Day 15 -Torrey - Boulder - Escalante - Cedar Breaks NM - Cedar City, UT

We packed up the car again first thing and then we headed for breakfast. This morning service was slow, but not nearly so bad as at lunch yesterday. Hard as it may be to believe, today we would drive through some of the most spectacular territory of the entire trip. This is a road I have never taken very far because we always seem to be hear in the winter when signs always warn of a possible road closing ahead. Uncharacteristically, we have avoided driving too far because we might have to retrace our steps. This poses no problem today. We will take this road straight through.

After a short stretch of road south from Torrey along a fault, we begin to travel along the side of Boulder Mountain over landslide material that has come down the sides of this mountain of volcanic magma. There are several mountains in this area which formed as laccoliths, lens shaped areas between rock layers that are filled with molten magma, pushing the layers above them upward. The upper layers then erode off exposing the cooled volcanic material at the surface. Besides Boulder Mountain, there are the Henry Mountains just east of the Waterpocket Fold and Capitol Reef and Navajo Mountain on the Utah-Arizona border. As we climb up the east side of this mountain, we can see the Henry Mountains with the Navajo Sandstone of the Waterpocket Fold in the foreground and the La Sal Mountains beyond. At points the roadcut shows ashflow tuff, where the hot ash cloud rolled down the side of the volcano.

The highest point on the road reaches 9400 feet. Just beyond this point is a large pullout and viewpoint. We walked around the grassy area filled with wildflowers. There was evidence of landslide activity in the large stones grouped in flow-like patterns on the surface and the bent trunks of the aspen trees, showing the change in the upward direction through their lifetime. The view was spectacular with all of southeastern Utah spread before us. The air was crisp and cool; the breeze shook the aspen leaves. The kids enjoyed being able to run around in the soft grass. Finally we decided that we must drive on because we had a detour ahead that I, in particular, wished to take. We drove down the other side of Boulder Mountain to the town of Boulder where we found the entrance to the Burr Trail.

Rock Amphitheater

This road, only recently paved over strong protest from environmentalists who fear the damage that can result to this magnificant landscape from overuse, ultimately leads to a remote region of Capitol Reef and then over the Waterpocket Fold to a road on the other side. We drove slowly marveling at the incredible landscape. Large amphitheatres had formed in the Navajo sandstone with the varnish formed from water dripping down the rock making vertical brushstrokes on the rock surface. We drove through rounded mounds of exposed Navajo sandstone whose surface was covered with cracks which divided it into rough polygons, sometimes said to look like biscuits in a pan. The pavement stopped at the park boundary, but we continued on. Our goal was a trail head back inside the park where we could walk up a canyon for a short hike with the kids. Since we left Boulder, we had encountered few cars. There was one other car at the parking area. We again checked our packs and made sure we had water before we left. We walked into the mouth of the canyon, a narrow (10´ to 30´ wide) passage eroded through the rock of the Waterpocket Fold. The path was through gravels and sand, washed down by rain and occasional floods. We could examine small pockets formed in the upright surfaces of the stone by wind and water erosion. Some pockets on flatter surfaces had collected gravel. Kathy and the kids climbed up on the hard dunes of the sandstone and walked around on the rolling surface. After a short climb, Daniel decided to come with Steve and me on a walk farther up the canyon. If we had had the time, the trail would have eventually led to the top of the Fold and a viewpoint with a wide view of the surrounding landscape, but we had no time for that today. We stayed as long as we dared. When we returned, we found Rebecca perched high on a local pinnacle surveying the landscape. Reluctantly we returned to the car and began our drive back to Boulder.

Varnished rock wall

We drove slowly back over the petrified dunes of the Navajo Sandstone and through narrow canyons. We stopped occasionally to marvel at the incredible landscape. But we were still a long way from Cedar City, with much more equally incredible landscape to pass through. At Boulder we turned south again on Utah 12 toward Escalante. The road between Boulder and Escalante is unbelievable! We ride on a hard cap of Carmel Formation sandstone above the Navajo sandstone which falls away sharply on both sides of the road, which runs along a narrow ridge line above the rolling "dunes" below us. The ridge is so narrow that it is hard to believe that we are not in danger of driving over the edge.

Calf Creek

A few places are wide enough to provide pullouts and Kathy pulls into one of them. I carefully opened the car door, expecting to see a drop of hundreds of feet to solid rock beneath my feet. However, there were still a few feet of ground available for me to step upon, so I got out to take a few pictures. The Escalante river flowed far below in the canyon it had cut through the rock. Cottonwood trees grew along the river. Soon we passed the road into the Calf Creek Recreation Area, crowded for this holiday weekend and then we descended the rock walls to cross the Escalante River and climbed up to the top again on the other side. We stopped here again to look back at where we had been. It was impossible to say which view was the most spectacular. But, in reality, the vast expanse of these dune fields may have been the most overwhelming fact. The extent of this formation indicates dune fields as extensive as the Sahara which formed this Navajo sandstone!

look back

After a short drive, we again cross the Escalante River before entering the town of Escalante. The river has cut down right through the sandstone. This argues that, like the rivers in Wyoming, the course of the river was determined long before these layers were exposed. As the layers eroded, the river, confined to its bed, cut down through the layers below, forming the canyon we see today. At Escalante the sandstone layers curve upward in a monocline bringing the shale and siltstone layers of the Morrison formation, containing a high proportion of volcanic ash, into view. Near Escalante is a petrified forest like that found in northern Arizona, where the downed trees were covered in the ash and had their tissues preserved in silica. We have stopped so much today, we passed here with only a gasoline stop. Ahead we can begin to get our first views of Bryce Canyon. We pass through the small towns of Henrieville and Cannonville before reaching Tropic, near Kodachrome Basin and the eastern side of Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks National Parks, where we will spend some time later this afternoon, share the same origin. They were once lakebeds and the soft siltstone and limestone layers that were deposited on the floor of the lake now form the easily eroded peaks and scarps of these parks. We made just one quick stop at a roadside pullout as we drove through Bryce, just to say that we had visited. As we drove on to the end of Utah 12, we passed another view that I somehow always forget, the incredible red cliffs and knobs of Red Canyon, much redder than at Bryce.

At the end of Utah 12, we must take a short jog north to the town of Panguitch, where we will pick up Utah 143 for the drive to Cedar Breaks. I guess I forgot to mention that we have been gaining altitude here. The top of the plateau, from which the scarps of Bryce erode away, is at about 9000 feet. We dropped down to about 7000 feet at Panguitch but then we immediately start back up as we head south out of town. There is a definite chill in the air. Before long we are reminded of the early part of our trip. We passed Panguitch Lake, at an altitude just under 8500 feet. There are wildflowers, lots of green grass and a breeze. We continue to climb and begin to see patches of snow as we pass 9000 feet. Then the snow patches become fields of snow! When we reach Cedar Breaks National Monument, we are above 10400 feet and snow is all around us. Where the snow is gone, there is mud.

Supreme Point

The sun comes out occasionally to encourage us to stay. A big pile of snow provides an unusual summer activity for the children of all ages and Rebecca and Daniel are no exceptions. The changing shadows on the absolutely gorgeous formations below us provide reason to remain at the edge. But finally the chill, the breeze, and the long day combine to drive us back to the Prev for the final leg of today's drive, the downhill glide down Cedar Canyon into Cedar City, at about 5600 feet. We cross the Hurricane Fault, which separates the high Markagunt Plateau which we are leaving from the Basin and Range country into which we are descending.

We easily find a motel in Cedar City, though we stayed away from the interstate. Cedar City is a small town and we found one of the few restaurants open on this holiday weekend, unfortunately a semi-fast food type, and had a relaxing dinner. It was still light, amazingly, and we were in no rush to get the kids to bed. They were beginning to think about getting home and getting to play with their couzins. But we still had a full day of driving tomorrow with some more fantastic landscape on the way to San Dimas.


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See our map and guide reference section for trail maps and other useful information available from has over 3,500 maps.

Utah Atlas and Gazetteer, DeLorme Publishing.

Roadside Geology of Utah, Halka Chronic, Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, MT

Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey, University of Arizona Press.

A Field Guide to Rock Art Symbols of the Greater Southwest, Alex Patterson

Images in Stone: Southwest Rock Art, Polly Schaafsma, David Muench (Photographer), Browntrout Pub.

Indian Rock Art of the Southwest, Polly Schaafsma, Univ. of New Mexico Press

Kokopelli: Fluteplayer Images in Rock Art, Dennis Slifer, James Duffield, Ancient City Press

Legacy on Stone: Rock Art of the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners Region, Sally J. Cole, Johnson Books

Petroglyphs and Pictographs of Utah: The East and Northeast, Kenneth B. Castleton, Univ. Utah Press

Postcard-Images in Stone Southwest Rock Art, Browntrout Pub.

Rock Art of the American Southwest , Fred Hirschmann (Photographer), Scott Thybony, Graphics Arts Center Pub.

The Rock Art of Utah: A Study from the Donald Scott Collection, Polly Schaafsma, Univ. Utah Press

The Archaeology of Rock-Art, Christopher Chippindale, Paul S. C. Tacon (Editors), Cambridge University Press

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© 1995 - Karen M. Strom