Showing posts from January, 2011

Valley of Fire State Park

Location: Overton, Nevada
Date: January 29, 2011

Valley of Fire State Park is in southern Nevada northeast of Las Vegas and southwest of Mesquite.  The park is named after the red sandstone formations that protrude from the otherwise gray landscape.

Near the park's eastern entrance is the most intriguing formation in the park: elephant rock.  As you continue west along the road through the park you pass a pullout to see petrified trees as well as the Seven Sisters area.

About halfway through the park there is a visitor center and park road that goes north to several vistas and trailheads.  During this warm late January day there were already many lizards out early in the morning.

Towards the western end of the park is another side road that goes to petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock and on to Arch Rock, a natural arch.

After I left the park I drove on the road through Lake Mead National Recreation Area for several miles, but this area was very barren and did not have much to see.

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Coalpits Wash, Zion National Park

Date: January 23, 2011

The Coalpits Wash is in the Southwest Desert section of Zion National Park.  This area is among the lowest elevations in the park and is usually snow free year round.  There is no officially maintained trail through Coalpits Wash, rather the trail simply follows the the wash.

A trailhead along state route 9 west of Springdale is at the bottom of the wash.  Elevation gain for much of the trail is fairly gentle while it gets steeper the further up the wash you go.

The trail travels about 1.75 miles through badland-like areas before reach a fork where Coalpits Wash goes up the canyon to the west while Scoggins Wash is in the canyon to the east.  Both directions eventually lead to intersections with the Chinle tail, which can be combined to form a loop.

At the fork I decided to hike up Coalpits Wash, but after a short distance the trail had become difficult to follow and was covered with large boulders.  The canyon walls surrounding me were steep, but not vertica…

Firepit Knoll

Summit elevation: 7,265 ft (2214 m)
Distance: about < 1 mile (1.6 km) round trip
Elevation gain: ~700 ft (213 m)
Date: January 22, 2011

Firepit Knoll is a small cinder cone volcano along the Kolob Terrace Road in Zion National Park.  There is nothing special about this volcano, but during my first month in Zion I wanted to see what this section of the park was like.  However, the road was closed below the Wildcat Canyon trailhead, and I wanted to do something here.

So, I saw Firepit Knoll and Spendlove Knoll to its south sticking out above the plateau.  I had never been to a cinder cone volcano before and decided to hike up it.  There is no trail to the top, so I had to walk straight up the side of the cone.  The loose cinders, snow, and thick gambel's oak made it a little difficult at times to go up, but as long as I stayed on the south slopes snow was not a problem until the top.

The crater at the top was a flat meadow, and there were many elk tracks at the top as well as o…

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Location: near Kanab, Utah
Date: January 17, 2011

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is in southwestern Utah east of Zion National Park, south of Bryce Canyon National Park, and west of Kanab.  The park contains the only major dunes on the Colorado Plateau, and these dunes were formed from the surrounding Navajo sandstone, giving them their pinkish color.  

Between hills covered in pinyon pine and juniper, the dunes encompass 1,200 acres, most of which is open to off road vehicle use.  The dunes formed in this location because the land forms a small notch that funnels wind, which carries sand grains and deposits them in the valley.  There is a very short nature trail in the park near the visitor center and campground, but all of the dunes are open to hiking.  

The Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle (Cicindela albissima) is one of the rarest insects in North America and is only found on a few small sections of dunes within Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.  The entire population of this b…

West Rim Trail, Zion National Park

Date: January 15, 2011

The West Rim Trail in Zion National Park goes from the Grotto in Zion Canyon to Lava Point on the Kolob Plateau.  But on my hike in mid January I stopped below Cabin Spring after hiking from the Grotto.

The route follows the same as that to Angel's Landing up to Scout Lookout via Refrigerator Canyon.  From here it travels a short distance along the top of the cliffs before descending a little ways into a small canyon and crossing a bridge.  The trail skirts along the base of Cathedral Mountain and up Telephone Canyon before ascending up to Cabin Spring and going on to Lava Point and by Firepit Knoll.

During my hike, there was about of foot of fairly fresh snow on the trail and no tracks of previous visitors, which made for fairly difficult travel across the slickrock.  So after going a couple miles I decided to turn around and visit another time, which I have yet to do.

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Bryce Canyon National Park

Location: Tropic, Utah
Dates: January 14, 2011
          April 17-18, 2011

Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for its amphitheaters of red rock hoodoos at the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah.  Bryce Canyon is a two hour drive northeast of Zion National Park and three hours southwest of Capitol Reef National Park.  The weather at Bryce is much different than at Zion because the elevation along the park road in Bryce ranges from 7700 to 9100 feet compared to 4000 feet in Zion Canyon.

Bryce Canyon is not actually a canyon and has formed out of the Pink Cliffs at the uppermost end of the Grand Staircase, the sequence of rock layers from Bryce to the Grand Canyon that represent nearly 2 billion years of Earth's history.  The change in rock layers are seen as a series of cliffs, including the Pink, White, Grey, Vermilion, and Chocolate Cliffs.  Being at the upper end of the Grand Staircase, the rock at Bryce Canyon is young and very brittle, leading to relative…

Watchman Trail, Zion National Park

Distance: ~2.2 miles (3.5 km) round trip
Highest Elevation: 4,419 ft (1,346 m)
Elevation Gain: ~450 ft (137 m)
Date: Many times January-April 2011

The Watchman Trail in Zion National Park is a fairly short and easy trail in the lower section of Zion Canyon.  The trail does not go near the famous mountain known as the Watchman, however it does provide fantastic views of it.  It is easily hiked at any time of year, and there are many ranger-guided hikes along this trail if you wish to learn more about the park.

The trail departs the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and follows the Virgin River a short distance before it crosses a service road and heads up a small side canyon.  Once in this canyon, the trail begins to gain elevation moderately for a short distance, and there are no strenuous sections.  In a very short distance the trail rises above the lowest vertical layer of rock in the canyon.   This rock layer acts as a shelf which you will walk along the edge of for the remainder of the …

Upper East Canyon, Zion National Park

Location: Zion National Park, Springdale, Utah
Date: January-April 2011

The upper east canyon of Zion National Park is my favorite part of the park.  It contains only two maintained trails, but the Zion-Mount Carmel road (state route 9) provides easy access to the canyons and mesas in the area, most of which can be easily hiked.  Most of the canyons are dry much of the year, and the sloping sides of the mesas can be hiked when not covered in ice or snow so long as you are able to keep you footing on the slickrock.  This part of the park is the best area to view bighorn sheep.  Most technical slot canyons require permits.

Canyon Overlook Trail
This trail is a very popular and easy half mile hike from the parking area at the upper end of the tunnel to an overlook above Pine Creek Canyon.  From this overlook you can see to Zion Canyon and the Towers of the Virgin.

East Mesa Trail
This is the only other trail on this side of the park, and it begins at the park's east entrance station a…