Rainbow Canyon (California)
|Location||Death Valley National Park, Inyo County, California, U.S.|
|Floor elevation||1,854 feet (565 m)|
|Long-axis length||5.5 miles (8.9 km)|
Rainbow Canyon (also nicknamed Star Wars Canyon) is a canyon near the western edge of Death Valley National Park in Inyo County, California. It is approximately 260 miles (420 km) west of Las Vegas and 160 miles (260 km) north of Los Angeles. It is commonly used by the United States Air Force and Navy for fighter jet training and is frequented by photographers who, from the canyon rim, are able to photograph jets flying beneath them. The canyon rim can be accessed from Father Crowley Overlook off California State Route 190.
History, geology, and topography
The canyon was cut from basalt lava flows and lapilli beds of the Darwin Hills volcanoes, which last erupted between two and four million years ago during the Pliocene epoch. Formations of granite and marble (metamorphosed Paleozoic limestone), including calc-silicate hornfels occur below the lava in the deepest parts of the canyon. Other pyroclastic rock is also exposed. This variety of material created walls of reds, grey, and pink that are similar to the fictional Star Wars planet Tatooine. As a result, the canyon is nicknamed Star Wars Canyon. Hundreds of petroglyphs from the Coso people who once inhabited the area can be found in the canyon. Rainbow Canyon drains the west slope of the Santa Rosa Hills and the east slope of the Inyo Mountains into the Panamint Valley. The steep walls are up to 1,000 feet (300 m) tall.
Military training flights have used Rainbow Canyon since World War II. Planes travel through the canyon at 200 to 300 miles per hour (320 to 480 km/h) and when flying as low as 200 feet (61 m) above the canyon floor are still only several hundred feet below observers on the rim. Observers are close enough to the planes that they can see the pilots' facial expressions, who, aware of the audience, sometime give gestures or other signals. In addition to fighters such as the F-15, F-18, and F-22, there are also bombers. At least once, a C-17 Globemaster cargo plane was observed. Air bases that conduct low-altitude training at Rainbow Canyon include Nellis Air Force Base, Naval Air Station Lemoore, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Fresno Air National Guard Base and Edwards Air Force Base. The airspace in the area is restricted to military training, designed to hone the pilots' skills at flying low and fast to avoid enemy radar and anti-aircraft fire. The area is part of the R-2508 Complex administered by Edwards (the R-2508 Complex handbook actually refers to the canyon as Star Wars Canyon and the path through the canyon connecting Owens Valley in the west and Panamint Valley in the east as the Jedi Transition.)
Because Rainbow Canyon offers the rare opportunity of proximity to military jets in flight, the National Park Service is considering making it an attraction with informational signs and a parking lot, though training schedules are not available to the public and flights do not occur every day.
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- Mizokami, Kyle (September 15, 2016). "Here's an Air Force C-17 Threading a Canyon". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
- Rosenberg, Zach. "Want to See a Fighter Jet Fly Low and Fast? Here Are Some Prime Viewing Spots". Air & Space Smithsonian. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
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