Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park, our newest national park, has three distinct areas in its 1.7 million acres: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante.

The Grand Staircase is a series of massive geological steps that descend toward the Grand Canyon. The five different cliff formations (pink, gray, white, vermillion, and chocolate) are different chapters of geologic history, descending from 11,000 to 4000 feet. This is the main area we explored.

First up was Kodachrome Basin, a state park that sits in the Grand Staircase, not far from Bryce Canyon. It features colorful cliffs and “sand pipes”– sedimentary towers in the canyon.

We hiked the Panorama Trail. We really enjoyed the views and getting up close to the sedimentary spires. The wind helped cool us down, but then the red dirt really started blowing.

Next we hiked the Angel Parade Trail, a narrow trail with loose gravel and no rails, so we had to be careful. We loved the expansive views.

We also visited the Petrified Forest State Park. This little-known park has some fantastic specimens of petrified wood in situ. The hike up to the rim, down into the canyon, and back up is rigorous, but not long, and takes you close to many fabulous specimens.


We drove the Hell’s Backbone Road to see more views of the area. The lanes are very narrow, not much more than one lane, with numerous switchbacks and no rails. We were relieved that we passed only one other car the whole time.

The birches were starting to leaf out and looked magnificent against the bright blue sky.

As we descended, the town of Boulder was spread beautifully before us.

We stayed at the lovely Slot Canyons Inn outside the town of Escalante. It is perched over a working ranch and backs up to cliffs that are beautiful at sunset. It was heavenly.


Bryce Canyon National Park Main Area

Bryce Canyon National Park Main Area

Bryce Canyon park is enormous! We spent all day exploring the main part of the park and didn’t get to all we wanted to do.

We drove to Sunset Point and gaped at the main amphitheater.  The scale is immense, but this photo tries to give you an idea. Because the altitude in the park is 6600 to 9100 feet, there are sub-alpine trees and cool breezes.

We hiked the Navajo Loop Trail down into the canyon. It was a steep descent, but we really started to get an idea of how tall the formations and the canyon walls are. The colors changed with every angle of the sun and as each cloud passed by. You could really spend hours in one spot watching the changes.


Loved the hoodoos! It was fun to guess what each one looked like, and then check with the official names. The one on the left below is Thor’s Hammer.

This one is “Queen Victoria” and does indeed look like the statue of her we saw in front of Kensington Palace.


We took the Queen’s Garden trail back up to the rim. This was an easier ascent than going up the Navajo Loop would have been, and it takes you close to many fascinating formations.

We learned that the best way to do these parks is to drive or take the shuttle to the farthest point and work your way back to the entrance or visitors center. You avoid some of the crowds and can gauge your progress and how much daylight is left. So, after a remarkably good lunch at the park lodge, we drove to the far south end of the park  to Rainbow Point and hiked the short Bristlecone Pine Loop and a spur to Yovimpa Point.

The bristlecone pines are the oldest living organisms on earth, some up to 1000 years old.

We worked our way north through the park and stopped at the Natural Bridge and Farview Point.


Fairyland Point was magnificent! We must return and do the hikes in this canyon.

Wow! And this was only in the main part of Bryce Canyon NP! More to come…



Cedar Breaks and Cedar City, Utah

Cedar Breaks and Cedar City, Utah

The drive from Vegas to Utah was stunning as we drove through the Virgin River Gorge in Arizona. A taste of views to come!

Imagine our surprise when we set out on May 18th for Cedar Breaks National Monument, only to find that the entrance road and all trails were closed due to snow! From a nearby scenic point, we saw the breathtaking canyons with snow-topped peaks. The formations are similar to Bryce Canyon, but Cedar Breaks is reportedly much less crowded during high season. We’d love to come back in warmer weather and do a lot of hiking.


Consoling ourselves, we investigated Scenic Byways 14 and 143. I highly recommend driving this loop and enjoying amazing views of the Markagunt Plateau/canyons and Dixie National Forest (Yankee Meadow and Navajo Lake). Streams were gushing with the snow thaws and the birches were starting to leaf out at lower elevations.


Cedar City seems to be the most vibrant spot in this part of the state, probably due to the presence of Southern Utah University. We think it’d be the best place to stay when going to Cedar Breaks and Zion (especially the Kolob Canyons area)–that is, if you’re not agile enough to book the Zion Lodge in the park a year in advance!

We ate (twice!) at Centro Woodfired Pizzeria. We really enjoyed the pizza, draft beer selection, and salads. They won me over with their homemade gelato and the fact that they are open until 10 in an area that often closes up early. We wanted to visit the winery across the street, but it was never open when we were there. Presumably, they are getting ready to open for summer.