Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Brian Head, Utah – from hot to cold!

Walking the rim of Cedar Breaks

It’s my turn again and it’s ridiculous.  2 or 3 days ago we were setting the alarm so that we could get any walks done before the heat set in and it was unbearable, today we are watching it snow – yes snow!  We did go out for a rangers talk – which turned out to be about the trees in the area and was quite interesting but we hurried back wet and cold.  Thank goodness for jigsaws – well we are in a skiing resort so what else could we do (for those who don’t know I always took a jigsaw when I joined the skiing group).

Jackie contemplates the view - yes, there was a big drop in front of her and no fence!
A lighthouse in the middle of Cedar City - we don't know why!
We are in a resort called Brian Head – how appropriate is that? – and have a very nice flat for a week.  We’ve had some really nice walks in the surrounding canyons and several animal encounters; lots of chipmunks and some deer but nothing as exciting as bears, which we would all like to see.  Brian went out one night to try and photograph the sunset but there were no clouds so he only had partial success.  How quickly things change – if he went out tonight he wouldn’t find the sun.

The yellow leaves of the Aspen Tree. Apparently they are all one tree, roots grow out and another tree sprouts up!
On the summit of Brian Head
Pauline’s got writer’s block so I’m going to carry on! It’s Saturday and we arrived here on Monday with a plan to visit Bryce, Zion, Kolob and Red Canyons, plus Cedar Breaks National Monument and we’ve achieved three out of five, which is not bad considering we wanted more of a laid back week. In fact it seems they are all pretty similar, huge dramatic vistas with big cliff drop offs to steeply shelving red gravel sides and, where a harder stone was present, erosion around the obstacle to leave a hoodoo, which is a weird shaped stack of rock, some very high and large, apparently defying gravity. 
Jackie on Brian head looking for Marmots
When I look back at the photos they are all broadly similar and we do get a little blasé about some of them, which is a real shame as they are all fabulous in their own way. As usual with photos, they simply don’t bring out the vastness and dramatics, you simply have to visit yourself and be awed in person!

She's still looking...
The sunset picture
Cedar Breaks is a case in point, it’s just around the corner (5 miles?) from where we’re staying in Brian Head ski resort. It’s a bit higher than the resort at about 10,400ft and, because it shelves away so steeply, the panorama is vast and the horizon so distant. It makes the perfect sunset photo place, but with clear blue sky it hasn’t presented the most dramatic scene. Amusingly, in the Ranger talk today we were told that early visitors mistook the Juniper tree for a Cedar tree, giving the area its name. In fact there are no Cedar trees in this area at all, so really it should be called Juniper Breaks, but it’s too late! There’s a great walk round the rim of Cedar Breaks out to a ‘headland’ that juts right into the area with great views all around and we were all feeling the 30% reduction in oxygen level at this altitude when walking uphill, particularly if we tried to walk fast. 

She found one!
The rim walk felt strange when, looking one way we saw dramatic alien views down into a vast red valley, but the other way were green fields, trees and the yellow and red leaves of the Aspen trees, most odd! We took an evening drive to and a walk round the top of Brian Head at 11,307ft, which is above the top ski lift and the highest point for many miles around, giving absolutely magnificent panoramic views. Jackie had heard marmots sunbathe on the rocks, but even creeping around and peering over edges to sunny ledges we didn’t see any, that is until we were back in the car on the way down when she suddenly said ‘Stop!’, leapt out of the car with the camera and managed to photograph one flopped out on a rock, leaving me to manoeuvre the car to the edge of the dirt track to allow others to get by! 

More Aspen trees (or should I say another Aspen tree!)
A Pronghorn deer spotted somewhere!
Wednesday was our visit to Bryce Canyon, named after Ebenezer Bryce, an early cattle ranch owner of the surrounding land and canyon. He was unimpressed by the canyon and when asked about it apparently replied “It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow!” It’s all a bit commercialised with many facilities at the entrance eager to take your money and a shuttle bus provided to take you around, which they suggest you take to avoid congestion in the park. 

Bryce Canyon
A natural bridge (or is it an arch) in Bryce Canyon
We didn’t and we’re glad we didn’t as, when we reached Rainbow Point at the end a bus load of people were being bored by the monotone voice of the bus driver pointing out distant peaks. As a park we thought it was OK, but it did get better as we headed back, visiting ‘Inspiration Point’ last, which is a vast bowl filled with hoodoo’s and a fabulous place. Once again, photos don’t do it justice.

Inspiration Point. I know, it doesn't look that good, but go an see it yourself, you'll be inspired!
Thursday was our day of rest, despite the warm calm blue skies and the forecast for the weather to deteriorate (it didn’t seem possible!), so we took short drives and walks over to nearby Bear Flats (there were no bears but great views) and a two mile walk to Alpine Lake on the edge of Cedar Breaks, which was a pleasant wooded undulating walk with occasional grand views out to Cedar Breaks (seen it all before!) and ending at a pleasant lake in an apparently alpine setting with a couple a deer creeping by watching us.

The Alpine Lake
A Cone Squirrel in Red Canyon
Friday we went to Red Canyon, the very much ‘also ran’, near Bryce Canyon, but in our view one of our best days. It’s much smaller than Bryce, but that doesn’t take anything away from it and it was made better in that we walked in amongst the towering red cliffs and hoodoos which seemed a more vibrant red than we had previously seen. Maybe it was the morning sunshine and the definition brought out by the shadows, but we absolutely loved it and, as we were told, there were few other people. A second walk took us round the back along a dirt road, where there are various canyons to explore in a remote setting. 
Red Canyon
The various vehicles parked there were mainly for horse riding treks and we set off on the arches trail, passing riders returning and we went up into the hills to see quite a few small rock arches in improbable shapes, ending with high viewpoint and great views. It appears quite a few canyons interlink and there are mountain bike routes through them, ATV and horse riding routes, something for everyone. A mountain biker I spoke to who was just loading his bike back into his vehicle had had a fabulous ride through the canyons making me quite jealous!

Pauline and Jackie in Red Canyon.
Jackie tries a bit of climbing

And hide and seek!
We can't work out how the stone man on the left is still standing. When it goes, it'll really go!
Now here's a creepy thing. A sign described this pile of rocks as a camel, and we can see what they mean. Here we are walking past on it's left and it's looking at us. Now look at the next picture as we passed by on the other side.......
It's turned it's head and is still looking at us. Creepy or what!
Look at this bunny hiding under the rocks!

One of the arches in Red Canyon
We didn't want to walk under this roof
More improbable arches
The old buildings in Panguitch
We drove back through the town of Panguitch, as we have done a number of times now, but this time we stopped. It’s a really quaint old town in itself, but on the edge of town is a collection of old wooden buildings that someone has bought and taken there for show. There’s a saloon bar a blacksmiths, a fuel station and a ‘house of ill repute’! (Not just for show – they were disguising storage units – a very witty way of doing it. P) 
The GEM cinema and cafe
In town we went for an ice cream in the GEM shop, which is still an historic working cinema that occasionally still shows movies. The front is a café still furnished in 50’s styling, playing old fifties rock and roll records!

Just where they belong!
Just in case there was any doubt!
Today it’s Saturday and, as per the weather forecast a huge storm has appeared over us and, in fact all over Utah, bringing plenty of rain from Arizona and causing thunderstorms and rain after rain, quite exciting really! We’ve done almost nothing, except going to a ranger talk this morning at Cedar Breaks where we got soaked! Jigsaw’s done, tea drunk, cake eaten and blog written. Unfortunately, one of the earlier thunderstorms managed to take out our internet connection so, unless it gets reconnected, posting this entry may be a bit delayed!

The delicate manoeuvre to get Jackies section of the jigsaw into the correct place using fish slices! 
The wet and snowy walk to the Rangers lecture
We have one more day here before leaving for Las Vegas on Monday morning and we’re not yet sure what we’ll do. Looking at the TV news, the weather in Utah has been dramatic everywhere and Zion NP in particular is in a flash flood situation with some roads closed and very high rivers. Here this afternoon we’ve had snow and, although it settled a bit it’s gone now, so whether we’ll be able to get out if it snows tonight is anyone’s guess. We only have summer tyres, no snow chains and a rear wheel drive vehicle with wide fat tyres, not a good combination for snowy conditions! 

Kolob Canyon
If it’s not too bad a visit back to Red Canyon might be good to see the dry river beds in flood, it could be an exciting day, before driving to Las Vegas, the desert and high temperatures, just about 4 hour’s drive away. It seems incredible that such a small distance can have such a climate change!

Late addition on Sunday:

Walking in Kolob Canyon
Woke late today (it’s lovely sleeping where it’s cool and you can snuggle down) but hey, we’re on holiday! Set off towards Zion Canyon NP, yes another one, Utah is full of them. We’d decided to go to the Kolob Canyon area for two reasons, it is closer, and higher so should be cooler! Also having seen raging rivers in Zion Canyon on the TV last night as they bore the brunt of some of the weather we’d been having we thought staying high might be sensible. We arrived and did the scenic drive, aware how much mud and sand had obviously been cleared off the road before park opening, and the short hike which wasn’t as muddy as the ranger in the visitor centre said it would be and had lunch at a lovely picnic spot, though did have to dash for the car as the rain started!

Not a bad view. Apparently the Grand Canyon is in the distance
Longhorn sheep seen in Zion NP
Decided that although we couldn’t be bothered to go to Zion and mess about with the bus (no cars on the drive at this time of year) we would do the drive just into the park and out on the Zion – Mt Carmel Road. Well worth it, a different set of scenery again, it is quite astounding the variety that is here! We also saw a herd of long horn sheep – rare apparently!

A heard of buffalo (or bison!)
This is Checkerboard Mesa in Zion NP
Out to eat tonight, although I have enjoyed cooking, we expected to be late one night and eat out, so we only have the emergency tin of tuna to go with pasta left which I’d rather save till B and I are in our next basic cabin by the Grand Canyon where easy cooking will definitely be required! Plus, from our window we can see Mi Pueblo Mexican restaurant which has been open every day and we can’t see how they can possibly make a living at this time of year, so having really enjoyed our time here we thought we’d support the local economy!
Monday morning, snow on the ground
Had to clear the car of snow
Bling in one of the shops in St George
What a difference a drive makes, now it's too hot!

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