Geology of Red Rock Canyon 


Simply put, Red Rock Canyon is the product of geologic process and erosion over millions of years. Sediment deposits, dramatic faulting, volcanic eruptions, flooding, severe winds: all of these geologic processes have turned Red Rock Canyon into the magnificent badlands you see today.  

It all starts… 

Roughly 10 million years ago The Red Rock you see today was an ancient valley; sediment from the surrounding El Paso Mountain Range and the Sierra Nevada’s would flow down in floods and rivers to converge in a lake that has long since dried up. The sediment, which has a high density, would sink and compress to form the lake bottom.  

The compression, with a little help from gravity, would cause the sediment to form a rock like hardness. This rock formation is called Sandstone which makes up the majority of formations in Red Rock Canyon. 

Then it gets a little volatile… 

The earth is always in a constant state of motion, due to the Tectonic Plates located in Earth’s crust. These plates cause shifts in the earth which can lead to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and faulting. 

About eighteen million years ago the majority of the El Paso Range was inundated with volcanic activity. Lava flows would flow into the valley and ash deposits carried by streams or wind would converge into the area. During this volatile time twenty-five different ash deposits and lava flows blanketed the area causing the ‘caprocks’ you see at the top the formations, and the grey sandstone lines among the cliffs. 

Red Rock gets a geologic face lift… 

The faults continued activity throughout this time, shortly after the sediment deposition, the El Paso Fault began to uplift the El Paso Mt. Range by 5000 feet causing the tilt of the Ricardo formation by 15 degrees.  

This tilt exposed that sandstone lake-bed, not only to our eyes but also to the power of water and wind. These exposed edges began to erode with the high winds that are common to the area. Rain and flooding is what shaped the curtain like formations in cliffs. 

Iconic Red Cliff…

Around 12 million years ago alternating deposits from ancient streams and volcanoes filled a former valley. All were buried and concealed until earthquake uplift combined with erosion slowly unveiled the beautiful scenic seriated cliffs. The notable red color results from an ongoing oxidation of iron-bearing minerals.