US Travel | Three Undiscovered Utah Gems
Parowan Gap Petroglyphs (image: DB’s Travels)
by: John Kloster
Perfectly positioned three hours away from both the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, the Cedar City area of southern Utah is the ideal base camp for exploring the area’s natural wonders. Nearby Zion National Park showcases geologic masterpieces like towering sandstone cliffs, hanging gardens, forested side canyons, and isolated mesas. A trip to Bryce Canyon National Park reveals large natural amphitheaters and bridges as well as windows and hoodoos, soft sedimentary rock topped by harder stone that protects them from the elements.
These famous sites appear on many travelers’ must see lists. If you want to wander off the beaten path, you can easily discover three hidden Utah gems from your Cedar City base camp.
1. The largest free-standing arch in the world.
Kolob Canyons is the lesser-known portion of Zion but is equally as spectacular. Kolob means “residence closest to heaven.” These canyons are a beautiful place to tour throughout the year. In the winter, the red Navajo sandstone glimmers with a fresh dusting of snow, and in the spring the waterfalls cascade down the rugged cliffs, streaking them black from the run-off.
Wildflowers bloom in abundance during the summer, and with the coming of autumn, the yellow-gold leaves of the valley’s scrub oak offers an interesting contrast to the vast scenery.
Kolob has the largest free-standing arch in the world. It takes some effort to get to it, but seeing it makes it worth the hike. Because the canyon faces west, photographers will want to visit in the late afternoon to capture the rich red rock as it lights up with the setting sun.
2. Stars that aren’t visible in most areas of the country.
Cedar Breaks is a large, natural amphitheatre about three miles wide and 2,500 feet deep. The walls of Cedar Breaks are eroded into carved spires and dazzling rock formations. The scenic byway traverses the rim of this amazing natural wonder with several pull-outs points along the way.
The meadows that surround the Breaks are famous for their incredible variety of wildflowers July and early August, plus fabulous fall colors in late September. Cedar Breaks and highway 14 was rated by USA Today and NBC Today Show as one of the “Top Unique Destinations for Fall Colors.” The park even stages a Wildflower Festival each July.
Monthly “Star Parties” start with a program at the amphitheater, followed by star viewing through large telescopes at Point Supreme. Because of the lack of light pollution, you can see stars that aren’t visible in most areas of the country.
Although the road is closed in the winter, the park isn’t. The yurt stays open with hot cocoa for snowmobilers and Nordic skiers. In the summer the yurt is used as an education center.
3. Unique, unexplained petroglyphs.
A prehistoric trail outside the town of Parowan near Cedar City was used as a passage through the Red Hills by indigenous people who migrated west to harvest desert resources such as pine nuts from their homes in the hills. In 1894 the Parley Pratt expedition wintered here and discovered the petroglyphs.
The meaning of the inscriptions is not known, but since the glyphs are deeply etched into the rock, planned perfectly and inscribed with great skill, it’s clear these are not doodles.
At other petroglyph sites the figures have human or animal forms, but these are dots and lines that are clearly counts of some kind; they seem to indicate a tracking of the celestial cycles and fascination with numbers much like those of the Aztecs to the south.
Pioneers believed the trail passed through the place Native American Chief Walder told them was “God’s Own House.” Huge pillars on the north and south jut into the sky, as if connecting the earth to heaven.
John Kloster works in travel as a freelance writer and in public relations. email@example.com