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!