On the Colorado Plateau

We have extended our stay in southern Utah and area so that we can do some sightseeing.  There are some amazing, iconic places to visit. Bryce Canyon. Zion. Grand Canyon.  In three days, we did them all!

We started in Bryce Canyon, not far from Panguitch. The first thing we did was buy an annual national parks pass, so we wouldn’t have to fork out $25 each time we entered a national park.  This is good for a year, and we think we can easily get our money’s worth with it.

All three of these parks are part of the Colorado Plateau, a huge area that includes parts of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.  It was formed by tectonic forces, and there are many fault lines throughout.  Originally, it started as part of the huge waterway that covered the centre of North America eons ago, which accounts for all the sandstone in the area.  They were pushed up to great heights by the movement of the earth – the High Plateau is the highest such formation in North America. When the earth moved, areas where water could erode the rock were opened up, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Bryce Canyon was our first stop. On the way, we drove through Red Canyon.  From the road, the hoodoos begin – it’s breathtaking.


Bryce Canyon is an astonishing series of amphitheatres full of orange hoodoos.  Every view of them from the rim offers hundreds of photo ops, especially if you have the time to stay for the day.  The changing light makes for really interesting shadows.

The National Park Service is trying to minimize the auto traffic in the park by offering free shuttles, which stop at quite a few points in the park.  We hopped on the 3 hour run, which goes to the end of the road, overlooking Henriesville to the east.  We had a great tour guide – Spike – who used to deliver Pepsi products to the area, and clearly loves living there. There are other ways to see the park, as well.  We walked for a bit along the rim trail, and as we went, saw the beginning of the horse ride down to the bottom.

There were a few very nervous non-riders among the group!

There are lots of critters in the park – we didn’t see any mountain lions or bears, but the ravens were friendly!

The next day we moved out of the motel in Panguitch and headed west.  Spike had recommended visiting the petroglyphs at Parowan, but first we had to get over the pass where the 7 men walked on quilts.  The road was open, but at 10,000 feet there was still quite a bit of snow!

At the top of the hill near Cedar Breaks National Monument - 10,000 feet!

The road that took us up and over to Parowan has been dubbed the “Patchwork Parkway”, highway 143.  I’m fairly certain that we have the gals at the Panguitch Quilt Walk festival to thank for this, the only quilt-related highway that I’m aware of!  We didn’t see any quilts though….

Cedar Breaks National Monument is still closed at this time of the year, because of snow, but we got a glimpse of why it’s been set aside.  There were more orange cliffs waaay down below.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Parowan is at the other end of the road from Panguitch.  It is a somewhat larger town and was the first settlement of southern Utah.  We drove through it and 11 miles west to Parowan Gap – a natural gap between two ridges.  There, Spike (our tour guide in Bryce) told us we could find a remarkable collection of ancient petroglyphs.  He was right!  I’ve had an interest in these for years; once I even thought I might do a whole CD project on rock art (but writing songs about quilting was a MUCH better idea!).  There are 90 different panels of petroglyphs at Parowan Gap, and they are easily seen.

Petroglyphs are created by scraping away the surface of the rocks, not by painting on them.

We got back on the Interstate and headed south and east – to Zion National Park.  Many of the locals in Panguitch told us they like Zion Park better than Bryce Canyon.  Obviously they are not alone, because we found many more people there.  Its proximity to the I-15 certainly has a lot to do with that.  It’s also school summer holidays now, so there were lots of families visiting.

Zion also has a shuttle system, so we parked the car in Springdale and didn’t have to worry about the drive after that.  We took the shuttle right to the end of the canyon – to the Temple of Sinawava. (Many of the mountains the locations within the park have Biblical references, thanks to early Mormon settlers in the area.) Here, the Virgin River emerges from between two sheer cliffs.  Later in the summer, it is possible for fit hikers to wade through the slot canyons for quite a distance, but the water levels are still too high from the spring runoff to attempt this now, so this is the end of the line.

The end of the trail

At the end of the day we shuttled back to our car.  We re-entered the Park as we drove east.  The most significant part of this road is the mile-long tunnel that was blasted through the mountain in the late 1920s.  It was constructed so there would be a road connecting Zion Park and Bryce Canyon (although Bryce is quite a piece distant).  In 1958 I have just found out there was a collapse in the tunnel, leading to its closure for weeks.  I’m sort of glad I didn’t know that until now….

Entrance to the tunnel

On the other side of the tunnel, the terrain changes significantly.  Rather than craggy cliffs rising from the river, here the mountains look like they’ve been swept with a huge broom.  They are smoother, with wonderful textures. The most famous one is called Checkerboard Mountain.

Texture of Checkerboard Mountain

Once we got outside the Park, we encountered some more wildlife: bison!

Buffalo with babies

... and one wannabe!

We made it to Kanab that night, after a long and wonderful day.  And the best part?  I saw a California condor, soaring above us on the shuttle ride south!  This bird has been on my “wish to see” list for years – it’s huge and majestic, and endangered.  They have introduced it into Zion National Park, and it seems to be thriving there.

The next day our plan was to go to the Grand Canyon.  We visited the South Rim several years ago, but had never been to the North Rim.  We had no idea how different they were!  Instead of approaching from the southern desert, we drove through the Kaibab National Forest.  Conifers and meadows – we saw wild turkeys and deer on our drive in.  The temperatures were lovely – good for a bit of hiking!

The initial view from the North Rim, I must say, is not as overwhelming as I remember it from the South Rim, but it certainly is still amazing. We walked along the rim trail for a short time.

Grand Canyon from the North Rim

We took in a really good Ranger talk up in the Lodge, overlooking the Canyon.  It was about the burros.  We didn’t see any, but it seems there are lots of burros down there.  They were introduced when the Spanish explorers were looking for gold.  Burros are very sturdy and strong animals, and they eat anything – perfect for prospecting. The Spanish didn’t find any gold, though, and when they left, a few of their burros were left behind.  They made more burros.

Many years later, someone panning for gold downstream of the Grand Canyon found some sparkly bits, and there was another gold rush.  Once again, no gold was found, and once again burros were left behind.

The most famous burro of the Grand Canyon actually has a book written about him.  He was named after the fault line that travels from one rim to the other – the Bright Angel fault.  There’s a rim-to-rim hiking trail (don’t try to do this in one day!!!) called Bright Angel as well.  The burro was named Brighty.  There is a bronze statue of him in the North Rim Lodge. It seems it’s good luck to rub his nose – his nose is certainly shiny!!

Brighty the Burro

The lodge has beautiful views.  We found these chairs overlooking the Canyon.  I could imagine claiming one of these first thing in the morning, and watching the shadows change the landscape for the rest of the day!

Ah, this is the life!

We drove to the end of the road out to Cape Royal, which looks out over the Navaho Reservation and Flagstaff.  Is was very easy out there to see the difference in elevation between the North and South Rims. We had a late lunch overlooking the Grand Canyon.  Wow.

We retraced our tracks out of the park, and this time turned east.  It wasn’t too long before we descended into the desert – and gained about 15 degrees!  We had to get across the Colorado River, and the nearest bridge was at Marble Canyon, upriver.  This is the culprit – the reason behind the most glorious canyon in the world – the Colorado River.

A very green river

We have now arrived in Flagstaff, where we’re visiting a friend this week.  She is a wonderful quilter (see the latest issue of American Quilter magazine for Wendy Wetzel’s article on Labyrinth quilts), and we are looking forward to having some fun in the dye studio.  She’s promised to show me how to do ice dyeing, so look for some wonderful fabrics in the next little while!

I can’t think of 3 other days in my life when I have seen so much.

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One Response to “On the Colorado Plateau”

  1. Michelle Says:

    Gosh you guys have the best adventures, don’t you? All that topography gives this geographer shivers! one day I will get to Bryce Canyon!

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