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Birding Around Calico Basin and Red Spring
Birding Around Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon NCA
calico basin
Calico Basin
Calico Basin parking and picnic area (view W)


Calico Basin is a colorful desert area tucked between the gray limestone La Madre Mountains to the north, the red sandstone Calico Hills to the west, and a desert ridge to the south. Three springs with permanent water emerge from the base of the red and white sandstone cliffs: Red Spring, Calico Spring, and Ash Spring. Water also emerges from several seeps in the area, and water runs in washes to the north and south of the springs area during winter. The springs support trees, thickets, and an open meadow. Compared to the surrounding desert, Calico Basin is sheltered and moist, and it is easy to understand why Native Americans, birds, and wildlife spend time here.

Link to Area Map or Red Spring Site Map.

Calico Basin
Ash trees at the start of the Red Spring Boardwalk

The Red Spring Picnic Area has covered seating, cooking grills, vault toilets, and trash cans. Immediately behind the picnic area, a boardwalk switchbacks up a marshy hillside shaded by large velvet ash trees. At the base of the boardwalk, a spring just right of the trail brings birds into the picnic area providing close views. The switchbacks lead to the edge of a broad meadow where the boardwalk splits to make a loop around the meadow.

Red Spring flows from a shallow tunnel in the rocks on the far side of the boardwalk, and several other seeps in the area support large velvet ash trees, thickets of shrub live oak and honey mesquite, plus a meadow of saltgrass and sedges. It also supports a diverse collection of wildlife including birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and invertebrates. All of this is surrounded by Mojave desert scrub vegetation, including creosote bush, white bursage, Mojave yucca, and joshua trees.

Calico Basin
Boardwalk at Red Spring (view NE)

The outflow from Red Spring feeds the meadow (a marshy grassland). The meadow is fenced to protect it from trampling by wild burros, and the elevated boardwalk is intended to keep humans off the meadow. Please stay off the meadow.

In the Red Spring area, there are three groups of trees to check for birds: one near the parking area (boardwalk switchbacks), one at the southwest corner of the boardwalk (Red Spring), and another at the base of the cliffs north of the meadow (outside the fenced area). The shrub live oaks and desert areas along the cliffs are good for birding, and be sure to scan the meadow and open skies.

Adventuresome birders might want to visit Calico Spring and Ash Creek Spring, both of which are northwest of the Red Spring Picnic Area. See the Area Map for locations and trails.

Birding Around Calico Basin and Red Spring
Red Spring is behind these trees (view W)


The Calico Basin Picnic Area is located in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, about 30 minutes from downtown.

From town, drive out to Red Rocks. From Charleston Blvd at Highway I-215 (Table 1, Site 0516), drive west on Charleston Blvd for 3.8 miles (about 1.5 miles before the entrance to the Scenic Loop) to Calico Basin Road. Turn right onto Calico Basin Road and drive north, then west, for about 1 mile to where the paved road makes a 90-degree turn to the right. At the curve, either drive straight through the gate into the Red Spring picnic area (Site 0464) or turn right to visit the other springs.

For more trailhead information, see the Red Spring Trailhead (Red Spring), Assisi Road Trailhead (Calico Spring), or the Sandstone Road Trailhead (Ash Canyon Spring).

Red Spring
Red Spring flows from this cave (view W)


Red spring Parking has posted hours and a locked, but generally the hours coincide with sunrise to sunset.


Admission to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is charged per vehicle (annual passes accepted), but they do not seem to collect fees at the Calico Basin Picnic Area.

Calico Basin
Grassy area below Red Spring and seep area at the base of the white sandstone cliffs (view N)


During migration, a variety of species can be found here. During summer, this is a good site for White-throated Swifts, Violet-green Swallows, Northern Rough-winged swallows, several species of warblers, Western Kingbirds and other flycatchers, and sparrows including Black-throated, Brewer's, and Lark sparrows. Breeding species include Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Western Scrub-jays, Phainopepla, Verdin, Gambel's Quail, Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Spotted Towhees, Bushtits, Chukar, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Unfortunately, European Starlings and European House Sparrows also breed here.

Also keep an eye out for Black-tailed Jackrabbits, Desert Cottontail Rabbits, White-tailed Antelope Squirrels, Side-blotched Lizards, and Western Whiptail Lizards. In the springs, be careful of the tiny Spring Mountains Springsnail which can only be found in Red Spring and a few other springs in the area. The rare Alkali Mariposa Lily and Stream Orchids also occur in the meadow.

Ash Canyon Spring
Ash grove below Ash Canyon Spring (view NW)

Ash Canyon Spring. From the Sandstone Road Trailhead, walk west on the old road to an abandoned construction site, then follow old roads and trails up the canyon to the northwest. The last stand of large trees growing among huge boulders shade the actual spring. Enjoy the birding, and when walking back to the trailhead, make a loop by wandering through the Ash grove and along the stream; the various trails along the creek intersect the old road not far from the trailhead.

Red Spring
Spring at base of boardwalk
Red Spring
Red Spring area
Red Spring
Northwest corner of Red Spring area
Red Spring
Northwest corner of Red Spring area
Calico Basin
Red sand and trees north of Red Spring (view north)
Calico Basin
Be sure to bird the shrub oaks along the base of the sandstone cliffs
Birding Around Calico Basin and Red Spring more to come ...

Table 1. Highway Coordinates (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site # Location Latitude (°N) Longitude (°W) UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (feet) Verified
0464 Red Spring Picnic Area 36.1447 115.4194 642204 4000954 3,670 Yes
0516 Charleston at Hwy 215 (The Beltway) 36.1592 115.3358 649697 4002685 3,141 Yes

Happy birding! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 140208

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