The History of “Place Names” at Red Rock Canyon State Park

 

An excerpt from the Writings of Mark Faull:

The canyon’s majestic cliffs and intricate hollows were not only the subject of written annals, but photography as well.  The facades, rills and impressive domes all bear strikingly graphic attributes, which proved irresistible to the eye of visiting photographers.  In 1928 alone Touring Topics magazine published three photographs taken in Red Rock Canyon within its “Rotagravure Section”.  This was followed by additional submissions in 1929 and 1931, not too mention the two photographs which accompanied the Stewart and Everett poems discussed previously (Archer 1929; Brewer 1931; Connell 1930; Van Oosting 1931).  In 1933, J. E. Morhardt, Jr. was award a “first prize” by Touring Topics for his photographic submission entitled “Erosion in Red Rock Canyon” (Morhardt 1933).  In 1943 and 1947 two especially striking and intricately graphic formations within Red Rock Canyon, both photographed by Fred Ragsdale (1947; 1943), graced the cover of The Desert Magazine

Red Rock Canyon had entered its “age of adjectives” describing its hallowed scenery, and had become a point of destination rather than transit.  Slowly, Red Rock Canyon was becoming known for the value and character of its scenery.  Soon this would become its major attraction.  On Rudolf Hagen’s heretofore mentioned tourist maps, Hagen provided many of the fanciful places names that have taken hold as part of the celebration of the canyon’s majesty.  Such places names in the northeastern Red Rock drainage as Scenic Cliffs, Scenic Canyon, Lady Fair Sphinx, Turtle Gate, the Tai Shan Temple, and the Magic Silent City and Black Rock Canyon became a common part of the enjoyment and bolstered imagination of all visitors (Hagen 1920).  In Last Chance Canyon magazine articles established such place names as the Temple of the Gods, the Siamese Temple and the Little Grand Canyon in the vicinity of the petrified forest.

These place names embodied the striking spectacle of Red Rock Canyon as well as the emotions conveyed by simply viewing the scenic, graphically fluted, powerful and impressively sculpted cliffs.  The previously mentioned 1921 article in The Los Angeles Times went on at length describing the canyon’s captivating architecture, The canyon, lying at an altitude slightly under 3000 feet, is a maze of walled-in miracles.  Its special splendor is beyond the reach of words.  One’s breath is halted by the entrancing picture suddenly revealed.  Here fancies …become realities.  There are pillars and columns, plain and fluted and chased; pilasters and colonnades, tiny and titanic, tier upon tier, mile after mile, from the canyon floor far skyward; arcades, corridors, balustrades, temples, castles, cathedrals, towers, domes, spires, obelisks, sphinxes, gargoyles, perfectly chiseled and exquisitely adorned; a buried city, an acropolis and – well, about everything the imagination could conceive.   

The author then describes many of the “named features” individually, with colorful detail abounding for each. Over time, articles, such as ones gracing the Outdoor Sections of newspapers were written by automobile editors as travelogues to promote targeted automobile and new Airstream travel trailers sales. Routinely, these authors chose Red Rock as a desirable destination.  These articles, such as one published in 1936 by the Los Angeles Times, continued to tout the descriptive places names enshrined within the canyon.  The author of this piece, Lynn Rogers, called Red Rock “one of the most-photographed spots in the near desert”, and before listing off the many formal place names found in the canyon conceded, Red Rock is one of the most obliging of canyons.  It isn’t one of these surly, ill tempered, aloof canyons that make people go long distances out of their way to view them. …Furthermore, it is colorful, picturesque, fairly easily explored and usually free from the gales which sweep across the unprotected desert adjacent to it.      

In 1969, Leadabrand continued the long written tradition of describing the inspiration provided by these fanciful and whimsical place names and how they stirred artists, when he stated:

There are canyons where painted rocks hang in folds and gather like curtain cloths.  …The old place names of Red Rock Canyon will give you a sense of the place.  …reckon with the Towers of Silence, Tombstone Ruins, Magic Silent City, Royal Gateway, Liberty Dome, Griffin Pool, Buried City, Temple of the Sun, Lava Whirlpool, Red Rooster Point, Shrine of Solitude. 

Photographers go slightly wild in Red Rock Canyon.  There are hues here to tease the color film addict, and there are shapes and shadows to beguile the black-and-white artist.  Walking the region only discloses more and more of the ruined cities, the buried temples formations.   

But the character and charisma of this remarkable scenery would not be left for visitors alone to enjoy.  Commercial interests were about to exploit this backdrop of colorful and imposing rock. The shadows etched in the powerful eroded faces of stone were about to become pleats in the theatrical curtains on the stage of the mythic American West.