A Ride Around the Mukuntuweap Carousel

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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.

Navajo Lake

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.

Lone Butte

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.

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Photography, Business Owner

I am a business owner from Alaska who has worked as a freelance photographer for over a decade specializing in journalistic, corporate, resort, architectural, travel and landscape photography. I've been recognized by National Geographic and published internationally. Above all else, exploring is still my favorite activity. I've travelled moderately around the world and visited all but one of the U.S. States. Currently I make my home in southern Utah. For references or requests please contact me: wordsforadam (at) yahoo.com

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