Driving into Cedar Canyon
I went to college at in Cedar City, Utah. Fall was the most beautiful time of year. When I was in high school, the campus of Southern Utah University, won my heart with its ivy-covered buildings (Old Main and Braithwaite Hall), and its Old Globe Theatre. I wasn’t a theater major, but I loved the reverence to the past that its presence symbolized. In the Summer, when the classrooms are empty, Southern Utah University is home to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, which fills several of the campus theaters, including the replica Old Globe with amazing performances.
But in the Fall one does not think of buildings or plays. Back in college, I couldn’t wait to get out of class, jump in my truck, and hit the road. I ached to soak in the Autumn colors that would soon disappear, replaced by white.
This Fall, many years later, my family and I headed back to the Midwest for a visit, and the first leg was up I-15 and into Utah. At Cedar City, we turned east and took my old favorite road, Highway 14 up into the Cedar Mountains.
Everything in this area is Cedar — Cedar City, Cedar Mountain, Cedar Canyon, Cedar Creek. There are lots of cedars.
But nothing bigger and bolder than Cedar Breaks.
Aspens, Cedars, and Vistas
Going up the canyon, the redness of the soil is striking. Because of the iron in the soil, Southern Utah — the cliffs, the mountains, the hillsides– is red, only to be obscured by the cedars and the Aspens. In October, the aspens turn a luxurious gold. At first, there are just sparkles of rich yellow amidst the deep black-green of the cedars, but then as the canyon opens up, stands of tall, straight, golden aspens crop up all over the place.
The road winds to and fro, occasionally providing astounding vistas. The Markagunt Plateau overlooks all of Zion National Park and Dixie National Forest — huge swaths of woodland flanked by vermillion mountains.
But then, above the green and gold, the grass, and the road, at the top of the tallest mountain above, looms a rich, red outcrop of stone. It seems naked compared to all of the foliage around. Vibrant pinnacles shaped by wind and erosion over millennia, Cedar Breaks National Monument rests above all else, regally observing the world below.
Cedar Breaks National Monument
We followed the highway signs to the National Monument. The higher we went, the harder the wind blew. In Cedar City, we started out at 6,000 feet. By the time we parked the car, we’d ascended another 4000 feet.
And oh, man it was cold. OH. SO. COLD. When we moved to California, I donated my coat to charity. I was wearing jeans and a sweater with a cardigan over — the warmest I had. But the rangers were cold, too, and they huddled under their heavy jackets as they patrolled the paths, then would seek shelter in the bookstore/ranger station. Inside was a toasty fire and an indoor viewing area, not to mention lots and lots of books on National Parky stuff.
After Cedar Breaks, we drove through Brian Head. Soon the fields would be draped in white with snowmobile tracks scarring their surfaces. The ski lifts stood empty, waiting for their time. As we climbed higher, we started seeing more and more dead spruce and cedars. At this altitude, it seemed like the dead ones outnumbered the live trees — all casualties of the bark beetle. The rangers had said that it was the worst infestation in 250 years but were quick to point out the role that the bugs have in redesigning the landscape. We would continue to see the work of the bark beetle through most of our trip.
After Brian Head, we got out of the car and climbed among the lava fields that lurked in huge piles by the side of the road, oddly with no sign to announce them or plaque to educate us on why they were there. Then we drove through Panguitch Lake, and made our way to I-70 to begin the long push to our next stop: Glenwood Springs, Colorado.