October 28, 2016  •  1 Comment

February 2016



Day 3 Map (Continued)

01 2016-02-10 Map #04a Zion, Red Canyon, Bryce01 2016-02-10 Map #04a Zion, Red Canyon, Bryce


In the map, Zion National Park is circled in lower left, Bryce Canyon is circled in upper right.  Red Canyon has arrow pointing to it.

After our morning and lunch in Zion National Park, we headed over to Red Canyon which is a state park within the Dixie National Forest.  It is located at the west end of the Scenic Route 12 Byway just a few miles west of the turn off to Bryce Canyon.  You go right through it when you travel from Zion NP to Bryce NP. 

Red Canyon is sort of the appetizer to Bryce Canyon’s main course.  It has a lot of the same feature types and colors as does Bryce, but is way smaller in overall scale.  One main difference, beyond magnitude, between Bryce and Red Canyon, is that in Red Canyon you are at the bottom of the Hoodoos looking up rather than at the top looking down.  Of course in either park you can hike to gain different perspectives but if your view is limited to short walks from the car Red Canyon gives you that “other” point of view that you won’t get at Bryce.

So what, pray tell, is a Hoodoo?   Hoodoos are tall skinny spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins and "broken" lands.  In common usage, the difference between Hoodoos and pinnacles or spires is that hoodoos have a variable thickness often described as more like a totem pole-than a Roman column." A spire, on the other hand, has a smoother profile or uniform thickness that tapers from the ground upward.  Hoodoos come in all sizes from a few feet to exceeding the height of a 10-story building.   They are formed in sedimentary rock by the erosion patterns of alternating hard and soft rock layers. In this area the hoodoos got their start 40 million years ago when this rock was born, as they say, in an ancient lake that covered much of western Utah. Minerals deposited in this lake formed the different rock types and cause the hoodoos to have different colors throughout their height.

Eventually the lake went away and the entire area of the country lifted up.  At the Grand Canyon as the area was lifted upward by tectonic forces the Colorado river carved its way down – more or less staying at the same elevation as it had been.  In the Bryce area though there was no mighty river to form a large canyon as the land rose.  However there was weather.  Hoodoos are formed by two processes that continuously work together in eroding the edges of this uplifted area called the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The primary force is frost wedging. For example at Bryce there are over 200 freeze/thaw cycles each year. In the winter melting snow seeps into the cracks and freezes at night. When water freezes it expands prying open the cracks making them ever wider in the same way a pothole forms in a paved road.   This forms fins of rock where the cracks follow the slope downhill.   After a bit the fins form cracks crossways (perpendicular to the slope) which eventually erode leaving the hoodoo.

In addition to frost wedging, what little rain falls here also sculpts the hoodoos. Even the crystal clear air of this area creates slightly acidic rainwater. This weak carbonic acid rounds the edges of hoodoos and gives them their lumpy and bulging profiles.  Another factor is that mudstone and siltstone layers interrupt the limestone and as each type of rock is more or less resistant to the acid rain than others they erode at different rates causing undulating sides.  Many of the more durable hoodoos are capped with a special kind of magnesium-rich limestone called dolomite. Dolomite, being fortified by the magnesium, dissolves at a much slower rate, and consequently protects the weaker limestone underneath it in the same way a construction worker is protected by his/her hardhat.

As the hoodoos form, pieces of rock that come loose fall into the ravines between the hoodoos.  Normally this debris would just pile up till they reach the top of the hoodoos making for a very unspectacular view.  So, another important part of the process is rain.  From time to time thunder storms come through and drop monsoon amounts of rain all at once which washes the loose debris out of the canyons and down into the valley below, allowing us to see the hoodoos.   There is some concern that with global climate change those summer “washout” events may subside over time leaving the debris at the bottom of the hoodoos and eventually covering them up.  We’ll have to wait and see.

A legend of the Paiute Indians, who inhabited the area for hundreds of years before the arrival of those pesky illegal “American” immigrants from the east, claims the colorful hoodoos are ancient "Legend People".  These Legend people were turned to stone as punishment for bad deeds.  Most of these Legend People hoodoos had names that could be found on park service maps.  However, in many cases when pieces fell off the hoodoo no longer looked like what it was named for which annoyed the tourists.  So, they’ve stopped printing the names on maps and such except for a couple that were too famous to ignore such as Thor’s Hammer in Bryce.  So, now you are free to come up with your own names as you wish.  I made up all the formation names on the photos.

The portion of Route 12 through Red Canyon is only 4.3 miles long and there are several places where you can pull off the road and take hikes up into the hoodoo’s.  There is also a visitor center (open in summer only) and a campground.  The highway (going from west to east and north) takes you up a river valley through Red Canyon and up onto a higher plateau.  Most of the time there is no water in the river so you can walk up the dry riverbed.  There is also a paved bike path paralleling the road through most of the park.  And, of course there are numerous hiking trails ranging from easy to difficult.  But, unlike Bryce, the total elevation difference between the bottom where the road is, and the top of the hoodoo’s is way less than in Bryce and much easier to hike.

We went through Red Canyon 3 times on this trip.  On the way into Bryce we spent an hour or so here photographing the hoodoos with snow on them (or at least on the ground nearby).  Then after not getting a good sunset (no clouds) at Bryce on another day, we decided to try our luck back at Red Canyon the next late afternoon and were treated to one of the most spectacular sunsets I recall seeing.  Then our third trip through Red Canyon was on the way out on our trip home.  

Hoodoos in Red Canyon from the side of the road

Red Canyon SP  from Thunder Mountain Trailhead #1Red Canyon SP from Thunder Mountain Trailhead #1


Snow covered slopes with Hoodoos poking out

Red Canyon, UT #2Red Canyon, UT #2


Castle Corner in Red Canyon

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Father and Son in Red Canyon

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Three Knob Tops, Red Canyon

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Fork Tree, Red Canyon

Red Canyon SP Utah #3Red Canyon SP Utah #3


Homer Simpson, Red Canyon

Homer Simpson at Red Canyon State Park, UTHomer Simpson at Red Canyon State Park, UT


Down log

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Gateway Sentinels, Red Canyon

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Castle Tower, Red Canyon

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Afternoon light on Red Canyon

Red Canyon SP Utah #7Red Canyon SP Utah #7


Route 12 through Red Canyon at last light

Red Canyon from golden Wall Trailhead #1Red Canyon from golden Wall Trailhead #1


Red Canyon Sunset

Flaming Sunset over Red Canyon SP, Utah #2Flaming Sunset over Red Canyon SP, Utah #2


Red Canyon Sunset

Flaming Sunset over Red Canyon SP, Utah #3Flaming Sunset over Red Canyon SP, Utah #3


Red Canyon Sunset

Flaming Sunset over Red Canyon SP, Utah #4Flaming Sunset over Red Canyon SP, Utah #4


Red Canyon Sunset

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I hope you are enjoying reading the Red Rock Country travel log.  The next installment will be Scenic Byway 12 through the Grand Staircase and Escalante areas.  


- Images of this trip can be found on my website at.






Thanks for reading -- Dan


Those are great freaking photos, Dan! And your narrative would be of considerable value to a person considering a trip near this area. (The photos and narrative enthuse me.) The writing is so good (professional, really) that I question the source. It's Dan Hartford? You're not pulling a "Biden" on us, right? If the words are yours, then you are due serious kudos. I had no idea you could write that well. Larry :)
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