Bryce, Zion and Coral Pink Sand Dunes!

Its a long and winding road from the Grand Canyon to Cedar City. Cedar City is not a great place but it is convenient – or so we thought –  to visit Bryce and Zion canyons.

We drove eastwards to the nearest bridge over the Colorado and then westward along the northern rim of the Canyon. We were some distance from the edge of the gorge as roads are scarce on this side. Also this side of the National Park was still closed. It is 1,000 feet higher than the southern rim and there was still some snow on the ground.

Eventually we crossed into Utah  and headed for Bryce Canyon. On the way we passed signs for the intriguingly named Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. With a name like that it demands to be visited and we made a mental note to have a look at it if we could.

We got to Bryce Canyon in the afternoon and made our way to the canyon overlooks and were amazed!

Our first view of Bryce Canyon

Our first view of Bryce Canyon - for scale note the people at top left!

The Canyon is a somewhat one-sided one. The other side is a long way away and not very prominent. I am told that the rock types are lake sediments and volcanic ash. They are colourful and rather soft. And laid down in text book layer cake fashion. Which fits in with their appearance when eroded – the scenery looks like a wedding cake! And, for us, there was even icing on the cake – there was a dusting of snow.

Erosion at work on the edge of the plateau

Erosion at work on the edge of the plateau

Erosion into the plateau leaves a maze of pinnacles. There is the randomness of where the pinnacles are, combined with the regularity of the horizontal banding.

Pinnacles with a dusting of snow

Pinnacles with a dusting of snow

The view is an amazing variety of the same thing.

Looking into Bryce Canyon

Looking into Bryce Canyon

We had noticed that there were several trails in the canyon, threading there way through the pinnacles and we decided that we would return the next day and walk some of them to get a closer look at the rock pillars – from below rather than from above. But for now it was time to head for Cedar City if we wanted to get there before dark.

We had a couple of hours driving to go and we had to cross a 10,000 foot pass complete with ski resorts to get there. The road was clear but snow was piled high on each side.

And the next morning there was snow on the ground in Cedar City and we decided that it would be unwise to attempt to go back to Bryce. Instead we headed for Zion National Park and the Coral Pink Sand Dunes.

The route to, and from, the Sand Dunes runs through Zion. It is a public road but you have to pay the Park entrance fee. I’ll write about the Sand Dunes first, then about Zion, but I photographed Zion both going and coming.

The Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is quite a small park (by American standards) but it is certainly distinctive.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Coral Pink Sand Dunes

To get sand dunes you need sand, wind, a reason for the sand to become wind-borne and then a reason for the sand to settle. The sand comes from the Navaho Sandstone which is ubiquitous in the area. The wind is also ever present. And the reason for the sand to settle is just to the south of the area. The wind squeezes between two mountain ranges which increase its velocity and therefore its ability to carry sand. Then the country widens out, the wind speed drops and the sand is deposited.

The wind gap through which the sand for the sand dunes comes

In the distance, the wind gap through which the sand for the sand dunes comes

But the weather while we were at the sand dunes was not conducive for a long stay and soon we were off, back to Zion.

Chris braves the weather at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Chris braves the weather at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Zion is spectacular! For two reasons – the mountains and the rocks. The mountains are not particularly high but they tend to be girded by vertical cliffs. The cliffs are made of red Navajo Sandstone often showing bedding characteristic of desert sand dunes.

Mountains in Zion National Park, Utah

Mountains in Zion National Park, Utah. Note the mist shrouded mountain in the background!

We passed through the park in the morning, when the weather was not kind to photography. But it did allow us to see the transient water courses which only flow during and immediately after heavy rain.

Transient stream, Zion National Park

Transient stream, Zion National Park

The road through the park was built in the 1920’s and its most noticeable feature is the Zion – Mount Carmel tunnel. This has several windows looking out of the vertical cliff through which the tunnel is cut. It is wide enough for two cars to pass, but if you are unwise enough to travel in a “Recreational Vehicle” – an RV – you have to pay an extra fee, all traffic through the tunnel is stopped, you are formed into a convoy and drive through under escort. There is no way that two-way traffic can operate with vehicles of such size.

A window into the Zion - Mount Carmel Tunnel

A window into the Zion - Mount Carmel Tunnel

The Navajo Sandstone is spectacular even without its expression as mountains. I don’t think I have ever seen so much dune cross-bedding as I saw in Zion.

Dune cross bedding in Zion

Dune cross bedding in Zion

The lower part of the Navajo Sandstone is stained red but the upper part is not. But it is still cross-bedded.

Cross-bedding in Zion

Cross-bedding in Zion

I am told that there are many good walks to be had in Zion – it certainly looks like it – but we did not have the time to try any of them. But you can see spectacular scenery from the road.

A view while driving through the park

A view while driving through the park

Scenic views are at every bend in the road. And there are plenty of them!

View from the road, Zion National Park

View from the road, Zion National Park

And everywhere cross bedding makes an interesting cliff spectacular.

Cross-bedding in Zion

Cross-bedding in Zion

I wish we had had more time to explore off the road in Zion – perhaps a future trip? – but we certainly saw much to satisfy us.

View from the road, Zion National Park

View from the road, Zion National Park

After leaving Zion it was back to our Cedar City motel then, next day, start heading for Yosemite via Las Vegas and Death Valley. And that will be the subject of the next post.

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Categories: Bryce Zion Coral Pink, Places, Utah | Leave a comment

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