After our morning at Lehman Caves, we started our way south, and took the park ranger’s advice on things to see as we headed towards the Nevada town of Mesquite where we were planning on staying for the night. Our first stop was the semi-obscure Parowan Gap Petroglyphs in Utah, which we were fairly certain we would miss on the road. However, just north of Cedar City we managed to see the signs pointing to the petroglyphs, and stopped to check them out. The area is named for the geological feature called a “gap” which is formed by wind and ancient rivers as they carve their way through rock. The gap is now home to a paved road, but as much as it attracts travelers in modern times, the gap attracted historic
Native Americans as well, who left their beautiful art behind. The area is currently managed by the BLM, and while there is little more here than a fence keeping hikers away from the ancient carvings, and a dirt road to park, the Parowan Gap isn’t far from the main highway, so it is worth a stop. Petroglyphs are some of the most ancient art that we have, and it is always good to connect with the people of the past, and appreciate the landscapes that inspired them to create.
Heading further south, past Cedar City, we ran into a small part of Zion National Park- Kolob Canyons. I’m not going to spend a lot of time discussing our visit here, because I think Zion deserves an entire post on its own, and I actually haven’t had the opportunity to visit the main section of the park. At any rate, Kolob Canyons is a great place to visit while traveling down the 15 towards Arizona. It showcases the red rock mountains that make Zion so famous, and so it is nice place to site-see and hike. Unfortunately, when I visited, there was still snow on the ground, which created a beautiful contract between the green of the sparse, ever-greens, the red of the mountain-sides, and brilliant white of the snow. However, this also meant that the trails were muddy, and hiking in my normal, light-weight Merrell Lithe Gloves was somewhat difficult in the circumstances. In better weather, and with better equipment, hiking during the early spring would have been nice. Kolob Canyons was fairly quiet when we visited, which is most likely rare during the high season.
I’m a little hesitant to say it, but Zion wasn’t the highlight of this leg of our trip though. Rather, the Valley of Fire , a Nevada State Park that I had no idea existed before the Great Basin park ranger told us about it, turned out to be one of the most amazing things that we saw. In my defense though, it was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1968 (according to Wikipedia), and it has been a park since the mid 1930s, so I guess its appeal has been long-term as well. The park itself is characterized by some literally awesome sandstone formations- most of them a brilliant red in color, but the park is also home to formations of a variety of colors, which create some unbelievable vistas.
For travelers like us, who just had a few hours to spend in the park, but wanted to see as much as possible, the size and organization of the park is perfect (although, as I write this, I wonder about its impact on the ecology). There are picturesque roads leading to all the best formations, which can be easily reached and explored. There are also some moderate-easy trails for visitors like
myself that want to wander. In fact, some of my favorite memories from the Valley of Fire come from the trails where you can walk though narrow canyons of sandstone or over massive waving, dunes of ancient sand deserts.
There is also camping in the park, and a very nice visitor center, so overall, it is just a great place to visit, and definitely a highlight of our Nevada trip. The other nice thing about the Valley of Fire is that it is right next to the Lake Mead Recreational Area, so we were able to avoid driving through Las Vegas on our way home, and enjoyed the beautiful and varied landscapes that surround the lake.
I think I will be taking a break coming up, so don’t expect a post on May 1st. I have way too much going on with my graduate research right now.
If you have any questions about my experience in Nevada and Arizona or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂