THOR, Vortex, 30 FT
THOR, Vortex, 30 FT
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A unique Utah geological wonder, Cedar Breaks National Monument is shaped roughly like an amphitheater with a natural curve in the cliff walls. The rim of the cliff wall is 10,000 feet above sea level, making it the highest monument park in the United States. President Roosevelt signed into law, officially establishing Cedar Breaks National Monument as a national monument in 1933, partly to protect the natural beauty of the landscape, partly to preserve bristlecone pine trees. The bristlecone pine trees, which are rare, are one of the oldest trees in the country; some are believed to be at least 1,600 years old.
The closest town is Brian Head, UT, which boasts a handful of restaurants and a gas station. Brian Head is about 10 miles to the north. For a wider variety of shopping and dining options, as well as access to health clinics with emergency services, the closest option is Cedar City. It’s also well known for its annual award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival, which is held in late summer.
Nearby Moab, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, and other parks are better known and heavily trafficked. Cedar Breaks National Monument has largely flown under the radar for many years, and it’s difficult to understand why. The ancient trees, stunning cliffs, hoodoos, and rock spires are all something to behold. Bring a camera; it’s hard to take a bad photograph in this park. Around 20 miles of trails lead to various vistas and lookouts that reveal a new wonder for adventurers to ogle. Heads up: some of the trails are poorly marked, and it’s helpful to have experience reading topographic maps.
When adventurers are comfortable venturing off-trail, back-country hiking is allowed, though the terrain can be extremely challenging. All hikers should be mindful that, though it might be sunny skies overhead, there could be a storm occurring miles away that results in flash floods in their immediate area.
Cedar Breaks National Monument was the 16th National Park to be designated an International Dark Sky Park. Indeed, many astronomical bodies and objects are often visible to the naked eye while they’d be obscured by light pollution elsewhere. For this reason, stargazing, spotting with telescopes, and astrophotography are popular activities here.
In the daytime, it can seem as though this region is barren, devoid of life. On the contrary, most wildlife in this area has adapted to become nocturnal to escape the heat that permeates the soft sandstone rock and sandy soil. On a quiet evening, it’s not uncommon to spot coyotes, foxes, weasels, rabbits, and other small-game mammals. Mountain lions, bobcats, and black bears prefer to keep to themselves, and people rarely will spot them. They do, on occasion, make their presence known by leaving pawprints in the sand and scat.
Cedar Breaks National Monument is far from the closest hotel, and many visitors opt to rent an Airstream and go RV camping surrounded by sheer wilderness. At dawn, step out of an Airstream rental and watch the rising sun bathe the sandstone cliffs and hoodoos in warmth. In the evenings, enjoy the sight of the Milky Way as it streams across the night sky. Cedar Breaks National Monument RV campground has 25 sites, 15 of which are reservable. The remainder is secured on a first-come, first-serve basis. All sites come with a fire pit or grill and a picnic table. Though there are no hookups, there are restrooms and faucets with drinking water. Visitors should be aware that there are no dump stations, and the closest one is found in Brian Head.
If space runs out, which does happen occasionally, there are a handful of other campgrounds in the area. Cedar Canyon Campground, which is at roughly the halfway point between Cedar City, UT, and Cedar Breaks National Monument, offers 17 sites, drinking water, and vault toilets. Nestled in the canyon where subalpine trees grow, daytime temperatures are much more comfortable.
In this remote corner of Utah, it’s hard to imagine that there are any attractions or sights to see other than stunning canyons, buttes, and cliffs. In fact, several small towns have developed thriving shopping scenes and attractions. Just outside Parowan, are abandoned ruins of Fremont and Anasazi people, who once lived in this region. In addition to pithouses, various artifacts have been found in the area. Faded petroglyphs of lizards, snakes, sheep, and men are etched into boulders. Also nearby are footprints of Hadrosaurs, who lived near an ancient sea million of years ago.
Hop into a rental motorhome and head over to Panguitch, which is a spectacular town to wander through. The entire town was placed on the National Register of Historic Places because of the building materials used: bricks. What sets them apart is they are an unusual shade: rose. For a time, bricks were used as a form of salary for the local workers, and these workers used the rose-hued bricks to build their homes.
At the end of a long day of exploring and adventuring, kick up your heels outside an RV rental, and roast a marshmallow over a campfire.