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.

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