I’m being reminded on an almost daily basis why I think this country is the most beautiful in the world. I haven’t been everywhere of course, and I make the comparison only to highlight the beauty here, not to somehow take away from that spread all across the globe.
I have yet another playground in this part of the Southwest. It’s the Utah State Park called Snow Canyon. No, it’s not named for its climate. In fact, today was Thanksgiving and Snow Canyon reached about 70 degrees with nothing but sunshine. Snow is not common here. It was named for an early Utah family, the Snows.
At 7011 acres of canyon country, and only a half hour’s drive from St George, it is one of the best State Parks I know that is near a population center. Chugach State Park in Alaska, in Anchorage’s backyard, has to take the prize for most awesome State Park near a town (if not most awesome period).
Snow Canyon has very interesting geology and botany. There are big and bold sandstone monoliths that form cross-bedded petrified sand dunes of the upper Kayenta Formation, along with the Navajo Sandstone. These two formations, which along with the desert dunes include sands and muds laid down by streams, were formed in the Jurassic, a period when dinosaurs roamed the river valleys and deserts of North America.
The sandstone, though it is much older, stands up above surrounding black lava rock. Normally, the older rock lies below the younger rock. Here, because you had lava flowing down an already eroded landscape, there is what geologists call “inverted topography”. The lowest parts of Snow Canyon are underlain by rocks as young as a few thousand years old, while the highest peaks are close on 200 million years old! The basalt was extremely fluid when it erupted (indicating a general lack of gases – water – in the lava), and so it sought out the low places between the sandstone outcrops. There is much time missing between the Navajo Sandstone and the more recent basalt.
This unusual geology has resulted in a varied and interesting topography, as well as a nice (for scenery) mix of desert soils and bare outcrop. The variety starts with color: the sandstone is red and white; the basaltic lava rock nearly black. The basalt, though it is much younger than the sandstone, has been much more weathered. So you will see a sandy desert soil over the basalt in the canyon bottom, with a fascinating assemblage of desert plants. This contrasts starkly with the nearly bare rock of the scenic red sandstone.
There are several varieties of cactus, a nice mix of pretty desert shrubs, and a few juniper trees scattered about. The basalt hosts an enormous variety of beautiful lichen, and the sandstone also has its share of this colorful symbiosis between algae and fungus. In moist north-facing alcoves, you will find mosses.
The animal life includes coyote and rabbit, along with the occasional mountain lion. A variety of birds, including spotted towhee, canyon and rock wren, and bluebirds make their homes here. Yes, you will hear the cascading song of the canyon wren here.
The park also has some history. Etched in the canyon wall are several pioneer names from the late 1800s. You know they are real because one of them was named Harman. Nobody these days names their son Harman!
This is the preferred outdoor workout place for several nearby fitness spa/ranches. So in the mornings you will see plenty of vans providing support for sweatsuit-clad “biggest losers”. They’re the ones who have that incredibly determined look on their red faces as they pass you, huffing and puffing, on the paved bike trail that traverses the length of the canyon. You will also see plenty of St George’s serious cyclists, clad in colorful lycra.
I think about taking things for granted when I visit places like this. I’m sure people who use this place for a daily workout venue appreciate its scenic beauty, but I wonder if they take the time to slowly walk through the draws and slickrock slopes here. I’ve been guilty of the same thing. Once you decide a place is for running/skiing/biking through, that is the way you always experience it. I think it is a pretty cool idea to occasionally just grab a camera (or binoculars if you’re a birder) and force yourself to go slow through your favorite local place.
I did just that – went slowly – during sunset and the succeeding Thanksgiving morning. At night I photographed the moonlit landscape and stars. In the morning, I found all sorts of “intimate landscapes” to photograph. When the sun became too harsh, I retreated to shaded canyons. The last time I was here it was springtime, and there were clouds to provide some pretty great light. Also, the plants had that desert-spring glow to them. But this time (autumn) was fine too! In fact, this state park is one of the best I’ve ever seen for landscape and nature photography. The possibilities are nearly endless if you take the time to explore the park’s nooks and crannies.
I hope you enjoy the photos. If you are ever in St George, make a point to make the short drive to Snow Canyon. I recommend camping at the small campground there, so you are up and at ’em for early morning photography. The light is somewhat more shaded during late afternoon in the park, as opposed to early mornings. But this depends, of course, on the season. Summer is likely to be extremely hot here, but having only been in spring and fall, I can’t say that it’s too uncomfortable. As they say, it’s a dry heat.
Remember that the photos you see here are copyrighted, so if you are interested in one, please contact me. You can also simply click on a photo to be taken to my website. They are much too small to be of any use if you were to try to download them anyway. Thanks a bunch for your interest and appreciation.