Slickrock, Arches, and Sentinels–Utah’s Red Rocks

Last May 1st I hiked in Utah’s amazing Kodachrome Basin State Park. It’s time I shared this beautiful walk with you. The national parks in Utah are fantastic, but I was awed by the less crowded state parks. They offer such beauty with an up-close-and-personal feel. Today we’ll walk the 1.7 mile loop called Shakespeare Arch-Sentinel Trail. Come along into red rock country!

I expected lots of flowering cactus, but we are just a bit too early. They won’t bloom for another week or so. However, these are such interesting flowers with yellow centers that almost feel like plastic. Commonly called roughseed cryptantha (Cryptantha flavoculata), they are common across dry hillsides in many western states.

See them along with sage?

Continuing down the trail, the sandstone formations begin to rise above the Rocky Mountain junipers and pines.

Among the evergreens we find the Utah serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis), although its flowers are already fading. This spreading shrub or small tree, sometimes reaching 15 feet, is in the Rose family. It produces a small fruit that is browsed by desert bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, many birds, and domesticated livestock.

Oh my. Rounding the corner we get a grand view of Bryce Canyon National Park, its pink cliffs along the skyline. Bryce is called the forest of stone. We are actually viewing the top “step” of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The pink-colored rock is the top stair step, going to white, going to different shades of red and gray. An amazing  geologic staircase that extends either side of this picture stepping down until it reaches Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon. While we are on the topic, I have to make a political plea.

This is part of the grand landscape that the current administration in Washington has decided to open to oil/fracking/mining, undermining the Antiquities Act, usurping Native American’s sacred lands, and sabotaging Utah’s tourist industry. This insanity needs people like us to write letters, make calls, and donate to quality organizations initiating lawsuits that will hopefully keep the greed of the few from destroying our public lands, unique and irreplaceable. Once they are destroyed, they are gone forever.

I encourage you to explore the work of my favorite, EarthJustice. Also doing good work are the Environmental Defense Fund, The Wilderness Society, and Friends of the Earth. I’m sure there are many more you may want to share in the comments. High Country News is a nonprofit media organization investigating issues impacting the West through in-depth, high quality journalism. I’m not much for bringing up politics, but it is time to pay attention friends! The land you paid for is at risk, your source of water is at risk, and our amazingly unique parks, monuments, and forests are in severe jeopardy.

Nearby, to our southeast, is also Bears Ears National Monument. Trump just proudly announced an 85% reduction in size to accommodate more uranium, gas, and oil production. A toxic legacy that will last for generations. Those resources are now on Native American land, but through this action the land and/or leasing rights could be sold to the highest bidder with no return to the tribes. Now is the time to stand up like never before. Headlines tell only part of the story, it gets worse when looking at the details. This is no joke! That said, and thank you for staying with me, let’s continue our hike.

The trail’s sharp turn opens the view west. The bar shows Bryce Canyon National Park, the arrow Zion National Park. What a view!

Here is a relative of the roughseed cryptantha we saw earlier. The Mojave popcorn flower (Cryptantha Confertiflora) adds yellow highlights to the red landscape.

Estrada sandstone makes up much of the landscape in this area. We are atop the Colorado Plateau and the geology is gorgeous. Standing here our elevation is about 5,800 feet. That’s 1,000 feet higher than where I live in Montana. Take your walks slow when you come from the coasts, living near sea level. Every walk can be a huffer-puffer.

The trail leads us beneath the arch. Do you see it? Let’s go!

Beautiful! What do you think?

Go ahead, stand under the arch. Can’t really get a picture from that angle, but look at the sandstone structures top to bottom. Isn’t is great that we can get so close? That’s the beauty of these state parks.

Oh my goodness, finally, a cactus in bloom. Cacti flowers are so unexpectedly beautiful. This is a smallflower fishhook cactus (Sclerocactus parviflorus), common across the desert West.

The formations are incredible.

Looking west, see were the flat land ends (left) then the rock rising beyond? That is Zion National Park’s canyon.  We walked a ways on the Angel’s Landing Trail, remember?

Here we are at Sentinel Spire, a sedimentary pipe formation unique to this area. You can see the trail takes us right to the base. No one is exactly sure how these sand pipes where formed, but Kodachrome Basin State Park has 67 monolithic stone spires, each unique and many huge.

Although many hikers turn around at Sentinel, we will continue south and then east to explore the entire loop trail. Look closely. The trail goes between the large formation and the leaning spire formation at the right. This is great.

Here is a good view of the Carmel formation streaked with layers of gypsum. Yes, the white is gypsum, a chalky mineral used to make drywall and plaster of Paris. It is in the sand and as layers in hills over this entire area.

Looking back, we see more of the Carmel formation with gypsum layers and the Estrada sandstone above.

We’ve climbed quite high, and looking back again we see  Bryce and parts of Escalante Staircase. What a view!

Let’s look at the trail a minute. Notice there have been no switchbacks to ease our climb. All ups and downs are straight up and down. Some were steep enough downs that I slid a bit on my butt–don’t tell anyone. We are walking on slickrock. It is slick, but not slippery. Of course I wouldn’t want to try it on a rainy day. The finish on the rock allows you to easily traverse without slipping. What makes it slippery is the sand that can collect on the rock, so watch your step, and in a pinch, go ahead and slide down on your butt. I won’t tell.

Look at that cave ahead. I had to check closer, but there are ravens nesting in there. Therefore, some of that white you see in the cave may be gypsum, but there is also a good amount of bird droppings. They are cawing and carrying on.  I think they like hearing their echo. I guess not many people walk here because the ravens seem to be cawing at us, zooming down unusually close a few times. Normally ravens have no issue with people, so that’s a puzzle. We’ll just move along. See the layers of gypsum off trail’s edge to our right?

Looking right is a great view of another section of Kodachrome Basin State Park. The colors and the formations are just amazing. We’ll have to drive over there later for a better look.

Wait, there’s some moving over by the trees and it is coming our way. See?

Now this is strange. A black-tailed jackrabbit is heading straight for us! Is this an attack hare? Only waving arms made him/her stop. Good grief, it is looking at us as if to say, “What’s your problem?!” It is about ten feet away now, decided to ignore us after all, and walked off the trail into the brush. All hares have longer hind legs than front and can leap up to 10 feet. They are capable of reaching 40 mph, usually running in a zig-zag pattern to avoid predators. The black-tailed is the third largest of all hares and all hares are larger than rabbits. Do you think it was just curious? That was a strange and wonderful close encounter. Maybe I just don’t understand jackrabbits? Sure do love the ears though.

Here we are at trail’s end. What a gorgeous walk, and we even got a bit of a tan.

Until next time . . .


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