Keystone Thrust, White Rock Spring Trailhead, Red Rock Canyon, Nevada
Keystone Thrust - 2.4 miles
White Rock Spring Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||2.4 miles (distance may vary by route )|
|Start-End Elevation:||4,880' - 5,048' (where trail fades)|
|Elevation Change:||+168' net elevation gain (total elevation gain varies by route)|
Keystone Thrust - 2.4 Miles Round-Trip
Keystone Thrust Fault is considered the most significant geological feature in Red Rock Canyon. About 65 million years ago near the end of the Mesozoic Era, the oceanic plate (west) began colliding with the North American Plate (east) as the continent shifted.
This resulted in the intrusion of the Sierra Nevada granite batholith, initiating compression that forced 500 M year old Paleozoic limestone and dolostone (grey hues) up and over 180 M year old Jurassic sandstone (red and tan hues). The limestone, a relatively impervious cap, protected more susceptible sandstone below from erosion.
Though evidence of compressional thrust faulting can be found throughout North America, Keystone Thrust is one of the most vivid and accessible examples. Today it's possible to identify the two distinct layers and straddle both at once - a popular photo opportunity among geologists:
The trail begins at White Rock Spring Trailhead and drops across a wash near an agave roasting pit. It reaches the White Rock Loop - Keystone Trail split (.14 miles), where you'll bear NE on an old road.
The road-trail climbs steadily through an archetypal blackbrush community dotted with yucca and juniper. Look for snakes, rabbit, road runners and kit fox in this open area. The road-trail forks at .65 miles (5,234') where the road continues left, and rock-arrows direct you to the right.
The road-trail keeps a steady NE heading toward the base of La Madre Mountain with exceptional views across the White Rock Hills. While this option eschews the dichotomous rock types that draw most visitors, it provides macro-perspective from high points apart from the crowds.
The right fork winds down across a sandstone wash (.8 miles : 5,121'), where you'll find some healthy examples of manzanita and Utah agave in an otherwise colorful but barren area.
The trail, somewhat unclear but intuitively followed, crosses a second wash (1.1 miles : 5,044') and rises up the east side on a path that quickly fades on the slope of a steep hogback (1.2 miles : 5,048').
Continue as best you can to the ridge top, where you'll find evidence of the fault in the form of ground-up limestone and sandstone - a byproduct of this violent tectonic period. It may be difficult at first to distinguish the two rock types, but patience eyes will soon pick them apart.
- N36 10.408 W115 28.649 — 0.0 miles : White Rock Trailhead
- N36 10.517 W115 28.682 — .14 miles : Keystone Thrust Trail split
- N36 10.863 W115 28.494 — .65 miles : Major fork with no clear sign
- N36 10.868 W115 28.376 — .8 miles : Cross sandstone wash
- N36 10.811 W115 28.216 — 1.1 miles : Cross sandy wash
- N36 10.805 W115 28.206 — 1.2 miles : Trail fades on steep hillside
- N36 11.146 W115 28.482 — Road-Trail on steady climb through blackbush
- N36 11.352 W115 28.435 — Road-Trail narrows toward base of La Madre Mountain
- Be mindful of snakes, especially if scrambling off trail.
Rules and Regulations
There's a $15 Daily Pass fee to enter Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area | $30 Annual Pass | America The Beautiful Passes are also accepted
The 13 mile Scenic Drive is open year round, with varying hours:
- November - February: 6 am - 5 pm
- March: 6 am - 7 pm
- April - September: 6 am - 8 pm
- October: 6 am - 7 pm
Directions to Trailhead
Keystone Thrust is accessed from the White Rock Spring Trailhead in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The trailhead turnoff is located 5.5 miles from the Fee Station (right side of the road).
The trailhead is located .5 miles off the Scenic Drive on a rugged dirt road that may not be suitable for older cars, or those with very low clearance. Alternatively you may pull over and walk up the dirt road.
The Scenic Drive is one-way; if the trailhead turnoff is missed, you must drive the entire loop and re-enter the park to reach it.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Visitor Center (8 am - 4:30 pm):
BLM Southern Nevada District Office