Road Trip 2019 Blog 3: Exploring Utah – Cedar City, Cedar Breaks, Brian Head and Parowan Gap

It was time to leave Salt Lake City and head to Cedar City, swapping lakes for trees. We were due to stop in Cedar City for a week, using it as our main base to explore some of the National Parks for which Utah was famed. Personally (and I am embarrassed to express my ignorance now that I have seen them), I had not heard of any of them until a soccer mum in Calgary, chatting to me whilst my youngest was at practice explained that it was her hope to head to Utah that summer. I mentioned this to Mike, my hubby that evening, his interest was piqued and our summer road trip was in the planning pretty much immediately.

Day 3 was a day of truck driving, setting up camp at the KOA in Cedar City and cooling off in the pool. This KOA was literally a car park at the side of the road but the owners were very friendly and keen to share with us all the details of where we should visit and pointed us towards some other sights with which we were unfamiliar like Parowan Gap and its petroglyphs. The office also had a great selection of the most scrumptious ice-creams which can never, ever be underestimated.

As we had had a day of travelling, Day 4 would be devoted to seeing some of the sights that were within shorter driving distance and could be fitted in to one day. Cedar City would also have to wait but it would definitely be explored.

Cedar Breaks

After having chatted with the KOA’s proprietor, we decided to start off our day at Cedar Breaks National Monument. It was relatively close but we still had a little bit of a drive to get to it and it looked like the day was going to be a bit murky, a grey mistiness permeating and cooling the air and suggesting, unfortunately, poor visibility.

We headed out and made the climb through the woods to Cedar Breaks, stopping on the way in a viewing spot to look out and what a view! The mist was lifting and the landscape was emerging. If this was a sample of what we had ahead of us, then there was much to look forward to.

We followed the road and ended up in a car park with a log cabin-style information centre and small shop. There were already other people there, all dressed in their light waterproof jackets and with very serious walking sticks. I didn’t really know what to expect from Cedar Breaks but it was obvious that there was some sort of trail to follow and so it was time to take off the flip-flops and get the serious Karrimors out with their thick soles and supportive fit.

We had a little look around and found a short landscaped walk to a lookout which gave us a taster of Cedar Breaks. Orange rock in rippled terraces stretched before us, the erosion of ages exposing the layers of Utah’s bedrock for us to see. It was warm to the eye and in its size and depth, it was like a microcosm of the Grand Canyon.

I couldn’t wait to explore it further. Back at the car park, there was a trail leading off and we could see some hikers of an elderly persuasion coming towards us, looking decidedly defeated. Undeterred, we headed their way. As we went to pass them, one of them, a lady with full walking paraphernalia said, “It’s really muddy. You can’t walk in it, it keeps sticking to your shoes. We had to turn back!”

I was concerned. I like to hike but I am no adventurer and I did wonder what we were getting ourselves into. However, as a farm girl, a bit of mud has never put me off and with some words of encouragement, and disbelief that it could be that bad from my hubby, we headed off up the trail.

It was muddy, it was at times a bit slippery and it was like clay, sticking to the bottom of your shoes making you feel like Herman Munster, a thick crusty brick addition attached to your shoe to add an extra challenge to the walk. Actually, it wasn’t that bad. It did encumber you a little but I didn’t feel like it was affecting my mountain goat agility at any point. Good job we had been intrepid enough to attempt it.

In fact, once the initial part of the walk was passed, the trail became much less boggy and easier to negotiate. Whilst a wider view of Cedar Breaks was our goal, which we were hoping would be best at “Point Supreme”, a logical assumption, there was much beauty to see on the way: the most amazing twisted trees with wild columbines in the greenery adjacent to their roots; pine cones which suggested the tropics in their colourfulness; strange shapes in the ground, possibly termites but looking like the burial mound of a giant spider.

Shelob’s grave?

As we continued to walk, the sun emerged, warming our shoulders and altering the light from dismal to clear. I couldn’t wait to see the redness of the Breaks now that the sun would be highlighting them.

White Columbine

And it wasn’t disappointing. The view showed the startling power of Nature to sculpt a landscape and how the colour of the earth does much to shape this experience, as well as the way the light and passing clouds can alter the highlights and shadows, transforming it in an instant.

It was truly magnificent and there is nothing like standing next to a vast natural monument to make you feel rather awed and a trifle insignificant. We all soaked it up and marvelled at Nature’s awesomeness before embarking on the return journey.

We spotted a friendly creature, possibly a marmot on an outcrop, a natural pausing point to view gaze en-route. I like to think that it was why the creature was in this particular spot but I rather suspect that the flatness of the ground was a perfect place for other less environmentally conscious tourists to feed him some tasty tidbits.

He was unlucky with us as we didn’t oblige him, our fig bars having been devoured a few steps earlier and we continued to trudge back to the car where I was eager to remove my shoes which felt like they were nearly double the size.

Twice the size may have been a little bit of an exaggeration…note the trusty stick of sole de-mudding

Cedar Breaks had been pretty impressive and now, it was off to Brian Head.

Brian Head

Back in the truck, having cleaned and, in my case, changed footwear, we headed towards Brian Head, another short car ride away. Here, you could drive to the peak overlook and take in the surrounding countryside which we were told, and as the sign confirmed, on a clear day could provide us with views of Nevada and Arizona in addition to the immediate environs of Utah.

Unfortunately, the cloud cover that had so obligingly lifted at the Breaks had re-formed in the distance, in the general location of Arizona and Nevada, I think, which were lurking somewhere below the grey opacity. The view was wide but not clear. Our immediate surroundings were visible, however, and the nice pond in the photo below shows that we were able to see the Breaks ahead of us, peeking tantalisingly out over the tops of green trees.

Sometimes, I like to imagine what it would be like to be the first European person at a certain place: in this instance, to be the first one to climb this mountain and see those reddish bulges in the distance and speculate as to what exactly is there, placing yourself in the position of pioneering explorers. And then, I imagine how later, after walking in anticipation for hours, I come across the unique rock formations, having seen nothing like it before in my lifetime. Awe inspiring.

There was a rather cool structure at the end of a short path which added an extra exploratory element to the excursion. I think that the increased cloud cover dampened Brian Head’s grandeur a little and I am sure that on a crisp clear day, it would have been spectacular.

To be honest, Brian Head was a sideshow to the main attraction which had already been visited so it was time to grab some lunch and head off to our next stop on the day’s itinerary, Parowan Gap.

Parowan Gap

By the time we got to Parowan Gap in the afternoon, the sun had stopped its recalcitrant ways and decided to stay out and share its warmth. It was a glorious time to be discovering ancient etchings on rock faces and the footprints of ancient creatures immortalised in boulders.

I do like the literal titles of places and I think that North America does this especially well. My particular favourite is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in Alberta which is pretty self explanatory and bound to be visited at some point in this blog. Parowan Gap was no different in its obviousness. It was a gap at a place called Parowan. I don’t mean to be condescending but see pictures below.

It may not look like much but it was strangely atmospheric. What I particularly liked was the fact that the gap was like a portal between rocky, hilly ground and flat, grass-covered prairie. You went through this v-shaped mini canyon and then the ground levelled and reached into the distance. Fabulous.

Geologically, the gap has been eroded over hundreds of years by the natural forces of wind, water and sand and was used as a passageway for indigenous people for many of their lifetimes.

They have left their mark here, etching the walls with petroglyphs in the same way that youths mark bus stations with Sharpie but with better results. There were some very strange shapes here which could be guessed at but were not always recognisable. However, they were distinct.

Heading into or through the Gap

There are, according to the guides, geometric designs, animal and human figures represented here. I have heard it mentioned that some look like mouse-men, bear claws, snakes, all of which are feasible. You can decide for yourself by looking at the sample of pictures below.

I think the one in the left picture is the most distinct but I couldn’t hazard a guess at what it might be. Without meaning to be disrespectful, it really reminds me of Plankton out of Spongebob Squarepants with a cursory glance but I do wonder if it is some kind of birds’-eye view of a place. Who knows?

Plankton or petroglyph?

Whatever impression the art of ancients gives you, there is no denying the history in these rock carvings and that is ultimately what I will take away from having visited this place. There were also pathways into the rocks on both sides of the gap, hinting at hidden fissures and secret caves but we didn’t discover anything of importance on the paths we followed.

Next stop, the footprints of dinosaurs. This was a short drive down the road and was on the way back to the campsite so we decided, especially as my youngest has a fondness for leathery reptiles that walked the Earth millions of years before us, that we should go and walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs.

There was a trail winding through rocks and we diligently followed it, through boulders in what was now blisteringly hot sun. It was less of a walk matching human foot to dinosaur footprint and more a hunt for the actual dinosaur footprint next to the post that had been placed to indicate its proximity. We managed to find two, one of which is “shown” in a very indistinct photo below, hence arrow to help, but there was one that we just couldn’t find, even with the post which may well have been put directly on top of it. I do wonder if they are only visible in a certain light or it even crossed my mind that a practical joker in the Bureau of Land Management had put a random one in to test our powers of observation and our integrity. Whatever the truth, there was one that definitely got the better of us that day.

The heat was beating down, the memory of the many flavours of ice-cream in the KOA office was strong and the lapping of the waves at the poolside made by many children doing cannonballs into the pool (despite the notices forbidding them) was beckoning and so, we said farewell to petroglyphs and dinosaurs and headed from this ancient place to the campground of modernity.

Tomorrow – Zion National Park.

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