As usual, the alarm sounds too early, but there’s a few hundred hundred miles to cover today, and I’d rather not waste the morning in the hotel room. Cedar City lies due south of Park City, and near a selection of incredible National Parks and Monuments. Zion is my target. I almost made a last minute call to head north to Wyoming, but hotel availability held me to my original plans. I’ve been working on a trip with my wife and my dogs in an RV, stopping at the Grand Canyon, Arches, Zion, Bryce, the slot canyons. I know I’ll be back to Utah, but when am I going to visit Wyoming? Anyhow, south it is. An hour into the drive I spot a river running alongside the highway. As I enjoy the scene full of green landscape and flowing water, I spot a fly fisherman enjoying the same.
The miles tick past quickly, Utah’s speed limits are generous, and I soon find myself checking into another hotel. The simple accommodations encourage me to get back to exploring, and my new friends from the night before have given me a list of smaller locations that I hadn’t yet heard of. I pulled up to the Kolob Canyon Ranger station right as the last Ranger was walking to his vehicle. Chancing it, I went ahead and entered the loop. Kolob Canyon is on the western edge of Zion National Park, and consists of an approximately 5 mile loop, which multiple hiking trails and viewing spots. Similar to my first view of Yosemite after passing through the tunnel, once you round that first corner and are greeted with a view of the ancient formations in their brilliant red tone, well it’s tough to want to be anywhere else at that moment.
The skies are cloudy, the storm cell that flooded the races at Bonneville was just a part of a larger series of storms passing through the state. It’s evening now, but even with the clouds, the skies are bright. There’s a 1/2 mile hike with an incredible view as the payoff. I’m weary of exploring on my own. Large cats, snakes, broken bones, none sound that exciting. I’m here though, so what the hell. I try to pack light, my camera gear weighs me down quickly, so it’s one lens, one body, and a tripod. I’ve underestimated the beauty of the area though and have left ‘the perfect’ lens in the car. Again, what choice do I have? I’m here, I’m not supposed to be here, but I am. I hustle back to the car, trying to listen over my heavy breathing for imaginary predators stalking me. Now that I’m familiar with the trail, the distance seems to shorten, and I’m back at the end of the trail quickly. It’s incredible. It’s worth it. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to leave. I’m not used to sitting still, but that’s all I can do. Take it in. Inhale the fresh air, the scent of fresh rain on dirt, and plants, and rock. It all comes together to make the sweetest perfume you can find. It knocks the socks off Chanel No 5 anyday.
Once the clouds prove they won’t let the sun shine through, that the sunset will wait to show itself on another day, it’s time to pack it in and call it a night.
The late nights and early mornings have taken a toll on me. It’s early in the trip but I’m within a 30 minute drive of everywhere I want to be today, and the early alarms for the sunrise don’t rattle me. I just have to make sure I catch the breakfast buffet before it cleans up. I really want to visit a small slot canyon, but the storm clouds are still overhead and the threat of flash flooding is enough to divert me back to Kolob Canyon. It’s a small park, but why not explore as much of it as I can? The Ranger station is open so I admit my prior indiscretions and purchase a park pass and discuss trails safe to hike with the weather. South Fork is suggested, a lesser used trail carved out by a former Ranger for access to some incredible rock climbing. It’s entrance is across the road, about 40 yards from a large parking area and slightly obscured., so without the suggestion I’d have never noticed it. The clouds have brought sprinkling showers, as I try to wait them out they turn into heavy showers. Eventually, I decide that if I’m going to enjoy this at all I’ve got to get a jacket. So, I head back to town to purchase yet another ‘road jacket’.
There’s another 30 minutes or so to kill as the storm is still dumping rain, but eventually it relents, and I strap my pack on. The trailhead is a little overgrown, it’s definitely not a well known route. Unfortunately, the overgrowth gets worse as I continue on. The ground is muddy, and sloppy. This can’t possibly get any better. I’m unsure I’m even on a trail now, as I negotiate down a steep drop off that looks more like it’s been carved by water over time than an actual trail. As one foot sinks into mud deep enough to consume my boot, I decide this isn’t going to happen today. Disappointed after waiting out the rain, buying a jacket, and now covered in mud, it’s time to head back. I still question whether I missed the trailhead, despite the small sign.
Once back in Cedar City, the skies begin to clear, just the slightest little bit. Cedar Breaks National Monument is nearby, eastward down a two lane highway that’s near the hotel even. With a bit of time before the sun is supposed to set, I decide to roll the dice and head out. It’s a great drive in, with views worth stopping to take in. I’m on a mission though, and soon pull into the parking lot. Again, the Ranger station is closed, so I grab an envelope to pay the small fee. I don’t discover until much later that when I returned to the car to find a pen, I left the envelope in the car! I don’t mind paying the small fees to support the parks, they’re absolutely worth it. Still need to mail that in….
It’s difficult to imagine a more incredible sight, a natural amphitheater stretching 3 miles wide with eroded brightly colored rock walls. Campgrounds nearby seem to be an ideal road trip destination. While hiking through trees along the southeast rim I get pretty close to the edge, but a log barrier keeps the kiddos safe. Reversing my direction I find a trail to Spectra Point. While the trail is only 1/2 mile long, the slight but steep elevation changes while above 10,000 feet takes it’s toll on me quickly. Especially while rushing to beat the sunset. The ground is moist and tacky and quickly adds weight to my feet. Give it a day to dry out and it would make for an epic mountain bike ride, though I don’t suppose the Rangers would be too wild about that. There’s no railing on this trail, but I don’t dare the structural soundness of the eroding edge. The consequences of getting too close are dire, with a rugged drop deep into the canyon. The trail swerves and rises past a large water tank, eventually descending to Spectra Point.
The point is a peninsula of sorts with stunning views all around. I have a chat with a man visiting Utah for 6 months. I don’t know why he’s there, but he’s using his time to attempt visiting every park in the area. He has his work cut out for him but has a good route planned. I stay until the sun sets this time. It’s the first real bit of sun I’ve seen since arriving in Cedar City, and it’s gorgeous.
Walking back to the car at dusk, I can hear horses in the canyon below, and see any deer walking with their mother across the trail into a nearby valley.