Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Cedar Breaks

Monday we went back up to the higher elevation, near where we hiked on Sunday, but this time to Cedar Breaks National Monument, which is around 10,500 ft.  We could see this area from the Brian Head hike, but it is much different once you get into the national monument.  It is an amphitheater, formed millions of years ago through uplift and erosion, and is quite similar to Bryce Canyon National Park with many narrow fins and hoodoos down below the rim of the amphitheater.  Mostly red rock formations, but there are some different shades, attributable to the different levels of iron ore deposits, as well as some bright whites.  Much of the white rock areas appear almost like crushed rock, and indeed the footing can be slippery in places.  What Cedar Breaks is most known for, though, are the abundant wildflowers, and we were fortunate to be here right at the peak of their Wildflower Festival.  Sue Ann and Jim had hiked here a couple of weeks ago and said that many of the wildflowers had not yet come out, but Sunday was just a spectacular array of different colors and species.  We've been to flower festivals and shows before, as well as man-made gardens, but it's hard to imagine anything more spectacular than the completely natural display of all these wildflowers we saw here!

We started out with a hike along the rim of the amphitheater, starting near the visitor center, where we first hiked through a small field and then into a stand of pines and aspens--then suddenly, you come through the trees to the rim and wham!--there it is--gorgeous views of the red rock fins and hoodoos below!   It was indeed very much like Bryce, though here you can't hike down onto the canyon floor like you can in Bryce.  But you get some remarkable views of these geological formations, and the erosion that formed these fins and hoodoos at Cedar Breaks is actually older than that in Bryce.  Here we saw scarlet paintbrush, lupine, Markagunt penstemon, bluebells, Colorado columbine and many more varieties.  There are also some remarkable specimens of bristlecone pines here, with at least one of these trees having been dated to over 1600 years old.  The twisted trunks and branches of these trees are just so interesting, especially the ones that have died, either completely or partially, with their intricate patterns of swirls in the grain.  Lots of aspens are here as well.  We also saw several marmots and chipmunks along the way.  Another little creature that populates the area is the pika, but though Sue Ann and Jim have seen them here before, we didn't get to see any of these on this hike.

After this hike we drove a little ways to an area where the friends of Sue Ann and Jim's who joined us to watch the fireworks on the 4th had told us the wildflowers were at their peak.  We hiked to the Alpine Pond, and through the subAlpine meadow, where we saw just thousands and thousands of gorgeous flowers--just an unbelievable show!  Colorado columbines were out in abundance, and, while the ones in Colorado are typically white and blue--and we saw some like this--many of these at Cedar Breaks are pure white.  I think this is one of the most dramatic flowers ever, and very showy.  We saw lots more larkspur here, and thick growths of Aspen bluebells, with lush green leafy plants and tons of blue blossoms.  Part of the hike was near a stream that winds its way through the forest, and a number of these species of wildflowers thrive on moisture more than others, so in these areas the greenery was heavier than out in the more open areas.  Really loved seeing several concentrations of parry primrose, a brilliant fushcia blossom.  When we got to the pond, its banks were surrounded by fields of yellows, mostly showy goldeneye and plantain leaf buttercup.  Trisha was really taken with this particular display, and spent a while just sitting amongst these beautiful yellow flowers, taking it all in--we could have stayed here for hours!  Just amazingly beautiful and totally natural.

After a while, though, the clouds began to form and darken, and the rangers at the visitor center had told us that some severe thunderstorms were forecast for midday, so we decided that, however beautiful these flowers were, it was best to get outta Dodge before they arrived!  At this elevation, with the temperatures in the high 50's and low 60's, we really didn't want to get wet.  So we drove down into the town of Cedar City for lunch and then saw the premier of a stage adaptation of Jane Austin's Sense and Sensibility, put on as part of the annual Shakespeare Festival here.  This is a wonderful theater program, where not only Shakespeare plays, but others as well are put on at several different venues, mostly in and around the campus of Southern Utah University.  It was a delightfully funny and entertaining production, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  Drove back to St. George and had one last dinner at Sue Ann and Jim's home.  What a wonderful visit we've had with these dear friends!  Just like last year, they spent a lot of time planning an itinerary for us that showcased so much of the natural wonders and beauty of this gorgeous country.  Just a superb time we had!!

Starting out to the rim trail hike

 Colorado columbine
 Aspen bluebell
 Here it is!

 Isn't this columbine just so pristinely beautiful?!

 Telephoto shot of the end of the rim trail, where we were headed
 This marmot was keeping an eye on us, just to make sure we didn't cause it any trouble!!

 Look at the contrast between the brilliant white color on the left, the red rocks and the green behind
 Sue Ann, with Jim and Trisha up ahead

Monument plant
Jim's always scouting out the best way to go!
That's Brian Head in the distance, where we hiked the day before
These scarlet paintbrush flowers are so beautiful, sometimes in clusters, as here, sometimes scattered among other blossoms of different species
Two paintbrush flowers, poking through the leaves of the base of this monument plant

Columbines in various stages of opening

Jim, getting a closeup of some lupines and scarlet paintbrush

Southern legusticum
Lupine and larkspur
Bluebells and paintbrush

Some more little marmot friends!

Jim always like to stay on the edge!
Though this may look like it was shot upside down, it was taken over one of the white ledges, down into the canyon floor where the rows of fins and hoodoos are
Beautiful twisted trunk of a bristlecone pine

Coming up on one of the most spectacular bristlecone pine trees in the area--all these twists and swirls just seem to tell so many stories of the changing weather, the massiveness and power of nature, and, when you stop to think about it, a humbling reminder of how we humans, who too often think of ourselves as the supremely important ones, are but temporary sojourners on this earth

The new pinecones are just brilliantly red!
Baby marmot, whose home is in a hole at the base of the tree, venturing out for a walk
Don't step back, Jim!!

Another beautiful tree

Trisha took this cool picture of our shadows
Cute little marmot, on the tree trunk
Trisha, a true tree hugger!
True friends, for years and years

Picture of a pika

There's just no way these photos can give you even an inkling of the immensity of these wildflowers--walking along the trail through thick patches of bluebells and lupine was just something that can't be adequately portrayed through photos, but it was mighty impressive!

Parry primrose

Monkshood and larkspur
Heartleaf bittercress
Plantainleaf buttercup

Loved this image of this log, floating on the surface and its shadow on the bottom

Sue Ann sitting in the Garden of Eden!
Trisha, sitting among the yellows!
Sue Ann and Trisha smiling all morning!!
Another interesting tree trunk
Unfortunately, beetles have destroyed much of the forest; here the bark shows the beetle tracks
In Sue Ann and Jim's home
These windows looking out over the mountains give them some spectacular views

In their back yard
These are the views out their dining room window--pretty cool, huh??!!

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