Rainbow Canyon (California)

Rainbow Canyon (nicknamed Star Wars Canyon and Jedi Transition) is a canyon inside Death Valley National Park in Inyo County, California, on the park's western border. It is about 130 miles (210 km) west of Las Vegas and 160 miles (260 km) north of Los Angeles.

Rainbow Canyon
Rainbow Canyon is located in California
Rainbow Canyon
Rainbow Canyon
Location in the state of California
Floor elevation1,854 feet (565 m)
Length5.5 miles (8.9 km)
LocationDeath Valley National Park, Inyo County, California, U.S.
Coordinates36°21′45″N 117°31′12″W / 36.36250°N 117.52000°W / 36.36250; -117.52000Coordinates: 36°21′45″N 117°31′12″W / 36.36250°N 117.52000°W / 36.36250; -117.52000[1]

From World War II until 2019, it was commonly used by the United States Air Force and Navy for fighter jet training and was frequented by photographers who, from the canyon rim, were able to photograph jets flying beneath them. The canyon rim can be reached from Father Crowley Overlook off California State Route 190.

History, geology, and topographyEdit

The canyon was cut from basalt[2] 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.[3][4] Other pyroclastic rock is also exposed.[4] 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.[5] Hundreds of petroglyphs from the Coso people who once inhabited the area can be found in the canyon.[2] 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.[4]

Flight trainingEdit

Rainbow Canyon was among the few places in the world (Mach Loop is another) where photographers can see combat aircraft flying below them.[6] Military training flights had used the canyon since World War II. Planes traveled through the canyon at 200 to 300 mph (320 to 480 km/h) and when flying as low as 200 feet (61 m) above the canyon floor were still only several hundred feet below observers on the rim. Observers could even see the pilots' facial expressions, who, aware of the audience, sometime gave gestures or other signals.[5] The training area was most often used by fighters such as the F-15, F-18, and F-22, but also by bombers and at least once, a C-17 Globemaster cargo plane. Foreign combat aircraft such as the Israeli F-16I Sufa, Eurofighter Typhoon, and the Sukhoi Su-30 MKI have been photographed or filmed making passes through the canyon.[7] Air bases that conducted low-altitude training at Rainbow Canyon include Nellis Air Force Base, Naval Air Station Lemoore, NAWC China Lake, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Fresno Air National Guard Base[7] and Edwards Air Force Base.[8][9] 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.[8] The area is within the Panamint Military operations area, part of the R-2508 Complex administered by Edwards. The R-2508 Complex handbook 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 Jedi Transition.[10]

Star Wars Canyon "below-the-rim" activity was suspended in August 2019, after an accident killed a pilot and injured several tourists.[11][12] A 1,500 feet (460 m) above-ground-level restriction was placed on the area; it remained in place as of March 2022.[13] The 22 May 2022 version of the R-2508 Complex handbook instructs aircraft: "Maintain a minimum of 1000' above the lip of Rainbow Canyon."[14]

In January 2022, a Dassault Falcon 8X long-range business jet flew through the canyon below its lip, accompanied by another jet rigged with cameras.[15]


Because Rainbow Canyon offers the rare opportunity of proximity to military jets in flight, the National Park Service has made 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.[5] The closest store and gas station are Panamint Springs Resort at the edge of Panamint Valley. Mobile phone service is not available in the area, and phone-based navigation generally does not work.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Feature Detail Report for: Rainbow Canyon". geonames.usgs.gov. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  2. ^ a b Mattern, Jim. "Rainbow Canyon Petroglyphs (Death Valley National Park)". Archived from the original on 13 April 2017. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  3. ^ Bryan, T. Scott; Tucker-Bryan, Betty (2014). The Explorer's Guide to Death Valley National Park (Third ed.). Boulder, Colorado: University Press of Colorado. ISBN 978-1-60732-340-2. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Hall, Wayne E.; MacKevett, E.M. (1962). Geology and Ore Deposits of the Darwin Quadrangle, Inyo County, California. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of the Interior Geological Survey. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Margot, Ben; Watson, Julie (April 11, 2017). "Fighter jets put on show in Death Valley's Star Wars Canyon". Las Vegas Review-Journal. The Associated Press. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  6. ^ a b Demerly, Tom (2017-11-17). "Is Star Wars Canyon, America's Plane Spotting Jewel, At Risk Of Overuse?". The Aviationist. Retrieved 2019-08-03.
  7. ^ a b Mizokami, Kyle (September 15, 2016). "Here's an Air Force C-17 Threading a Canyon". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  8. ^ a b 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.
  9. ^ Shalby, Colleen; Fry, Hannah (2019-08-02). "Navy names pilot who died in Death Valley crash". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2019-08-03.
  10. ^ Lebowitz, Issac. "A Visit to Rainbow Canyon: Military Low Level Flying in Death Valley". Aviation Photography Digest. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  11. ^ "Military Crash One Year Later - Death Valley National Park (U.S. National Park Service)". www.nps.gov. July 31, 2020. Retrieved 2022-06-04.
  12. ^ Ziezulewicz, Geoff (2020-05-22). "Inside a fatal Super Hornet crash in Star Wars canyon". Navy Times. Retrieved 2021-05-01.
  13. ^ Rogoway, Tyler (2021-03-16). "This Cockpit View Of A C-17's Wild Ride Through Star Wars Canyon Is Bonkers". The Drive. Retrieved 2022-06-04.
  14. ^ "R-2508 User's Handbook, 22 May 2022" (PDF). edwards.af.mil. 23 May 2022. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 4, 2022. Retrieved June 4, 2022.
  15. ^ Rogoway, Tyler (2022-01-04). "A Falcon 8X Business Jet Just Flew Through Star Wars Canyon Like A Fighter (Updated)". The Drive. Retrieved 2022-06-04.

External linksEdit

External linksEdit