Everyone knows that Las Vegas is full of rock stars, but many may not know that the Vegas area is also full of the original rock stars—actual rocks. Las Vegas and the surrounding areas are globally unique in terms of their geologic history and makeup, full of fascinating rocks and rock formations that you simply won’t see anywhere else. It’s a big part of what makes Vegas the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
But don’t take our word for it. We talked to Gary Lehman, expert geologist and tour guide for award-winning tour group Pink Jeep Tours. If there’s anyone that knows about the real “rock stars” of Vegas, it’s Gary. We asked him to tell us about some of the more famous geologic places of interest in the region. His insights did not disappoint! Check out his favorite destinations below.
Red Rock Canyon
“Many people don’t realize that if you look out of a west facing hotel room in a high-rise on the Strip, you can see the Spring Mountains from there,” says Gary, “and then at the base of those mountains is Red Rock Canyon. It’s so close to the action of Vegas—just 15 or 20 miles away. It’s nature’s wonderland, right in Vegas’s backyard.”
“The whole area used to be underwater,” Gary explains. “And then tectonic activity made the earth’s crust rise, creating different geologic layers. You end up with these towering sandstone cliffs that represent terrestrial desert. It’s like driving through history.”
Red Rock Canyon offers sweeping desert vistas of layered red rocks, for a one-of-a-kind landscape that visitors (and locals like Gary) love.
“I never get tired of going out there,” he says.
Keystone Thrust Fault
Gary says that while the Keystone Thrust Fault is technically part of Red Rock Canyon, it deserves its own special mention when it comes to geological wonders of the region.
“This is one of the most easily recognizable thrust faults in the world,” Gary says. “It’s incredibly fascinating, because you’ve got younger rock sitting on top of older rock. How did it get there?”
With a quick geologic history lesson, Gary explains that 70 million years ago, as the continents shifted apart, sediments from the ocean were pushed up over younger rocks, causing the layered rocks to appear to be out of order.
“Keystone Thrust is one of those things that people could just walk right by, without even knowing that they’re passing by a great geological monument. It’s one of the reasons I love taking tours out so much.”
El Dorado Canyon
El Dorado Canyon may not be the bustling mine destination it once was, but it is still an important geologic landmark in the Vegas area.
“El Dorado and Nelson’s Landing are fascinating parts of Las Vegas history,” Gary explains. “The silver and gold mines in the canyon attracted a lot of people to the area. It’s amazing to think about how the geology of the area affected the culture of the area.”
Now, you can take a tour of the area that will explore the region’s rich (pun intended) mining past. Gary says it’s a favorite for tourists, and especially for inquisitive kids.
“Everyone loves Rocky Gap,” Gary laughs. “It’s the ultimate off-road experience. And it’s beautiful.”
Rocky Gap Road travels along an old pioneer trail through Red Rock Canyon, giving you a more thrilling (and bumpy) view of the majestic canyon. You’ll see Aztec Sandstone, fossilized sand dunes at Calico Hills, and so much more.
“This is a great place to discover the story of the area’s geology,” Gary says of Rocky Gap. “Everything in the area is connected, and it all comes together. I love sharing that story with my tour groups.”
Gary’s passion for geology, and for the Vegas area, shines through as he talks about the land. “Things come alive for you once you learn about these things. You start to understand them, and instead of being a bunch of random facts on a piece of paper, they become a story, a way to connect everything on a deeper level.
Want to see some of Gary’s favorite destinations firsthand? Pink Jeep Tours features tours of the natural side of Las Vegas. Book a tour today to discover the real “rock stars” of Vegas!