Kolob Canyons

IMG_20160731_083457667_HDR

Kolob Canyons is Zion National Park’s less-visited far northwest corner. While the 2,000 foot cliff walls of Kolob bear a significant resemblance to the sheer cliffs of Zion, Kolob still maintains a unique identity of its own.

The narrow parallel box canyons of Kolob feel much more intimate than the grand vistas Zion offers. In Kolob, the nooks, crannies and fingers of canyons and draws feel private and personable.

Additionally, the creeks in the canyons seem greener than the arid climes of Zion. Conifers and dense vegetation crowd the banks of shallow streams.

Kolob is best viewed during the golden hours of the day, when the rising and setting sun shines its light on the high red-orange cliffs before filtering down and scattering through the green nooks of the canyon below where thin whiptail lizards scurry between rocks.

From Kolob’s visitor center, a drive through through Zion’s far corner is a short 5-mile drive, but the scenery and pulloffs make the trip feel far longer than what it actually is.

First, the road passes the Hurricane Cliffs, which are part of the 200-mile Hurricane Fault that comprises the western edge of the Markagunt Plateau. Then, there’s Taylor Creek’s piñon and juniper forests, followed by Horse Ranch Mountain,the park’s tallest point at 8,726 feet. Box Canyon and Timber Top Mountain’s fir and ponderosa pine covered heights round out the scenic views.

It’s no wonder how Kolob Canyons got their name. In Mormon scripture Kolob means “residence closest to heaven.”

You might notice a marker designating a far less tranquil historical period four miles beyond the visitor center, though.

Lee pass bears the name of John D. Lee, the only person convicted of a crime in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

In 1857 tensions were rising in southern Utah, a territory largely settled by Mormons. That year 1,500 U.S. soldiers were making their way to the territory, and that worried Mormon leaders.

In the two decades before 1857, Mormons had been driven out of both Illinois and Missouri. Once again, miscommunication and prejudice threatened to destabilize the peace. Mormons feared losing their way of life once again with the threat of approaching federal troops. To make matters worse for the Mormons, wagon trains bound for California passed through the territory they lived in. That meant competition for resources and an even greater influx of people in the region.

Tensions boiled when Lee and a force of militia men confronted and besieged a California bound wagon train from Arkansas. After days of exchanging shots, Lee entered the wagon circle and negotiated a peaceful resolution, promising safe passage.

However, when the militia men escorted the settlers from their wagons the settlers were shot and killed. Only young children who could not bear witness to the event were spared. In total, 120 people were killed in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

After the killing, the Mormon community attempted to cover up the act. Blame was passed on to Native Americans, who the Mormons reportedly joined forces with during the attack.

Ultimately, Utah militiamen and the U.S. Army never exchanged shots. Conflict and disputes were settled through peaceful negotiations. Lee was later executed for his role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and in 1870 Lee and another major conspirator were excommunicated from the Church of Latter Day Saints.

IMG_20160731_115908361

Advertisements

Kodachrome Basin

IMG_20160728_142256450

On a good day silence lays on Kodachrome Basin State Park like a blanket. Consider Kodachrome a quiet alternative to Bryce Canyon National Park, which is only a little more than 20 miles away.

When the scenic overlooks at Bryce get packed, you can always hop onto Utah 12 and drive towards Cannonville, past lonely ranches that sit beside fields of alfalfa. Just past Cannonville, the road spills out into Kodachrome.

Unspoiled desert surrounds visitors in Kodachrome. Your eyes sweep easily across the park’s flat basins dotted with sage scrub and juniper trees up to an unobstructed blue sky filled with cotton candy cumulus and rosy sandstone cliffs.

When the park is silent–and it often is–there is nothing to be heard, except when the wind blows.

Unique geological features called sedimentary pipes, pillars or chimneys are found throughout Kodachrome. More than 60 of these formations populate the park, and they can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Geologists still speculate how the chimneys formed–some theorize that seismic activity was involved.

The pipes reach for the sky in the flatlands and from the cliffs like huge industrial earthen chimneys.

IMG_20160728_141216068

Kodachrome got its name from National Geographic explorers who photographed the area using Kodak film of the same name in 1949.

Writer and photographer Jack Breed was on assignment searching for unknown and unnamed geographical features when he and his expedition discovered arches, colored cliffs and those weird sedimentary pipes.

Breed thought it was just the perfect place for Kodachrome film, which revolutionized color photography.

Before Kodak created the film in 1935, taking color photographs was a long and laborious process that didn’t always produce great results.

Kodachrome revolutionized color film, and gained quite a reputation for its vivid colors and saturation.

The film became a favorite of National Geographic photographers and amateur photographers alike. Kodachrome film captured the Hindenburg crash, the Kennedy assassination in Dallas and countless family outings.

Ultimately, digital killed Kodachrome, and Kodak decided to discontinue it.

However, Kodachrome Basin State Park still bears the name of the film, with the approval of Kodak, of course. The name serves as a tribute to explorers and photographers in search of a world of vivid color.

IMG_20160728_141008708_HDR

Although Kodachrome offers horse rides, hiking and camping it’s relatively easy to avoid people there.

When I visited in early August with my father we didn’t see another soul besides the park ranger that greeted us at the entrance gate. The only other vehicle we saw in the park was parked inside the campground.

Animals can be as sparse as other people in the desert sometimes, especially during the heat of the day. Long-eared and gangly-legged jackrabbits bound in between sagebrush when the day is cool. Often, raptors can be spotted in the sky.

I was fortunate enough to watch a pair of golden eagles gliding along the rim of Kodachrome’s cliff. The huge birds shone in the sun, and it was so quiet that their cries carried all the way down to where I stood watching, binoculars in hand.

Cedar Breaks

IMG_20160730_123318848
The natural amphitheater in Cedar Breaks National Monument 

Cedar Breaks National Monument is a great example of the amount of natural diversity packed into Utah’s southwestern corner.

Located between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks sits on the western edge of the Markagunt Plateau at an elevation higher than both Zion and Bryce.

Since Cedar Breaks has an elevation of over 10,000 feet above sea level  it supports conditions that encourage an explosion of wildflowers in the park’s summer season.

Peaking in late July and lasting through August, the wildflowers enjoy the cool, moist conditions that elevation affords them.

When I visited Cedar Breaks in early August, the park’s forests and meadows were filled with the subdued hues of mountain bluebells, the red bristles of Indian paintbrush, the white pops of columbine, and the deep purple shades of beard tongue.

Color paints entire swaths of Cedar Breaks in the park’s meadows.

While Zion and Bryce do boast wildflowers of their own, the variety and amount of flowers that Cedar Breaks boasts provides a great contrast to the drier environments in lower lands.

More than 150 species of wildflowers grow in Cedar Breaks, and the greens of mountain meadows and forests add to the sense that the park is one huge natural garden.

IMG_20160730_112931837
Columbine along a trail in Cedar Breaks 

Spruce and aspen trees populate the park’s forests, which are currently regenerating after having been recycled by native pine beetles.

The main geological feature in Cedar Breaks is its natural amphitheater, which is more than 2,000 feet deep and more than three miles across.

Like Bryce Canyon, the amphitheater in Cedar Breaks features rocky columns and spires. However, in Cedar Breaks you get the unique impression that the park’s mountain meadows and spruce forests are eroding away into the multicolored badlands of the amphitheater.

This contrast was noted by early settlers who named the area Cedar Breaks, noting the trees–which they mistook for cedars and are actually spruce and bristlecone pine–and the badlands in the amphitheater which they called “breaks”.

Along the rim of the amphitheater fields of flowers transition into scraggly outcroppings of twisted and ancient thousand-year-old bristlecone pines that grip rocky outcroppings by way of their powerful roots.

While Cedar Breaks is worth exploring because of its unique features, it’s worth noting that the park draws less visitors than Zion and Bryce. If you’re looking for a place to get away from people it’s definitely worth trying Cedar Breaks. In 2016 Cedar Breaks attracted 899,676 people, while more than 4 million people visited Zion and more than 2 million people visited Bryce.

Bryce Canyon’s Hoodoos

IMG_20160727_191952720
Bryce Canyon’s Natural Ampitheater 

Bryce Canyon’s name is a little misleading, because it isn’t a canyon. Bryce Canyon is  actually a series of massive natural amphitheaters eroded into the Pink Cliffs of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in Utah.

Unique rock formations called hoodoos steal the show in Bryce’s amphitheaters.  Hoodoo derives from the word voodoo, and carries similar connotations. Spainards believed the rock formations held a mystical appeal to Native Americans.

Although Paiutes did not revere the hoodoos, they told tales of animals and birds living in a city that was turned to stone by Coyote, who believed he had been mistreated by the city’s residents. The product of that transformation was the creation of the hoodoos.

It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see the hoodoos as a stone city, or to see faces among the rocks. The spires of arches of these badlands look like a terrestrial city of towers and castles. Admittedly, some formations do take a bit of imagination to interpret. IMG_20160727_145541326The formation of Bryce Canyon began 60 million years ago when sediment dropped and consolidated on the bottom a body of water called Lake Flagstaff. Then, the Colorado Plateau lifted unevenly 16 million years ago creating a series of plateaus we call the Grand Staircase today.

Resulting variations in the hardness of rock layers of limestone, siltstone, dolomite and mudstone help create the hoodoos. Water flowing through the cracks of soft rock erode away from harder rock layers, creating capstones with long necks–the spires of hoodoos. The constant freezing and thawing of snowmelt, and runoff from rainwater ensure the landscape will continue to change. In fact, it’s estimated that the Pink Cliffs recede one foot every 50-65 years due to erosion.

Sometimes the hoodoos seem alive, and that’s not just because the formations undergo constant change due to erosion. During the day, it appears as if the rocks change color and even shine in the light. You can track the progression of clouds and the sun by the changing colors of the hoodoos. IMG_20160727_115050830_HDRThe shades of red, pink, brown, yellow and black that color Bryce Canyon are caused by rust. Iron oxide colors the rock because it is either found within the rock formation itself, or it is carried into the rock by groundwater. Hoodoos are also colored by bacteria that ingest dust and produces iron that sticks to the rocks creating an effect known as desert varnish. Additionally, evaporating water creates salt deposits adding streaks of white to the hoodoos. IMG_20160729_092225713

Visitors to Bryce Canyon can take in the park from several viewpoints along the park’s main road, but the best way to appreciate the hoodoos is to actually hike down in them. You can avoid the crowds on longer trails, and you get a much more intimate experience. It’s one thing to look out into the amphitheater, but it’s entirely different to be on its stage looking up at the hoodoos. The difference is like looking upon the ruins of a city melting into cliffs and dunes, and actually being in it.

That isn’t to say that the views from the Pink Cliffs’ edge isn’t impressive. They provide the best panoramas of the surrounding hills and mesas that spread out in the rolling greens of fir and ponderosa pine trees for as far as the eye can see.

IMG_20160729_081455276