Since we arrived in southwest Utah we have been astounded by the colours of the landscape and the quality of the hiking. The colours are the result of the layers of mostly iron-rich rock and the many years of erosion that the layers of different hardnesses of rocks have endured. The fantastic hiking is the result of the lack of biting insects, consistently good weather, clear open trails and wonderful vistas.
The altitude at Cedar Breaks National Monument (the trees are cedars and the ‘breaks’ are the edges of the cliffs) is about 10,500 ft (3,200m) and the air here was brisk! There are some great viewpoints and a couple of short hikes but to get amongst the spires and hoodoos we had to wait until we got to Bryce Canyon National Park.
Bryce Canyon is not actually a canyon at all but a row of eroded ampitheatres along about 30 kilometres of a plateau which is about 2,750 metres high at the highest end. Some of the rock layers are quite soft and erode rapidly. The hoodoos and spires are formed when a cap of harder rock protects the layers underneath from erosion.
What is special about Bryce Canyon is the fact that you can get down below the rim and amongst the rocks on a series of fantastic trails built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s (I will write more about the CCCs in a later blog). You can see one of the trails below in the photo Eddie took through a window in a fin of rock. All of the trails start with a descent, which is great fun, but end with a steep but well graded climb back up to the rim. It was busy at Bryce so we left for our walks very early and it was always a shock to meet the hordes of people just below the rim (some of whom were struggling to get back up) and the bus-loads of tourists at the rim viewpoints.
Our next major park was Capitol Reef National Park, the least visited of Utah’s five national parks. The park consists of a 160 kilometre long mono-cline thrust up by movement in the earth’s crust. It is called a reef because it was an impenetrable barrier to early travellers and capitol because one of the whitish domes of Navajo sandstone looks like the US Capitol building in Washington.
Capitol Reef is definitely a park for hikers. There is a scenic drive but this hardly gives you an idea of the beauty of the park. We did two wonderful walks and hope to come back one day with a 4WD so that we can access more. Our first was an 18 kilometre hike from the campground to Cassidy Arch which traversed up and down rock platforms, gullies and a canyon.
We finished our exploration of Capitol Reef with a hike through Grand Wash and then a quick jaunt to see Hickman Bridge (photos below) before heading north to meet the Colorado River again.