Cedar Breaks

We chose to travel to Cedar City, our base for visiting Cedar Breaks National Monument, via Scenic Byway SR143 which took us through Brian Head. This is a ski resort, but the view from the top of the peak is equally attractive in summer. Cedar Breaks itself was like a mini-Bryce Canyon, but surrounded by beautiful meadows full of wildflowers.

We then came full-circle, because close to Cedar Breaks is the northernmost part of Zion, the first park we had visited over two weeks previously. This is Kolob Canyons:

We were almost at the end of our holiday – but not quite. We still had the journey back to Las Vegas to catch our plane home.

Kodachrome and Bryce

Kodachrome Basin
Kodachrome Basin

Our next destination was Bryce Canyon, but on the way we stopped off at Kodachrome Basin State Park. It features many chimney formations and, believe me, these are not the most phallic pictures I could have chosen!

According to our guidebook (Frommer’s): “If you could visit only one national park in your lifetime, make it Bryce Canyon”.  I believe there’s something in that – on arrival, we drove the scenic trail along the rim and our jaws dropped at every new vista.

We then settled in for two days of solid hiking. The first day, we did the “must-sees”: the *Queen’s Garden / Navajo Trails and the Rim Trail to Bryce Point and back. As you can see, it was busy!

*Use your imagination to see Queen Victoria in the second picture.

The second day, we tackled the Fairyland Loop, classed as strenuous. In the heat, I was wary of walking 8 miles with 2309 feet of descent / ascent but I needn’t have worried. The climbing was not a straight slog up and down, but more of a rollercoaster, and the perceived difficulty put most people off so we hardly saw a soul all day. It was wonderful – something new round every corner.

After this, it was on to our last Utah park: Cedar Breaks.

Escalante

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument lies between Capitol Reef and Bryce National Parks. We spent the next couple of nights in Escalante itself from where we hiked to Escalante Natural Bridge. This involved repeated river crossings, and fortunately our guidebook advised that we should be prepared to get wet up to our knees. The bridge is 130 feet high and spans 100 feet.

That afternoon, we drove along the scenic route Utah 12 to Boulder Mountain. At 9670 feet, the weather was quite different with even a bit of snow!

In the evening, we took a picnic to the Devil’s Rock Garden with its weird red hoodoos and arches. I guess we were getting used to those….

In the morning, it was on to Bryce.

Capitol Reef continued

Cathedral Valley

Cathedral Valley is one of the most remote parts of Capitol Reef National Park. Accessed by fording the Fremont River, a 60-mile dirt road loops round features such as the Bentonite Hills and the Temples of the Sun and the Moon. A storm was brewing, as you can see in some of the pictures, and switchbacks and mud-slicks meant I spent a lot of the journey clinging on with my eyes closed. Don’t worry, I was the passenger.

Chimney Rock

The Chimney Rock trail took us high above – well, a rock that looked like a chimney. Once again, a storm was brewing and, as we didn’t want to be caught up there, we raced round in record time.

Waterpocket Fold

We left Capitol Reef via the Notom-Bullfrog and Burr Trail Roads which took us along the Waterpocket Fold, the wrinkle in the Earth’s crust that I mentioned in my last post. It’s amazing to see the land laid out in waves and helps you understand why the cliffs might be thought of as reefs.

Next stop – Escalante!

Goblin Valley to Capitol Reef

The next National Park we headed for was Capitol Reef, stopping off on the way at Goblin Valley State Park. You can see how it got its name! These wee guys remind me of ET.

I confess that I got confused with my dates when booking this trip, which meant we had three full days in Capitol Reef instead of the two we had planned. Not a problem! It’s less famous than some of the other parks, but it’s a hidden gem with plenty to do. As usual, the structure and the rocks are fascinating with the earth’s crust wrinkled into a huge fold formed about 60 million years ago when the Rockies were created. It also has the Fremont River which means it is greener than some of the other parks, and there is evidence of habitation from around the years 700-1300 (petroglyphs and pictograms). Later settlers left their names on a wall of rock known as the Pioneer Register, and you can see the orchards of the 19th / early 20th century community of Fruita which are still tended by park staff.

On two of the trails we followed, Hickman Bridge and Cohab Canyon, we climbed high over the valley for great views of Fruita.

More on Capitol Reef in part 2…..

Arches and Canyonlands

Arches National Park
Arches National Park

From Mexican Hat we headed north to Moab, a great base for both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. We spent a full day in each, and wished we’d had longer, both for the NPs and other local trails that we hadn’t known about previously. In Arches, we did the Devil’s Gardens Trail and viewed Delicate Arch.

Canyonlands NP is split into three sections, but we only had time for Island in the Sky. There’s just too much to see!

In my next post, Goblin Valley and Capitol Reef.

Mexican Hat

Mexican Hat
Mexican Hat

Mexican Hat gets its name from the weird rock formation on its outskirts. It’s a tiny place on the San Juan River where we’d stopped for coffee the year before after visiting Monument Valley (see U is for Utah). It’s probably not on everyone’s Utah itinerary, but we liked it so returned to stay for a couple of days. There’s plenty to see. For example, the San Juan gorge is pretty spectacular at Goosenecks State Park.

Goosenecks State Park
Goosenecks State Park

We didn’t actually visit Monument Valley this time since we’d already been – though it felt pretty crass driving straight past – but the Valley of the Gods, a sort of mini-version just north of Mexican Hat, was a good substitute.

The arches in the gallery below are part of Natural Bridges National Monument. According to my diary, we drove there via a road called Moki Dugway and stopped at Muley Point so I’m guessing that’s where the other three photos are. I look slightly nervous…..

As always, it’s good to finish the day with a beer. We liked the sense of humour used to name this one! Polygamy Porter: Why have just one? (We didn’t).

After Mexican Hat, we drove north to Moab.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park
Zion National Park

Our trip to Arizona in 2009 inspired us to see more of America’s Grand Circle and the following year we were back, this time in Southern Utah, one of the most amazing places I have ever been. As soon as you leave one national or state park or monument, you’re heading into the next and each one seems more beautiful than the last.

Our first stop was Zion where we hiked the trails solidly for two days. Thankfully, reward was available at the Lodge as you can see in the last picture!

After Zion, we set off for somewhere we’d been before – Mexican Hat.

U is for Utah

When we visited Arizona in 2009, we crossed into Utah one day. Monument Valley straddles the state line and, after thoroughly exploring it – we went round the 17 mile loop road once with a guide and once in our own car – we decided to drive on a little further to see what we could find. That turned out to be Mexican Hat – a weird rock formation with a little town (blink and you’d miss it) named after it. As we had a coffee in a little motel by a bend in the river I said “wouldn’t this be a lovely place to stay?” It wasn’t long before we had bought a map of Utah and vowed to return. Which we did, the very next year. We even stayed in that little motel, the San Juan Inn, but that’s a whole new story for a series of much longer posts.

This visit followed on from P is for Page and Lake Powell.