Sandstone is Nevada's official state rock

The official state rock of Nevada gives color to Valley of Fire and Red Rock Canyon and keeps the rain and snow off some pretty important people in Carson City.

Sandstone is everywhere in the Silver State, and so was the sand that produced it.

For millions of years, much of what is now Nevada was collecting sediment at the bottom of an early Mesozoic ocean. Millions of years later, the same area was covered by a massive sand-dune desert trapped on the dry side of an Andes-style wall of mountains that blocked moisture from the sea.

Those mountains were the precursor to the Sierras, only with active volcanoes on top, said Wanda Taylor, a geology professor at UNLV.

“The Sierras are the guts of old volcanoes,” she said. “We have the dinosaurs running around the edges of the dunes, looking for water, and we have volcanoes spewing ash on them.”

Starting in 2010, hikers and then geologists began finding fossilized dinosaur footprints in the sandstone cliffs of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Specifically, the prints turned up — and are still turning up — in a roughly 190 million-year-old layer of Aztec sandstone, the same type of rock in which dinosaur tracks and bones have been discovered in Utah and Arizona.

Far more recently, Northern Nevada sandstone was used to build a number of prominent buildings in Carson City, including the state Capitol itself.

Historian and former state archivist Guy Rocha said the stone was quarried from the grounds of the old Nevada State Prison by some of the involuntary guests there. (In deference to the sesquicentennial, we’ll refrain from making any jokes about a state Capitol built by criminals.)

Said Rocha: “When you travel through Carson City, you see a lot of sandstone quarried at the old state prison. It was one of the principal building materials at that time.”

But it took a while for sandstone to receive its due.

A group of fifth graders at Gene Ward Elementary School in Las Vegas launched the campaign to make sandstone Nevada’s state rock in the 1980s. Their efforts succeeded in 1987.

Today, the achievement is memorialized at the school on Hacienda Avenue near Spencer Street with a small metal plaque and a large pink boulder that used to be plain old sand.

— Henry Brean/Las Vegas Review-Journal