, so I could be wrong, but he said something to me, which I didn’t hear (hearing impairment strikes again). I thought he was asking me if I was “law enforcement.” He then gestured to what I think was the campground reservation tag on our mirror. I was just confused, and said, “No?” He sort of smiled then, like he’d made a joke, and that’s when I wondered if it was the same guy. Still confused, I drove on through. I still don’t really know what he said, or whether it was a joke, or whether it was him. Oh well.

Biker trying not to get blown over…

Richard started riding the thirteen mile road and I sagged. Oh my god it was windy. And cold. I didn’t even want to get out of the car at the viewpoints. But whatevs, crazy husband, you have fun. I’ll turn on butt warming and crank Sirius XM. There was one other biker out there and I could tell people in cars were feeling sorry for them both, or were simply shaking their heads. I followed close by. Eventually, with about two miles to go, when the wind was practically blowing Richard over, he bailed. No shame in accepting the reality of weather.

Our brave Dory facing the storm

Back to the campground we drove, and spun Dory into the direction of the wind. We checked weather reports before coming back and there were wind advisories, specifically for the Red Rocks Canyon area. Reports predicted 30-40 mph winds with gusts up to 60. Here we go. After we’d oriented and set back up, we blasted the heater and strapped in. We then noticed four young men trying to set up in a tent site. It was painful to watch. All four of them looked as clueless as you can get. They had cotton hoodies, no rain or cold weather gear, and took turns at not being able to set up their lightweight, fragile little tent. We were hard pressed not to go over and help them. The help I was more than prepared to offer, and surely would have eventually, was to hand enough cash that they could go get a hotel room. Until it reached the point of rescue, we watched the drama unfold. Three of them seemed really excited about camping. Perhaps the tent had been a Christmas present? One of them looked cold and sad, and kept gesturing over to the ominous clouds. They tried many times to set up that tent, with their sleeping bags and gear spread out on the ground, as it started to rain. Finally, they sort of kind of had the poles in the right position and the tallest one looked pretty happy to see it standing upright. Just then, a huge gust of wind collapsed the entire thing in upon itself. I think the young one was maybe crying at that point. Thankfully, they all seemed ready to accept the inevitable and began tearing down the few pieces of equipment they’d managed to get out of the storage cases. We were so relieved watching them pack up their cars and drive out. Probably, the whole campground was.

Campground clearing out…

Meanwhile, next to the kids, there was a full grown man with a somewhat sturdier looking tent, who was there when we arrived. We saw him come out a few times and I thought he might be bailing. Instead, he was adjusting his rain fly and I guess anchoring things down. Then he disappeared and he either had gone inside his tent, or had left. Richard and I were hunkering inside, running the generator outside to top up the batteries, and trying hard to not pay attention to the sounds of the gusts. Dory was rocking, but way less so than I know she would have if she weren’t nosed in the right direction. Then there was a really huge gust. I can only guess how fast it was, but it felt like a wave hit us. I heard a thump outside that panicked me. It turned out it was the cover to the electrical outlet, flipping up, and it was fine, but I was thinking something had blown off. We both looked outside to assess any damage and we noticed the older guy’s tent was simply demolished. Parts of poles stuck up on the sides, but the whole upper structure was destroyed. We looked for signs of him coming out from under the canvas pile, and saw nothing, so we figured he must have left when things got real.

This is an ex tent.

One by one, the remaining tent campers bailed. We watched some of the other RVs reposition themselves or put their tow cars in front of their rigs to take some of the wind. All the while, the campground hosts made periodic rounds to check on how people were holding up. We told them about the kids, and the guy with the destroyed tent, and they said they were worried about the kids too and were coming to offer a more sheltered site. By morning, there were only two tents that survived the onslaught and stuck it out. We think the people in them were rock climbers because they were decked out with all kinds of technical gear. We later looked up the brand of their tents and found out they each cost $900. That was money well spent, and that night was a good endorsement for the quality.

If you gotta be in a tent, these are the way to go.

The wind storm was over by 3am and Dory had not a single sign of any damage. Altos are extremely well built little buggers. Wind is not my favorite thing, and I was prepared to lower Dory’s roof at any moment if it seemed like things were getting worse. Luckily, besides that one blast, it was less extreme than the “bomb cyclone” we survived in Half Moon Bay. One thing that helps: loud music. Second thing that helps: lots of wine. Anyway, we made it and were fine to head out to our next stop along the way. I hope that family is fine, wherever they are, and I hope those kids get to try camping again, maybe not during a wind advisory.

Total miles: 78.4 from Valley of Fire, 14.6 mpg (wind), 4 hours 58 min (because stopped at Walmart along highway 215). Site 20 no hookups and no damn cell service. No dump. Water spigots. Awesome camp hosts. 

2 thoughts on “Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

  1. Wind and tenters, tough to watch. A couple lasted one night next to me on the coast earlier this week, but the next evening, the third time their tent got blown in, they finally packed up and left. Meanwhile, I was nice and cozy with Truma on propane 🙂

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