Weekend trip to Southern Utah

Beth and Casey came to visit us back in June, and we road tripped to southern Utah to take in the sights. Utah is home to 5 National Parks, third only to Alaska and California, which both boast 8. Not only does Utah have these gorgeous parks, but it also ranks 3rd for most federally owned land – this includes not only the National Parks, but National Monuments, National Forests, and wilderness areas, to name a few. This is especially important because these publicly-owned lands provide protections to the land and wildlife, ensuring their preservation for the future.

We could go on and on about the benefits of preserving nature and how we shouldn’t be stripping those protections away, but that’s a post for another day :).

Back to our trip. We loaded up the car early Saturday morning heading to our final destination – Zion National Park. Since Utah has such amazing scenery and a high concentration of these lands are in the south, we made sure to detour and see as much as possible. On the list: Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Dixie National Forest, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, and Cedar Breaks National Monument. For more about our hikes through all of these parks, check out our post on June 2018 Hikes.

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

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Grand Staircase Escalante – whose name derives from the Escalante River and geological “steps” corresponding to various time periods over millions of years – stretches from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon. It is among some of the most remote in the country and was the last part of the contiguous United States to be mapped. There are five “steps” in the Grand Staircase: the pink cliffs formed of pink and red limestones that has many different rock formations including Bryce Canyon’s famous hoodoos; grey cliffs made of Cretaceous sandstone comprising the area between Bryce Canyon and Zion; white cliffs formed of Navajo sandstone and home of the majestic cliffs of Zion; the vermillion cliffs made of silt and found near Kanab; and the chocolate cliffs, which are the oldest formed of Kaibab limestone and makes the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Needless to say, the sights were spectacular. Driving through the changing landscapes and noting the different geologic periods that made this possible kept us in awe of just how small we are in the grand scheme of things.

Bryce Canyon National Park

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Bryce Canyon National Park has the highest concentration of hoodoos in the world. It’s at 8,000-9,000 ft elevation at the rim, which looks out over the canyon filled with hoodoos. Bryce Canyon is technically not a canyon, but an amphitheater created by headward erosion wherein erosion occurs at the origin of a stream in the opposite direction of the flow. This erosion has led to the exposure of hoodoos where a layer of soft rock (typically mudstone) has been covered by a layer of hard rock (limestone, sandstone) leaving spires. We only made it to Sunrise-Sunset point, where the views were spectacular, but there are many other viewpoints and hikes throughout the park.

Zion National Park

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Zion National Park could have an entire post of its own. After visiting a handful of National Parks in the last couple of months, what struck us most about Zion is how majestic it is. While the park actually encompasses a large area from Zion Canyon to Kolob Canyon, most people only go through Zion Canyon in the southern end of the park. The north fork of the Virgin River cut through the Navajo sandstone creating looming, red cliffs. The park winds through a canyon, and due to the small size and high traffic is only accessible by shuttle in the summer months. There are plenty of trails and sights to see through the canyon including the Court of Patriarchs – a trio of peaks named after biblical figures Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Angel’s Landing – a rock formation that got its name because it appears that only angels could summit, and the famous narrows – the narrowest section of the canyon and an incredibly popular hike. We didn’t get to hike Angel’s Landing this time, but it’s on our list for our next visit.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

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Cedar Breaks is off the beaten path and easy to skip even if you’re in the area, but we would highly recommend visiting. It’s a natural “amphitheater” that stretches 3 miles wide and 2,000 feet deep. It’s not an amphitheater in the casual sense – no concerts are held there – but it is a rock formation that naturally amplifies sound. It is at 10,000 feet elevation and has rock formations similar to Bryce Canyon. We only ventured along the rim, but were awestruck by the magnitude of the space and just how far you could see out into the valley.

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Dixie National Forest

Dixie National Forest is the largest forest in Utah, stretching across 2 million acres at the southern end of the state. In fact, most of the above national lands lie within the areas of Dixie. We were constantly passing through the forest as we wound our way to all of the National Parks and Monuments. The area is composed of many different ecosystems and is quite beautiful to behold.

To note: National Parks are not dog-friendly, but National Monuments and National Forests are.

Antelope Island Sunset Hike

Independence Day we decided to head out for a sunset hike on Antelope Island in the middle of the great Salt Lake!  It was _hot_ and the evening sun provided no relief.  The views were fantastic from the top of Frary trail, a 7.3 mile out-and-back, the sunset gorgeous, but the fireworks were but small twinkles in the city skyline 30-miles away!

Hot Frary Trail hike

We started at 6pm and it was still in the upper 90’s, sun blazing.  It is an hour drive from SLC because the only way to the island is over a land bridge on the North side of the island.  After we entered, we were treated to views of hundreds of bison (buffalo??) right from the car.  Looks like they were trying to cool off on the salty beaches.

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Frary Trail is rated Hard on Alltrails.com and it earns primarily through zero shade, a good, 2,300 ft climb, and some rocky terrain inside a 3.1 mile trail (plus the return).  We were a bit worried about how many people might be out there for a sunset hike on July 4th, due to fireworks.  However, we only met 1 person returning when we got to the trailhead!

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The trail offered a beautiful, rolling grasslands, with plenty of wildlife and quite a few exposed rocks.  Apparently these are some of the oldest rocks around!  Definitely not what we expected seeing the island from SLC.  The pup was ready for action and did very well, but she was feeling the heat by the time we hit the top of the mountain.

 

We ran into some antelope(??) on our way up- they were crossing the field in front of us, just a hundred feet or so.  They were really eye-ing us up, so we waited and they meandered across the path.  We saw a few more scattered around the paths as the sun set.

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The last leg of the hike is a bit of challenge- it offers 2 paths.  One is across a craggy ridgeline that is really not meant to be hiked at all, and the second is down and then up and up a pretty well-marked path.

Golden hour makes for some fantastic shots

Take a look at the shot I capture of Beth during the last hour or so of sunlight.  Fantastic shadowing at this faux-peak about a half mile still to go.

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Sunset at the peak offers spectacular 360

The real show was at the the peak at 6,445 ft of elevation.  You are able to see 360 and miles and miles in every direction.  Salt Lake City sits due East about 30 miles as the crow flies and makes for a humbling setting in front of the mountain range.  The real show is to the West, with the sunset over the far mountains and the Salt Lake.

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When we hit the top we were joined not long after by a few more folks:  a couple single hikers plus a group of 4 that was struggling to get up… Looks like they were planning to have a few drinks and stay up past the fireworks.  They were going to be in for an unpleasant return hike.

Dark, dark return hike

We started down the return around 10pm, just as the sun had set.  We still had some light for the most difficult half mile; however, that bit of good fortune quickly ended as the sky grew darker.  When the sun sets out on Antelope Island it is DARK.  Not true International Dark Sky’s dark, but no artificial lights outside SLC.  We had a heck of time coming down the entire trail after nautical twilight. We really had to pick around the rocks in the trail that hadn’t even given us notice on the way up.  On top of that, we heard animals… I mean, all kinds of them.  We heard coyotes as soon as the sun set, the bleating of the deer and antelope in the distance, and the constant, low rumbling of the bison(!!!) at the lower elevation.  On top of that, there are many large rocks sticking out of the ground, just outside flashlight view that at every turn make you think you’re going to run right into one of those big things.  It really felt like being out in nature.

For the dog, the return hike was just… miserable.  We would highly discourage folks from making the dark decent with their furry friend.  It was hard for us to see, but impossible for the dog to see, so it was slow going picking through the trail.

The fireworks were but small twinkles

So, what about the FIREWORKS!  It is July 4, after all.  Well… We were able to see some grand city views on our return hike.  The fireworks, though, were only small twinkling lights that must have been spaced every city block.  In fact when I first saw them, I thought I was looking at blinking street lights.  It’s amazing how small the fireworks look at such a distance when they look so big and beautiful when you are beneath them!  The whole of the greater Salt Lake City area was twinkling the entire time we descended.

It was a long, dark, and lonely drive back to civilization off the island… very appropriate way to end it!

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Antelope Island, westside panoramic

June 2018 Hikes

Indian Trail – Ogden

 

In early June we headed up to Ogden to hike the Indian Trail. The trail is just shy of 8.5 miles and has 2,700 feet of gain. It follows an old Shoshoni Indian trail through the mountain pass, climbing up to Ogden Canyon and descending into Cold Water Canyon. It’s a steep climb and goes through various terrain – rocky and exposed at the bottom, winding through shady pines, and descending into a lush forest on the backside. The second half of the trail winds along a creek, which our (sometimes) water-loving dog thoroughly enjoyed. Once we got to the bottom, we turned around and did the whole thing in reverse.Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 8.56.43 AM

Escalante Natural Bridge – Grand Staircase Escalante

 

Escalante Natural Bridge is a 4 mile out and back trail in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. There will be a more detailed post about our trip to the National Monuments/Parks in Southern Utah later, but suffice to say, Grand Staircase Escalante is amazing. We detoured here on our way to Bryce Canyon for the simple fact that National Parks don’t allow dogs and we wanted to hike with Snickers. The trail itself is flat and easy, though it is very sandy and there are about 4 stream crossings. We’d recommend wearing sandals or shoes you don’t mind getting wet. The trail goes through a canyon surrounded by sheer, red rock faces. There are supposedly petroglyphs on the walls, though we didn’t see any. It makes its way through desert landscape until it ends at a gorgeous natural bridge. We went in the afternoon and the trail was completely empty despite the parking lot being full. It was a perfect place to stretch our legs after a long drive.

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Navajo Loop Trail – Bryce Canyon National Park

 

Bryce Canyon is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. It’s spotted with hoodoos, which are tall, thin spires of rock that formed when a thick layer of soft rock (mudstone, sandstone) is covered by a thin layer of hard rock (limestone, basalt) that protects the softer layer from erosion. Our initial plan was to just go to some of the lookouts and walk the Sunrise-Sunset trail since that’s the only place dogs are allowed, but Beth and Casey offered to hang out with Snickers on the rim so Matt and I could do a quick hike of the Navajo Loop Trail. The trail is short (1.3 miles) and not too difficult. It winds down via switchbacks into an amphitheater and loops around through fir trees before climbing back up to Sunset Point. The views were amazing throughout and the rock formations were incredible. The trail meets up with other trails at the bottom, so you could easily log some miles in the canyon if you have time (and don’t have a dog).

The Narrows – Zion National Park

The Narrows is the last stop along the Zion Canyon bus ride.  This place is aptly named, as you drive up this curvy road the walls becoming closer and higher until you arrive at the bus stop where you are in the flat washout from a hard cut river with tower rocks on both sides.  There is a 1 mile walk from the bus stop to the Narrows proper where you will see hundreds (thousands!) of people wearing goofy rental water hiking shoes in the mid-morning going for a COLD! walk in the shallow, rocky water.  We walked maybe a half mile up the river where it never gets above waist deep; however, the more adventurous will want to start at the end and do the 14 mile water hike descent.

 

My parents had this as their must-see item on the trip into Zion and it doesn’t disappoint.  No dogs allowed on this section, so it was just the three of us here while Beth did the Pa’rus trail.

Pa’rus trail – Zion National Park

 

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While Matt, Beth, and Casey were off enjoying the Narrows, Snickers and I explored Zion a different way. Unfortunately dogs aren’t allowed (which we knew going in) so we walked along the Pa’rus trail and up the Scenic Road for a total of 10 miles. The Pa’rus trail is a nice, paved path that winds along the Virgin River and into the canyon. You can see all of the incredible rock formations that Zion is known for with very little disruption from other people. Snickers loved getting to play in the river to cool off and I enjoyed a leisurely walk. Since we knew it would be a while before the gang got back, we also walked along the road to Zion Lodge so we could experience a taste of what goes on in the park. Cars aren’t allowed on the road during the summer – only shuttle buses – so we didn’t have to worry too much about traffic. The pink and red sandstone cliffs are a sight to behold and we enjoyed just being outside and exploring.

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Holbrook Canyon Trail – Bountiful

We hiked this trail back in May, but came back for an easy weekend hike/jog in June. Check out our May Hikes post if you want to see this trail again 🙂