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Chronicles of the canyon: Red Rock’s beauty inspires climber to pen books

Some people live life on the edge. Some live it on the ledge. Las Vegas resident Tom Moulin does both.

Moulin has been a rock climber for most of his adult life.

“Red Rock is a world-class climbing destination,” he said.

Now 34, he’s written two books on Red Rock Canyon: “Red Rock Canyon Visitor Guide,” in which one learns about the flora and fauna at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, and “Southern Nevada Bouldering,” which contains maps of routes for those who enjoy the sport.

Moulin said he’s spent thousands of hours exploring Red Rock Canyon to garner information for his books. The first book, the visitor guide, came out in fall 2010. The second came out in 2012. Both are available at the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center’s gift shop, 1000 Scenic Loop Drive.

A native of Maine, Moulin first visited Red Rock Canyon in 1998 as a high school senior. Already a tested climber on Maine’s rocky peaks, he traveled west with a buddy specifically to climb the red hills past Summerlin. He said the desert appealed to him as did the quantity and nature of the rock climbing routes.

“One of the good things about Red Rock is there are a lot of holds,” he said. “Typically, when you have a large rock formation, there aren’t many routes on it because there aren’t many holds to link together for a complete route. But with Red Rock, the nature of the rock is highly featured, such that you can climb continuously from the bottom to the top on really big stretches of rock.”

After earning his engineering degree in Colorado, he got a civil engineering job in Las Vegas in 2002.

“Every free minute I had, I’d be going out to Red Rock to look for new rocks to climb or just go hiking to see what was out there,” he said.

On one of those expeditions, to Pine Creek, he happened upon a man-made building foundation. With his interest piqued, he sought answers to the questions: What was this; Who was responsible; and What happened there? He said that was the impetus for his first book, the visitor guide.

Marvin “Nick” Saines, interpretive naturalist and geologist at Red Rock Canyon, said it was “a very good book. You can tell he did a lot of research on it … it covers just about everything — geology, flowers and plants, and wildlife, even movies that were filmed here.”

In the book, Moulin also tells of interesting characters such as Horace Wilson, an early homesteader, and relays facts gleaned from newspaper archives.

“The road back then was super primitive … they’d tie a log behind a (vehicle) and drag it to even out the road,” he said.

Bouldering was in vogue at that point, and Moulin and friend Brian Bowman were mapping Red Rock for bouldering locations. Bouldering does not use ropes.

The idea to make it into a book began to form.

“We were like, ‘Why not? We’ve got all the info here, we might as well put a book together,’ ” Moulin said.

Another friend, Jerry Handren, who wrote “Red Rocks, A Climber’s Guide,” as well as three other books, helped Moulin as needed.

“We sometimes bounce ideas off each other,” Handren said. “In book publishing, you sometimes work in a bit of a vacuum, so it’s great to be able to reach out to someone involved in the same process.”

Moulin put the information together with photos so people would be able to locate the boulders easily.

The idea took 2½ years to bring to completion. During that time, Moulin got his union card and was working as a stagehand on the Strip. He said he plugged every extra cent into the book.

“So, yeah, the Criss Angel show (‘Believe’) kind of paid for my book on bouldering,” he said.

To help garner interest, he holds book signings. One was on Dec. 19 at the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center, which carries his books.

He said he has no plan to stop testing himself against the rocks.

“Climbing is part of my life. It’s what I do,” he said. “It’s kind of like my religion. It’s part of who I am.”

He plans to give a talk on the guidebook from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 21 at REI in Boca Park, 710 S. Rampart Blvd. The event is free, but the class is full. To be added to the waitlist, visit For more information, call REI at 702-951-4488.

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at or 702-387-2949.