Driving out of Kanab, we looked in our rearview mirror and vowed to return, for there were many (red) stones left unturned. Our next and final stop in southern Utah was Cedar City, with the intent of visiting Cedar Breaks National Monument. We did some walking there, but the most desirable trails remained closed due to heavy snow during our June 10-14 visit. Total bummer!
Driving a big scenic byway loop
Although snow kept us off many of the trails, the roads into the mountains were mostly plowed and open. We took a scenic drive beginning at Cedar Breaks RV Park (our home base), and through Cedar Canyon as we headed east on Highway 14 to the high elevations on UT148. Then we continued on through Cedar Breaks National Monument at over 10,000′ and onto National Scenic Byway UT143 through the town of Brian Head. Finally, we descended into Parowan Canyon and west to Parowan Gap, ending our journey back at Cedar City via Highway 130.
So what did we see along the way?
Sitting at over 10,000′, Cedar Breaks joins Bryce Canyon at the top of the geologic Grand Staircase – the Pink Cliffs. You may recall we were looking up at the Grand Staircase a week prior, with Kanab being on the second step. During this drive we were looking down at Zion National Park, on the second step down the Staircase.
Cedar Breaks National Monument is a lesser-known area showcasing a 3-mile-wide natural rock amphitheater and extraordinary scenery of colorful rock formations and hoodoos. It’s similar to Bryce Canyon, but on a much smaller scale and with a fraction of the visitors.
The early Paiute people called Cedar Breaks the “Circle of Painted Cliffs”, referring to the multi-colored stone ridges of this naturally carved amphitheater for which it’s known. We stopped at all of the available viewpoints to gaze at the fantastic formations from different perspectives:
Geologists explain that Cedar Breaks was covered by a large ancient lake, and due to geologic forces over millions of years the limestone was exposed and uplifted. With the help of nature’s sculptors – wind, ice, rain and gravity – fantastic ridges, pinnacles, fins, hoodoos and canyons have been created here.
Continuing on, we drove north on National Scenic Byway 143, passing southern Utah’s highest point at Brian Head Peak – also the highest point of the Grand Staircase and the state’s highest elevation residential community and southernmost ski area.
Traveling down into Parowan Canyon, we followed a steep 4,500′ descent that crossed six major life zones in 51 miles. We marveled at the inspiring scenery of forests and towering cliffs consisting of white rock formations:
Down at the foothills we crossed Interstate 15 and headed west, stopping at Parowan Gap to view the cliff walls where Paiute Indians left their mark:
Parowan Gap is described as a wind gap; once the ancient river that flowed through here disappeared the gap was all that remained. The rock art here is likened to a journal for its recording of the on-going story of the land and those who came before us. As always the stories are not obvious or easy to follow, and different people interpret them in different ways:
We spent some time studying the walls which contained a large gallery of Native American rock art. This petroglyph site contains many deeply inscribed geometric forms, and likenesses of humans and animals. The most interesting feature was a large and deeply inscribed petroglyph known as “The Zipper”, which some archaeologists believe is a composite map and numerical calendar.
The descriptions alongside the petroglyphs that attempt to interpret the meaning of the symbols make this site an enjoyable learning visit. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, signifying its importance as a cultural treasure.
It was a long day of driving, gazing, learning and being amazed by the diversity of the landscape and ancient artwork. We ended our auto hike back at Cedar City, where we took a stroll and caught a glimpse of an inland lighthouse. What’s up with that?
One myth about this lighthouse is that it was built in preparation for “the big earthquake”, when California will drop into the ocean, at which time it would be the only lighthouse standing on the “new” pacific coast of the U.S. With the recent earthquakes in southern California maybe they’re onto something!
Hiking the Red Hollow/Thor’s Hideout Trail
We were able to complete this combination trail at Cedar Mountain, located at the back side of a red hill visible from downtown Cedar City. It offered beautiful views of the red rocks, with Cedar City visible at the end of the canyon. We enjoyed combining several moderate loops here, knocking out 5 miles and seeing only one hiker along the way:
The last time we visited Kolob Canyon three years ago it was cold and windy – not conducive to hiking. Fortunately we were only 18 miles away on this visit, and we chose to hike the Middle Fork of Taylor Creek Trail on a much nicer day. We completed the 6-mile moderate trek that passed two homestead cabins, many creek crossings and ended at Double Arch Alcove:
Any hike at Zion National Park (of which Kolob Canyon is an extension) will be something special. We hiked in the shadows of red rock monoliths and narrow canyons, with song birds and the running water serenading us along the way. This place makes us feel small, and we certainly can’t fit it into our cameras!
Heading back out, we came across many hikers and the parking lot was full – looks like a lot of other folks have discovered Kolob Canyon is “the other Zion”! On the drive home we took one last look at some of southern Utah’s gorgeous red rock scenery:
Bidding us farewell on our last evening in Cedar City was a stunning sunset, a rainbow and a bolt of lightning in one frame. What a send-off!
Goodbye red rocks!
What a fascinating place! Thanks for taking us along. Your photos are excellent.
We enjoyed Cedar Breaks NM last summer, what a great place with out the crowds. We did some of the same car ride, beautiful area. Kolob Canyon was closed last year when we were in the area 😦
Even though you didn’t get to hike Cedar Breaks, you did get to see its beauty. Glad that at least the park opened for the overlook. The route you drove is part of a future motorcycle trip from Boulder City. We’ve never been to Parowan Gap. Those look like amazing petroglyphs! We will need to check them out.
Parowan Gap and Nine Mile Canyon should be on your future list. These areas are not really out of the way.
Beautiful! That final shot is amazing!
Your stories and photos make me want to head back to Southern Utah. I’m glad you had a great time there. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us.
Stunning area. We had the same experience at Cedar Breaks..
I’m sad to see your Utah posts come to an end! I was so enjoying riding along with you. Kanab it a place we’ll surely return and Cedar Breaks is, and has been, on our list. Your hike through Kolob Canyon, along the beautiful stream was idyllic. What luck to capture a sunset, a rainbow AND a lightning bolt in one shot!
I was really lucky with that last shot, thankfully I was holding the camera firmly and I got an accidental shot of those amazing elements.
We too were sad we are out of the red country, but we were also ready for other scenery. And yes Kanab is on the return list.
I think Kolob Canyon has become more popular due to social media and folks hiking “the Subway”. As a family of five, we tent camped at Cedar Breaks NM when our children were little. We lived in Las Vegas at the time and were shocked with the cold overnight temps. I’ve always wanted to return, but we seem to be in the area too early in the season and the road is still closed from snow. One day!
That one day will come should you decide to settle down in AZ 🙂
Thankfully we are early hikers, so we had a spot at the parking lot. We were actually surprised it was overflowing upon our return. I can no longer assume Kolob Canyon does not get as much visit as ZNP
Snow in mid-June? That is most definitely not okay. But your photos of the snow-dusted red rocks are beautiful, and as always, you made the most of your time there.
That “zipper” petroglyph is so cool! And the hikes you did look so appealing. I’m with Steve—I love any hike along a river. Thanks for your wonderful tour of the area. You have another monument sign with a cute photo of you to add to your collection. 🙂
Thank you Laurel, I’m a seasoned sign poser 🙂 There was no shortage of options of what to do in the area and trails to follow.
The Parowan Gap and the Nine Mile Canyon should be on your list should you come this way again.
It’s always nice to hear about some places out west – especially in southern Utah – that aren’t completely overwhelmed with visitors. Cedar Breaks sounds perfect these days, though who knows what it will be like a year or two from now. It seems few of these places remain “undiscovered” for very long. I remember reading about Kolob Canyon when we were at Zion and thinking how great it must be to explore a rarely visited part of that gorgeous-but-overwhelmed park. Sounds like that might be a thing of the past too. Boo. Anyway, that area left us feeling quite small too. It is truly stunning and your photos perfectly capture the landscape’s grandeur.
Southern Utah with its big 5 is really a hit now because of social media. And my post may even add more people to this lesser-known but easily accessible parks from the highway, We can’t turn back the tide of nature trippers!
Such varied terrain, and amazement of the higher elevation snow. Fifteen or so years ago we hiked the Kolob Arch trail and those memories came flooding back seeing the scenery you enjoyed along your hike. Awesome photos as usual.
I think a revisit is in order, so you can appreciate more what you had 15 years ago without the crowd. The scenery hasn’t changed it’s just there are more visitors now 🙂
We’d almost forgotten that we hiked out to view Kolob Arch during our family trip to Zion many moons ago. We accessed it from a different point, but we are glad we were there when it wasn’t crowded. I am nervous for our visit back to that general area this spring…
I’m glad you saw images other than food in the rock formations this time 😀
Thanks for sharing all your good adventures in Utah. Can’t wait to read about your time in Nevada next!
Unless the places you will visit are off the beaten path crowds will be inevitable. But I guess you are early birds so it should not be an issue.
The Kolob Arch is still on our list of to-do, that is if we ever revisit this area 🙂
What a magnificent place!! We certainly need to spend more time exploring there!! You just can’t get enough!!!
Hard to believe there was snow in June!!
The last picture of the sunset, rainbow and lightning is an excellent capture!!
Southern Utah for sure rocks! Thanks and I agree with you that last shot is a keeper.
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