Zion is ridiculously overcrowded these days. Strangely, most of the visitors to the park are hell bent on seeing a handful of popular sites in the park and then heading off to do the same thing in Bryce, sometimes in the same day. But there are tons of things to do in every direction from Zion. This entry covers a general overview of just some of the sights to see driving in a loop of sorts all around Zion but never entering the park.
For this blog i’m starting the route east of Cedar City. The under rated Cedar Canyon serves as a gateway up to the Markagunt Plateau.
A map of the “loop”. It’s large enough and covers enough ground that it could be done in two days.
You climb through the sediments that collected on the bottom of Lake Claron, 70 miles wide and 250 miles long.
Eventually you make it to the source of the Virgin River, snow fields close to 10,000 feet in elevation.
From Navajo Lake the water drains through underground caves and quickly descends off the plateau. When it hits the sandstone of Zion it carves the narrows.
Southeast of the Markagunt Plateau white cliffs rise above Orderville.
If you look around you might find an abandoned highway.
The last good picture i had of Coral Pink Sand Dunes was long ago on slide film. Today it seems to be mostly used for off road vehicle use.
A Juniper Forest grows out of the sand in front of Elephant Buttes
A source of much of the sand is Canaan Mountain Wilderness.
This looks like the Great Red Throne to counter Zion’s Great White Throne.
Lower in altitude the junipers vanish and the desert becomes harsh. Fort Pearce was built during the Black Hawk War, when the Mormons waged war against the Utes as they expanded into the territory and took control of all water sources. It never had a roof so it’s a pretty miserable looking fort.
The fort was built in 1866 and only used for 4 years but it’s nearby corral proved useful far longer.
Local graffiti from almost 140 years ago.
Some signatures in the area are much older than 140 years. There are many petroglyphs in the area but we did not have time or water that day to look for them all.
The center point of the fort is Pearce Wash, which contains this very muddy spring.
The “spring”, here making it look like the rocks are floating in the air, is an above ground portion of a stream that has it’s headwaters near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. During heavy rain the wash floods but at dry times becomes intermittent. In the Fort Pearce area it flows above ground for several miles.
Kona and Maree watch me wade through thick invasive species. I did not want Kona getting in that muddy water.
Below Sand Hollow and not far from Fort Pearce is the site of some dinosaur footprints.
All around the St. George area you can find this this layer of rock. This layer seems to protect the layer just under it, which is full of fossils.
Here you can see the protective layer on both sides of the wash. The darker colors are mud that has washed over the lighter bedrock.
That’s a dinosaur footprint, so fresh it still has water in it. Better get the bear spray…
The rock layer with the tracks goes on for quite some way before the wash drops into lower sediments.
Kona looks toward the Hurricane Cliffs. At this point in time she had only been in the desert about a month.
A much larger footprint with my lens cap for scale. Probably a Megapnosaurus. There are at least 400 tracks in the area, but you definitely need to be a paleontologist to recognize many of them.
A small print from what is guessed to be a Dilophosaurus. The tracks were discovered in 1982 by Gary Delsignore of Cedar City. Gary was singing Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical” with a Conan the Barbarian accent, and punching the air at the time of the discovery. Later he was so overcome with with a feeling of significance he changed his last name to Delsignaurus. Gary was cool.
Above the dinosaur tracks is the newish Sand Hollow State Park. This place didn’t exist until the early 2000’s when they built two dams to cover up a bunch of sand dunes. Seems to me that a big bowl of sand is not a good place to store water but the lake is a great place to swim. There are still some dune fields on the slopes above the lake and they look pretty darned fun for ATV’s, which can be rented at the park or in neaby Hurricane.
Maree and Kona wade into the cool water.
By July the heat was getting intolerable for me. It was getting hot enough that soon i would not feel comfortable driving out into the middle of nowhere on unknown roads, so at the beginning of the month i made one last dirt road excursion. I was looking for ways to get Kona out where it wasn’t so hot, so I decided to try the nearby Veyo-Shoal Creek Road, named because it was an old historic road connecting the small town of Hebron. Hebron was founded in 1869 and before that there had been a fort for a few years previously during the Black Hawk’s War of the 1860’s. The war was associated with the militaristic march of Mormon pioneers into Native territories. The town also had problems with water from the very beginning. Shoal Creek was named so because the water didn’t even flow continuously down the stream bed, sinking into the sand for long stretches. By 1902 it didn’t matter anymore because Hebron was destroyed in an earthquake.
Looking across Moody Wash towards Pine Mountain from on top of Long Ridge (it is, indeed, long).
Looking towards Veyo Volcano and the Beaver Dam Mountains. I think Biglow Ranch is on the far left.
The first few miles of the road are rough and Kona was wanting to get out so i took her up one of the mountains.The Bull Valley Mountains.
From this high you can see a tilt to the rock. These mountains, while not dramatic, are a nice change from both the Mojave and the Colorado Plateau. They remind me of the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
At about the halfway point are the ruins of a large building across from a dry stream. General Steam is a ghost town founded by Leroy Albert Wilson in the 1920’s. Wilson was an excommunicated Mormon due to his steadfast refusal to abandon his polygamous ways. Wilson got a bunch of investors from all over the world to invest in his steam power plant that he said he would use to mine ore in the Bull Valley Mountains. Nobody got a return on their investment, so it was a good thing he lived in the middle of nowhere. His greed soon got the best of him though, and when the U.S. government needed lots of Uranium to make Nuclear Bombs he bought a Geiger counter and headed to Kanab as a uranium prospector. Soon after he was murdered over claim jumping. At the time it was a sensational story, even featured in Time Magazine (link to un-paywalled story). Today there is nothing left of General Steam except the foundation, some big fruit trees and scattered junk. It’s especially uninteresting on a hot day (so i didn’t take pictures) but if you must know what it looks like here’s a video of the area.
Flat Top Mountain and in front of it are cliffs of ash on what i think is called Maple Ridge.
Walking on the ash formations.
Looks ideal for exploration but the ground is choked with dense packs of miniature oaks.
Like everywhere else in SW Utah most of the forests burned down in the last 10 years.
It’s hard for me to remember right now but the road is around 20 miles long, certainly less than 30. Much of it is above 5,000 ft, at a few points even above 6,000 feet. It crosses the Bull Valley Mountains which themselves are bisected by the Great Basin Divide (more notable than a state line). The most interesting part of the road for me though, is an area called The Pinnacles. Straddling the Utah/Nevada border in this region were one or several super volcanoes from a very long time ago that blew themselves to pieces. The geology of the region hasn’t been fully described but there are numerous areas where thick ash deposits are exposed to the elements and are being carved into interesting features. At the time of my drive i had no idea about that so i was pretty excited when, coming around a corner, the landscape completely changed. Later in the year i found other areas even more impressive.
Towards the north end of the road is a ranch area at Grassy Flat. The horses looked happy, and the air temperature was noticeably cooler than back where we started the drive.
The dirt portion ends and the road becomes paved for the last few miles. Enterprise Reservoir looks very inviting but last year it was so dried up that the water was very scummy.
From Enterprise a loop can be made back to Veyo along State Route 18. Baker Reservoir, while also low, had better water in it last year for swimming.
We’ve been living in Ivins, Utah for about a year now. Ivins started off as a, uh, reservoir. In the early 1900’s, the farmers in Santa Clara wanted some more water so a group of them set about on building an irrigation canal from near the Gunnison area to what was called the Santa Clara Bench (Ivins’ current location). With the availability of new water more settlers came into the area and it was incorporated into a town in 1935. Today most of the farmland that came from that venture was sold to developers after the recession of 2009 and in a short time it has been transformed into a residential suburb of St. George.
If you hang out in Ivins long enough you might be surprised by some really cool clouds now and then.
Palm Trees, Snowy Mountains, Red Cliffs and Cookie Cutter Houses are the integral components of the town.
Sunset over Red Mountain in a farmer’s field surrounded by bamboo stalks.
I only moved into Ivins by chance. It was the only place i could find a house to rent when i moved into the area. Since then i’ve grown fond of it, although it’s quickly going downhill. Just in the year i’ve lived in the area enough land has gone into the development phase to grow the population by 30%! Ivin’s seems to be under full control of developers now (as does Snow Canyon State Park), and it’s clear there has not been any good planning to make it a well thought out little town.
Ivins sits along Old Utah Highway 91. That would be a great place for new businesses and homes, especially south of there where a broad plate of rock rises about 1,000 feet over a few miles of nearly barren Mojave landscape. It’s the ideal place to build terraced neighborhoods all the way from here to the Interstate that would offer great views of the Red Cliffs and Pine Mountain. Yet, the entire area along the highway is largely ignored while developers instead race to build as many structures and tall buildings along the base of Red Mountain as they can fit into the city limits. Development is restricted to the west by the Shivwits Band of Paiutes Reservation. The Shivwits lived in Ivins since about 1,100 B.C. They will once again have the most scenic land after Ivins tilts beyond the overdevelopment line in the next few years.
The Tempi’po’op Trail will lead you to the old part of town.
I’m frankly amazed the glyphs are in as good a condition as they are, being so close to town. If this is due to vigilant volunteers they are doing a commendable job.
Some of the glyphs are several thousand years old. The cliffs where you find them provide an excellent scout lookout in every direction.
For a few more years there are still a lot of options for getting away from people. Snow Canyon is right next to town. A small patch of not-yet-sold SITLA land in the middle of town is nice for walking the dog in the evening and maybe spotting a coyote. The Toe Trail at the bottom of Red Mountain is also a very nice evening walk, until the 5-Star Sentierre Resort being built at the end of it sends every one of it’s guests out on it, crowding out the locals. Gunlock Lake State Park is just past the Reservation and to the South of town is a lot of empty BLM land, the Beaver Dam Mountains and the Mojave.
We were fortunate enough last spring to have hummingbirds born in our back yard. A baby hummingbird is very tiny! The mother uses spider web to build her nest. They grew up and flew off in what seemed like only two or three weeks.
This was another bird born in our backyard. I don’t know the variety but the parents were very pretty yellow birds. Unfortunately this one was killed by a neighbor’s cat the night after i took this, which really irritated me.
The mother hummingbird.
Another place to go near town is a redrock wildland south of Gunlock Lake.
There are lots of neat little discoveries to be made in the area if you can find areas that haven’t been overrun with ATV tracks.
Sunset over the Beaver Dams
One of the less attractive places (but interesting for it’s weirdness) is this salty stream that seems to flow all year long.
Walking along the salty stream you may hear frequent gunfire as you will be downrange from this target on the stream banks behind someone’s house.
Did you know there is an Ouray, Utah just a few hours drive from Ouray, Colorado? How do you even come up with a name like Ouray, and how is an American supposed to know how to pronounce that? I would give you all the answers if this was a post about Ouray, but it’s about towns called Lake City. But, did you know you can drive a high altitude dirt road from Ouray, Colorado to Lake City, Colorado? See, there is a connection after all, but from this point forward i’m done talking about Ouray (which is a super awesome town).
This post is from an even older time than the last one but i really really need to be able to burn all these photos to ash, so it’s time it went up. Way back in the fall of 2015 i took a trip to look at buying a commercial property in Lake City Colorado. I had never heard of that town but it’s up in the San Juan Mountains, which i do like, and 3 hours from Grand Junction, or thereabouts. Ironically i had passed relatively close to the town on a road trip only 3 months earlier, when i drove along the Gunnison River. I happened to also want to look into some things in Salt Lake City, so i decided to make a loop trip.
Lake City is mostly dirt streets one you leave the main paved road through town.
There is a surprisingly large public library, which must be one of the highest libraries in North America.
The miners were winning at the Miners and Merchants Bank.
A nifty old chimney
I’ve been to a lot of Mountain Towns, but not many in Colorado. To be fair, Anchorage could even be considered a mountain town, since there are parts of the city above treeline and it’s surrounded by peaks in every direction. My first impressions of Lake City, Colorado, were definitely mixed. I wasn’t too impressed with the mountains along the way, and it is a heck of a long drive for little payoff. It’s only 20 miles as the crow flies from Ouray, but the mountains are much less dramatic. The town sits at 8,650 feet, so winters are long. In October though the fall colors were at their peak and the air was still warm in the sunlight. The town has a sordid history of kicking Native Americans off their land and eating human flesh, but what’s interesting to me is that today property is bought and sold using the same 25′ x 125′ lots from the town’s founding in 1873. So if you have a house wider than 25 feet you likely own multiple lots.
There seemed to be a real estate scam going on in Lake City where property prices were all over the place. There were a lot of very expensive seeming homes and lots for sale but when i asked some of the locals about it they said those lots had been for sale for years. Also, and this is the ‘scam’ part of it, when i asked about the very high prices i was told they were appraised at those values by the country commission. When i looked that up i noticed that Lake City is the only town in Hinsdale County, so the 400 residents (and even fewer landowners) who live there seemed to be giving themselves very generous appraisals.
These people build their house on top of a lava tube or something.
The scenery gets much nicer just south of town. In the distance in Uncompahgre Peak. It’s one of the highest summits in the lower 48, at 14,308 feet high, but it also has one of the highest bottoms in the lower 48 so it’s not a particularly big mountain. There is a trail to the top.
Lake San Cristobal, the second largest natural lake in Colorado. Interestingly, it’s only been around for 850 years, when a huge landslide dammed the valley.
The Slumgullion Earthflow collapsed from the top of this hill and flowed for 4 miles to the valley floor, damming up the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. Another landslide started 350 years ago and is still actively oosing downhill on top of the older one.
I was only in town one night and it took a long time to get there, but i did have time to walk around and then drive up south of town to about 11,000 feet. As soon as you leave town heading south the scenery become much nicer. Lake City is no doubt a nice base camp in summer but the winters sound lonely. The town is on the verge of figuring out how to transform itself into a more popular mountain town destination but has several hurdles to overcome. It has a lot of building and improvements to do. It has to figure out how to overcome the limited access into the surrounding mountains (almost all the nice scenery on the way into town was private property, so why go?), and it needs some good restaurants and shops. It is though, under the radar, and in that regard still offers uncrowded streets and roads. It was nice and quiet when the construction wasn’t going on.
On the way back i decided to take a less used route back from Grand Junction to Salt Lake City. Instead of heading towards Green River i took Colorado State Hwy 139 to Dinosaur, then headed west through nearly a dozen small towns that ate up a lot of road time. The first few hours were very scenic, and travelled a corridor of the Canyon Pintado National Historic District. The long canyon shallow canyon has hundreds of archeological sites and was near the beginning of the 1776 Escalante-Dominguez Expedition. I never would have guessed that a year later i’d be living in Ivins, at the other end of that Expedition’s route. The canyon is full of Fremont and Ute era pictographs and petroglyphs.
The Guardian is from 2,000 to 1,500 years old. Some of the glyphs were placed in areas to mark where birds eggs could be harvested.
Some cool handprints. Tragically nearly all the wall art is ruined by vandals who wanted the world to remember them forever as very stupid jackasses.
One of the tributaries of Canyon Pintado
There are some birds and other animals but to the right is the first petroglyph i had ever seen using multiple colors. It’s of corn.
In Salt Lake City i had half a day to waste before my plane left in the early evening, so i decided to do something that wouldn’t get me dirty. The Natural History Museum of Utah has some cool architecture and a really good dinosaur skeleton display.
They made a cool room with multiple levels and catwalks and ramps that gave you a lot of different views of the dinosaurs and ice age animals.
A few months ago i posted about hiking with my friend Jeff up the South Fork of Taylor Creek on an unmaintained trail in Zion’s Kolob Canyons. That was in March of 2016, when there was still quite a bit of snow in and above the canyons. Five months later my sister came to visit in mid August, which is not a very good time to visit for anything other than swimming. To try and avoid the hottest temperatures i decided to take her up to the Kolob area, because it’s about 3,000 feet higher than the St. George area.
Mary Beth and Maree take a break to cool off their heads. It was hot.
Huge leaching streaks emerge from weaknesses on the canyon wall.
The alcove comes into view. It’s about time. The upper lip is reminiscent of Lower Emerald Pools Falls.
There were quite a few people in the area when we arrived but many of them seemed to be on the way back, so we had almost two hours of hiking where we were mostly left alone, and that was nice. What wasn’t nice was that despite the altitude it was still very hot and the first half of the trail has very little shade. We were hiking mid-day too. The temperatures climbed up into the mid 90’s and we were suffering, but eventually we made it into the forest and things were better from there on out.
Mary Beth stands below the seep. The alcove was disappointment to me when compared to my last visit in the mid 1990’s. There is a massive amount of erosion and destroyed vegetation due to people continously trying to climb up the sand slope without taking a considered approach. It’s too bad but it’s something i just have to get used to in the “modern” over-visited/under-funded Zion. If it gets any worse i could see them closing the trail for a few years. Also, there were zero flies on my first visit.
Left: Standing under the alcove. Right: Looking up in poor light at the higher “arch.”
Taylor Creek has three main forks in the Kolob. We were taking the middle fork, on what is called the Double Arch Alcove Trail. After ascending up the valley a few miles you arrive at a seep spring under a large alcove that has arch forming in another alcove above the first one. Although neither formation is a true arch the impression of the name is justified. The lower alcove is huge, “arching” high over your head and then, far above and coming in at an angle, is an unlikely separate alcove capped by a rock span that may or may not be somewhat separated from the canyon wall. It will be one day, in any event.
The alcove is a great destination, and would be very relaxing if not for swarms of flies that eventually discovered our presence. The canyon continues for about another mile but it was so hot we opted instead to enjoy the cool shade for as long as we could. Our timing was great. We’d had the place to ourselves for the whole time. Only minutes after we decided to leave some people came up the trail. Clouds moved drifted overhead for about an hour, which made the walk back a lot nicer.
Looking at Google Earth i saw several more alcoves up-canyon, but the trail becomes more rugged after the big alcove. When i get the motivation i’ll come back again, later in the year, to see how far i can go.
Maree heads back down canyon.
Along the way the stream sinks and reappears several times. Of course where it flows the vegetation is more lush.
This was a cool split rock that i had completely forgotten about, if it existed then. Very clean cut that looked unweathered. To the left another stream comes in from the opposite direction and there was river sediment on top of the larger side, as you can sort of see in the middle. Taylor Creek now flows through the middle.
A nice little section in the woods.
An old pioneer cabin. The cabin sort of marks the point where the trail gets interesting, so the decision behind it’s placement is interesting to me.