Photographing Red Rock Canyon in California

Ray Anderson - photographer and travel writer
Read more


Latitude: 35.436884 Longitude: -118.00899 Elevation: 3463 ft
the best travel advice comes from the people who live here
Ray Anderson


The eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range aspires photographers and adventurers.  It is very different from the west side, which has a gradual slope 40 to 70 miles as it rises above the San Joaquin Valley.  The Eastern Sierra Nevada drops from mountain tops, thousands of feet in a much shorter distance, to arid valleys.  While the west slope receives Pacific rain storms, the high Sierra crest often blocks them from reaching the eastern slope.  An exception to the rain pattern happens at lower elevation mountain passes, permitting storms to continue eastward.  Thus the Eastern Sierra lies in the rain shadow of the west, less rainfall and fewer forests to hide its magical geology scenery.  The Eastern Sierra is a collage of granite and metamorphic peaks, glaciers, lakes, canyons, creeks, volcanic domes, high plateaus and flora & fauna, all accessible to those willing to explore.

The Eastern Sierra Nevada area is over 400 miles long, averaging 50 to 80 miles wide, with peaks rising up 13,000 and 14,000 feet above sea level.  There are four large basins, Owens Valley, Long Valley, Mono Basin, and Bridgeport Valley.  California Highway 395 is the main road running south to north through the valleys.  It is the transportation corridor connecting the towns and importantly providing access to roads going east into the canyons and a few mountain passes to western California.  Highway route 395 travels from the south in Inyokern to Susanville in the North.

It is near Inyokern, south off Highway 14, at California's State Park - Red Rock Canyon this article covers.  Camping is a good way to visit and photograph Red Rock Canyon.  State Park Campground 'Ricardo' is located at the base of dramatic cliff scenery.  Strolling the miles of hiking trails with a camera is recommended, bring water and dress in layers.   The summer heat should probably be avoided, and the visitor center is closed then.  After a wet winter wildflower displays may be spectacular.

The Canyon terrain is fine for improvisational hiking, strolling the flats around the geological formations.  There are two designated hiking trails.  The Hagen Canyon Natural Preserve is a three fourths of a mile trail starting at the south end of the campground, with scenic vistas of the White House Cliffs.  The Red Cliffs Trail is one mile long meandering around the Red Cliffs Natural Preserve, and two miles if venturing farther north to the Scenic Cliffs area.

Motion picture directors have also used Red Rock Canyon's unique geoology for filming scenes.  Here are a few examples:  The Mummy, Three Godfathers, Stagecoach, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (used as a desert island), The Egyptian, The Big Country, Westworld, Jurassic Park, etc.

Full Explanation

I have lived in the Sierra Nevada foothills for two decades.

I am a travel photographer and writer of The West, especially the State of California.

My professional background as an agent/analyst for the California Department of Transportation was good training for travel subjects. Currently I share my photography and travel writings on other websites: and and

Leave a Comment