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Rainbow Canyon Rock Art Site #1
Tan Cliff Site and Etna Cave Site
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
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Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Etna Cave trailhead (view W)

Overview

Rainbow Canyon Rock Art Site #1, which includes the Tan Cliff Site and the Etna Cave Site, is a volcanic area of desert canyons and cliffs along Meadow Valley Wash where water flows all year in places.

Water and habitation sites brought ancient peoples to this area starting about 10,000 years ago. Several cultures have come and gone, including nomadic hunter-gathers, ancient farmers, and railroad men. Visiting the two sites is a 1-mile round-trip hike with a bit of steep hiking up to the caves.

The BLM and Lincoln County opened this area to the public, and Lincoln County printed a brochure with information about the site (including GPS coordinates) as part of their Get Primitive tourism campaign. Download the brochure from Lincoln County or snatch a copy here.

Link to Area Map or Site Map.

Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Low railroad bridge (view W)

Getting to the Trailhead

The Rainbow Canyon Rock Art Sites are located just south of Caliente (Lincoln County) about 150 miles (2-1/2 hours) north of Las Vegas on Highway 93.

From town, drive north on Interstate 15 to US Highway 93. Exit onto Highway 93 and drive north past Alamo and Ash Springs to the intersection of Highway 93 and Highway 318. Continue on Highway 93 for about 128 miles to Caliente.

On the west edge of Caliente, turn right onto Highway 317 and drive south for 5.0 miles to Rainbow Canyon Rock Art Site #1. Parking is a wide spot on the left (east) side of the road just before a railroad bridge on the right.

Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Under the railroad tracks (view NW)

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 1, Waypoint Site#1-01), the route (no established trail) runs across the road and under the low railroad bridge. Note that it is considered trespassing to walk across the tracks, so although visitors can park closer to the archaeological sites, this is the legal place to "cross" the tracks.

On the other side of the tracks, the route turns south and heads up the wash. The wash here is constrained between volcanic cliffs on the right and a berm on the left that protects the railroad tracks from flooding. Continuing upstream to where the berm meets the cliff, hikers will find a tunnel (Wpt. Site#1-02) cut through the toe of a ridge that is used to direct water out of the natural channel on the other side of the ridge to this point. The reason for this will make more sense a few yards farther around the corner.

Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Wash beyond the railroad bridge (view SW)

Backtracking only 15 yards from the tunnel, hikers will notice a use-trail cutting up the side of the berm. The use-trail crosses the berm, then follows the base of the cliff south and around the corner into a side canyon.

Starting into the side canyon, hikers will see that the canyon ahead is blocked by another berm and that directly downstream from the side canyon the railroad tracks split from one set of tracks to two, creating a siding (Etna Siding). Thus, flash floods coming down the side canyon would damage the gear and tracks, so railroad men tunneled through the ridge to create a diversion where they could better protect their investment and perhaps the lives of railroad workers who might unexpectedly encounter flood-damaged tracks.

Continuing into the side canyon, the use-trail climbs over the berm and arrives at the upper end of the tunnel (Wpt. Site#1-03). When I was there in 2015, most of the tunnel was full of sand and gravel, so I hope the railroad regularly maintains the tunnel.

Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
In the wash, the tunnel location can be seen ahead (view SW)

Continuing up the canyon, the Tan Wall (Wpt. Site#1-04) soon comes into view on a rock wall on the left. Here, native peoples used ocher paints to write abstract messages on the wall.

Returning to the wash, the route continues up the canyon following the base of a cliff on the right. When the cliffs lie back, a gap (Wpt. Site#1-05) between oak trees provides access to a use-trail leading up the steep hillside where the footing is loose in some places.

Near the top of the cliffs, Etna Caves (Wpt. Site#1-06) open like a pair of eyes on the cliff face. Little evidence of human use remains except soot on the ceiling, and even that could have been left by modern campers. Rather, this is a place to sit quietly, listening to the Cliff Swallows during summer, and contemplate the lives of people who called this place home.

When ready, head back down the steep hillside and follow your footprints in the dust back to the trailhead (Wpt. Site#1-01).

Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Approaching the tunnel (protective berm on left; view SW)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Lower entrance to the tunnel (view SW)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
The tunnel is almost filled with sand and gravel
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Down on the knees, there is light at the end of the tunnel
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Atop the protective berm, the route continues along the cliffs
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Following along a fenceline (view S)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Between a fence and a hard place (view S)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Railroad equipment at Etna Siding (view S)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Turning the corner up into the side canyon (view NW)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
The berm blocking the canyon cones into view (view NW)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Atop the berm (view NW up the side canyon)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Upper end of the tunnel (N)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
This end of the tunnel isn't as full of gravel as the other end
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Continuing up the wash (view NW)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
What is that on the rock wall?
gray fox
Wow -- look who's looking at me (gray fox)!
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
The Tan Wall quickly comes into view (view W)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
The Tan Wall (view W)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Ocher paint on the Tan Wall (view SW)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Messages written on the stone (view SW)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
From the Tan Wall, Etna Cave is visible above (view NW)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
From the wash, route passes through a gap in the oaks (view N)
Rainbow Canyon Rock ArtSteep route up the hillside (view N) Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Steep route across the hillside (view N)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Steep route across the hillside (view N)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Approaching the lower cave (view N)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Lower Etna Cave (view NW)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Lower Etna Cave (view N)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Inside Lower Etna Cave (view S)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Approaching Upper Etna Cave (view N)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Upper Etna Cave (view N)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Inside Upper Etna Cave (view S)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Inside Upper Etna Cave (view SE)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Recent campfire ring inside Upper Etna Cave (view SE)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Lower Etna Cave (view W from beyond Upper Etna Cave)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Lower and Upper Etna Caves (view NW)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Grand scenery from Etna Caves (view W)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Tan Wall (view S from Etna Caves)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Grand scenery from Etna Caves (view SW)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Descending steep hillside below Etna Caves (view SW)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Descending the side canyon; approaching the berm (view SE)
Rainbow Canyon Rock Art
Descending the railroad bridge (view E)

Table 1. Hiking Coordinates based on GPS data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi)
Site#1-01 Etna Cave Trailhead 714733 4159207 4,216 0.00 0.00
Site#1-02 Etan Tunnel Lower Entrance 714574 4159105 4,238 0.08 0.08
Site#1-03 Etna Tunnel Upper Entrance 714524 4159091 4,248 0.17 0.25
Site#1-04 Tan Wall Petroglyph Site 714438 4159081 4,235 0.06 0.31
Site#1-05 Base of Hill below Etna Caves 714390 4159152 4,242 0.07 0.38
Site#1-06 Etna Caves 714409 4159230 4,348 0.08 0.46
Site#1-01 Etna Cave Trailhead 714733 4159207 4,216 0.46 0.92

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 170719

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