Utah, Dispatch #4
Posted on July 9, 2013
In an earlier post I described the Grand Staircase, the geological “steps” that start with the Grand Canyon and then step up to Zion and then again to Bryce. Yesterday, we went to the top of the stairs when we hiked Cedar Breaks National Monument (sort of a junior National Park). It represents the top of the staircase and at 10,250′ it takes your breath way literally and figuratively.
Another ampitheater and not a canyon, like Bryce, Cedar Breaks (btw, there are no cedars — turns out early pioneers weren’t great at naming their tree species) has a combination of the things we saw in the other parks — The Grand Canyons brilliant colors, Bryce’s hoodoos, and Zion’s soaring heights — and adds an alpine touch: beautiful high country flowers and ancient, gnarly bristlecone pines. Many people think it the most beautiful of the parks, even if much smaller (and less visited) than its blockbuster brethren.
The trail along the rim has a few “we’re perched on the abyss” moments, but is mostly through shaded alpine forests and the up and downs are only 400′ total, though at that altitude our lungs felt the ascents.
We were there for the full summer bloom of the flowers for which Cedar Breaks is famous: mountain bluebells, larkspur, scarlet paintbrushes, lupine, and more. In that unfriendly climate, they are small and precious and coat the open meadows.
The drive up to the park and around it was through high mountain meadows and the temperature dropped to under 70 degrees by the time we reached the top.
Winter must be hellacious. There were all kinds of signs for putting on chains, plowing only during daylight hours, steep grades not advised for trucks, and so on. They report snow squalls even in summer and the park closes by mid-October. By the time we returned to Zion and our rental house, we were back into the 90 degree range, a 25 degree swing.
Hannah is heading for Peru to hike the Inca Trail next week and there the altitude will reach 13000′, so this has been good prep for her.
Though I think this trip has done nothing for our collective fear of heights. In the picture above, the drop off is steep and perilous. Note how we all veer to the other edge of the trail…
Before heading to Cedar breaks, we went trail riding closer to Zion and the horses showed none of our fear of canyon rims. They are calm, sure footed horses and we were under the care of our trusty trail guide, Madison.
Madison was the embodiment of the Westerner: in a saddle before she could walk, has forgotten more about horses than I’ve ever known, tough (a rugby player, a horse had just broken two bones in her foot three days before, she had my favorite line: “What red-blooded American doesn’t like to see a good fight?” when describing her love of hockey). She is also a Mormon and we had a good talk about what that means for her in terms of roles for women, her expectations, the degree to which the faith is still too insulated/conservative or not.
This state is still overwhelmingly Mormon and it shows in various small ways. At the restaurant last night, we couldn’t have just drinks. We needed to also have food according to their local or state liquor license. Lots of big families abound (Madison was one of five girls in hers). It is also changing, with new hipster mico-breweries, a burgeoning technology industry around Salt Lake City, and an influx of outsiders like the folks at Best Friends (we’ve learned a bit more about those local tensions as animal lovers chastise ranchers who let their cattle dogs ride in the back of pickup trucks — imagine that one). Fascinating place really.
We chatted about these changes and learned a lot . All of this along beautiful high desert trails and stunning canyon views.
The ranch from where we started has some 46 horses, old timers in retirement, youngsters not yet ready for the trails, the working horses, and long-legged, gangly colts like this little pinto.
The ranch also has a bison preservation effort underway with about 55 of the mangy beasts, Looking somewhat prehistoric, they make their way across the grazing lands and we managed a close up view of the herd last night before dinner.
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I ate one of their cousins the night before: a delicious bison burger. He was delicious and our appetites have been voracious after hours of hiking every day.
The one local place — and I don’t mean the “one good” local place; I mean the ONLY local place — is really a very good farm to table restaurant (I know, technically they all are) that has its own garden and tries to source locally, according to the chef. He, like so many others we have met, is a native Utahan who left for a while, but missed this dramatic big sky country too much and returned. It’s a story we have heard again and again and it’s easy to see why.