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Bryce meets the BardBryce meets the Bard

Cedar City, UtahCedar City, Utah

Explore Utah's Cedar Breaks National Monument, the park with hoodoos similar to those at Bryce Canyon, but without the crowds. The Scottish-Mormon homesteader Ebenezer Bryce once called the hoodoos “a helluva place to lose a cow.” He never could have guessed the then-tiny settlement of Cedar City would someday host a Shakespeare Festival hailed as one of the world’s foremost regional theaters. Each year more than 150,000 fans of the Bard flock to the five-month season of plays and musicals, presented in the brand-new Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts.

  • The Cedar Breaks Amphitheater (the “breaks”) is 2,500 feet deep, and its colorful, eroded hoodoos echo those of Bryce Canyon. The inevitable outburst when you first hike up to this scene is, “Wow!” With hiking elevations around 10,000 feet, you’ll want to have a jacket handy, even in summer, and don’t forget sunscreen. Bring a lunch, as there are no restaurants within the monument. Photo by Mike Saemish.
  • The Cedar Breaks Visitors Center, located at Point Supreme, is a rustic log cabin with a large, battered stone chimney built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The five-mile Cedar Breaks Scenic Rim Drive leads to three other viewpoints: Spectra Point, Sunset View, and Chessmen Ridge. Choose from several hiking trails that offer amphitheater views, wildflower-filled meadows, and forests of aspen, fir, and spruce. Certain rim areas harbor bristlecone pines, the earth’s oldest known living organisms. Some specimens here are at least 1,650 years old. Photo courtesy NPS.
  • The hoodoos at Bryce have eroded out of the plateau’s eastern edge and so look most spectacular at sunrise. The hoodoos at Cedar Breaks have eroded out of the plateau’s west side and glow most beautifully just before sunset. Photo by Rob Whitmore, NPS.
  • Camping is available in Cedar Breaks at the Point Supreme Campground. Each site has a picnic table and fire pit. Restrooms, showers, chopped firewood, and water spigots are nearby. Photo courtesy NPS.
  • The Milky Way, viewed through bare aspen in early spring. Dark skies make for excellent star viewing, and park staff conduct star parties at Point Supreme, free, Saturday nights July through Labor Day and some other nights; check the website. Photo by Rob Whitmore, NPS.
  • From Brian Head you can see down to Cedar Breaks. A lush sub-alpine forest of aspen surrounds Cedar Breaks and glows with fall colors by late September or early October. Zion’s maples and cottonwoods wait another month to show off, due to their lower elevation. Photo by Mike Saemish.
  • At Brian Head, mountain bike trails vary from mild like this one to wild, steep and rocky, with panoramic views of the mountains and Cedar Breaks National Monument. Photo by Mike Saemish.
  • A Utah Shakespeare Festival production of “The Taming of the Shrew.” Photo by Karl Hugh.
  • Unlike the colorful and delicate hoodoos of Cedar Breaks and Bryce, Zion is characterized by huge chunks of relatively pale, towering Navajo Sandstone. Zion is a name sometimes used as a synonym for Jerusalem. Mormons think of it as the place where they will be gathered in a future paradise. Visit Zion National Park and you’ll understand how it got that name. Its entire valley could be a giant natural cathedral, with towering stone temples that draw your gaze inevitably skyward. To partake of the quintessential Zion experience, a climb to the summit of Angel’s Landing, exit the shuttle at The Grotto. The trail is only 2.4 miles long and starts off easily enough, following the Virgin River. It then becomes steeper, with a series of switchbacks to Scout Lookout. Photo courtesy Zion Mountain Ranch.
  • Many folks on the Angel’s Landing hike turn around at Scout Lookout because the final half-mile of the ascent has you climbing to the precipice via a narrow rock trail with sharp drop-offs on both sides, holding onto a chain so you don’t fall off. It’s a thrill, though, and the view is spectacular. Photo by Tony Crabtree.
  • Hikers, tiny in this photo, make their way up to the top of Angel’s Landing. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
  • The other great Zion hike is the Narrows: Continue on the shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava. You’ll take the easy one-mile Riverside Walk and then wade into the river and continue walking upstream. In less than another mile, the red canyon walls close in above. Never enter any narrow canyon or slot canyon if you see clouds or if thunderstorms are predicted. Check weather at the Visitors Center. As with flying, know before you go, then heed the warnings! If you go far enough up the Narrows, you might get waist-deep and may even need to swim some sections. It’s strenuous; proper footwear and hiking poles are essential. Photo by Jon Sullivan.
  • Zion is popular, but, if you’re willing to explore further afield, you can find quiet places to marvel at the sandstone and perhaps spot bighorn sheep, elk, deer, foxes, beaver, owls, rock squirrels, caterpillars, rhinoceros beetles, or damselflies. Though you don’t often see them, you can listen for the canyon wren’s sweetly cascading song. A California condor even sailed over Angel’s Landing a few years ago. Photo courtesy NPS.
  • Western-style luxury abounds at Zion Mountain Ranch, three miles outside Zion’s east entrance off Highway 9. This 3,500-acre working ranch is home to bison that often wander into view as you sit on the porch of your rustic-chic private cabin or lodge (one has a sauna). The Buffalo Grill offers fine local and seasonal cuisine, and you can choose from guided hikes, fly fishing, horseback riding, canyoneering, mountain biking, or just get a massage and relax. Photo courtesy Zion Mountain Ranch.
  • Compare the mood, clouds, and landscape of this painting to the previous photo. Maynard Dixon, one of our greatest painters and illustrators, loved the West and captured its grand vistas like no one before or since. Visit his home and art studio just outside Mount Carmel. Photo courtesy Thunderbird Foundation.

In summer, early morning is usually the smoothest time to fly over mountains or deserts. Cedar City Regional, at 5,622 feet, is mountainous desert so that advice goes double. Sphere One has courtesy cars, but you’ll probably want a rental.

Cedar Breaks National Monument marks the top of the “Grand Staircase” of the Colorado Plateau. This mini-Bryce Canyon of rosy hoodoos is just 35 minutes east of Cedar City on Utah Highway 148 and generally open to vehicle traffic from late May to mid-November, depending on snow levels—see photos for more information and inspiration! Cedar Breaks is home to more than 260 wildflower species, and free guided walks and family activities are offered during the annual wildflower festival in July.

One of the highest points in the entire Colorado Plateau is Brian Head, at 11,307 feet msl, just north of Cedar Breaks. If it’s man-made thrills you seek, Brian Head Resort offers zip lines, mountain biking, disc golf, archery, hiking, tubing, and wall climbing, plus skiing in winter and year-round excellent lodging and dining. The fall colors here are mind-boggling!

Pa’rus Trail is the only leashed-pet-accessible trail in Zion and starts right at the Visitors Center. Zion Ranger Rosie Retriever wants you to know that the new pet waste stations on Pa'rus Trail ensure she limits her impact by leaving only paw prints in her national park. Photo by Jonathan Fortner, NPS.

Each year from late June through mid-October, the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival presents matinee and evening performances of Shakespearean and modern plays in repertory. The new facilities include the Englelstad Shakespeare Theatre, an outdoor replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. There are also two indoor theatres. Many more activities surround the featured performances and create a festive, in-depth experience. Fee events include backstage tours and Repertory Magic (where you see how they change the sets so quickly). Free events include play orientations; actor, costume, prop, and play seminars; and The Greenshow, a 30-minute frolic of music, dance, storytelling, and Elizabethan sweets, held in the nearby Greenshow Commons prior to the main performance. The Best Western Town and Country Inn is just a 15-minute walk from the Shakespeare Festival grounds and even closer to shopping and restaurants, including The Grind Coffeehouse.

At Mount Carmel Junction, you’ll see a neon Route 66-type sign that says, “Thunderbird Restaurant, Home of the Ho-Made Pies.” Founder Jack Morrison spelled home-made pies as ho-made so it would fit on the sign. In today’s vernacular it takes on a new and hilarious meaning, only strengthened by the sign’s scantily-clad maiden spilling out of her corset and holding a cherry pie. So, take your photos, step into this institution (since 1931), and revel in a slice of chocolate or coconut cream pie, or indulge in the apple or cherry a-la-mode with an old-fashioned French vanilla ice cream that will take you back to a simpler time. Photo by Crista Worthy.

One of Utah’s “Big 5” national parks, Zion National Park can be crowded in summer. Still, if you’ve never been there it’s worth a visit. Plus, if you have time, you can make Zion part of a 150-mile counter-clockwise loop road trip from Cedar City. To visit the best-known portions of Zion, drive south on I-15 and then turn east onto Highway 17 to Springdale (about 60 minutes total). Through late October and weekends in November, you’ll use a shuttle to navigate the park. After 10 a.m., you’re better off parking in Springdale and taking the shuttle from there, or you can continue into the park. Shuttles are free but don’t allow pets. The Zion Lodge is conveniently located at the halfway point of the valley’s scenic drive; guests may park here. Stop for information at the visitors center to plan your day. Popular hikes include Angel’s Landing, the Narrows (see photos for details), and the short-but-steep Weeping Rock Trail that ends at a dripping spring. Rock climbing is allowed in some areas; check with a ranger at the visitors center.

The majestic scenery of the area has inspired artists for more than a century, and Springdale is home to good galleries like the Worthington and David Pettit. Western-style luxury abounds at Zion Mountain Ranch, three miles outside Zion’s east entrance off Highway 9. Fifty minutes east of Springdale in Mount Carmel, the hand-built cabin/studio of famed Western artist Maynard Dixon is open for tours, occasional painting workshops, and other events. Fuel up at the Thunderbird Restaurant; from here it’s another scenic 75 minutes northwest past Cedar Breaks back to Cedar City.

Cedar City can be the gateway to your midsummer night’s dream vacation. You’ll feast your eyes upon vistas familiar to Bryce, scenes familiar to the Bard, and an outdoor cathedral so magnificent it’s named for Paradise. It’s easy to see why generations of artists have set brush to canvas in these canyons. Theater, art, and incomparable scenery will fill your senses and you may depart for home inspired to create new art of your own.

Cedar Breaks sits near the top of the Grand Staircase, that vast area of the Colorado Plateau that steps up from the Grand Canyon in a series of cliffs to Brian Head and finally Boulder Mountain, atop the Aquarius Plateau north of Boulder, Utah. The hoodoos of both Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks have eroded out of the pink Claron Formation, limestone originally formed at the bottom of a long-vanished freshwater lake. The soft stone erodes quickly into fantastic shapes. Geology and cross section by Peter J. Coney. Click to see larger image.

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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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