CANNONVILLE, Utah — There’s a very colorful state park in southern Utah that gets overlooked, despite its distinctive rock chimneys from long-dead petrified geysers.
Kodachrome Basin State Park gets little respect, lost amidst the glitter of its more famous neighboring national parks: Bryce, Zion, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches. It is also surrounded by Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument that covers 1.9 million acres.
But Kodachrome Basin is a desert gem. At an elevation of 5,800 feet, the park lies 22 miles east of Bryce Canyon National Park and nine miles south of Cannonville. It is in the heart of Utah’s “color country.”
Kodachrome Basin offers remoteness, desert solitude and reddish cliffs, along with its distinguishing features: 67 rare, whitish monolithic limestone towers.
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The tallest chimney or sand pipe is 170 feet high and the shortest is 6 feet. They appear to stand as rock sentries towering above the park. Most are 30 to 50 feet tall and are more than a little surreal. The basin has more spires of its kind that any other place in the world.
The views of the rock formations change with the sunlight, as does the contrast. Some jut upward from the valley floor. Others tower above surrounding cliffs and outcrops.
Geologists believe that the spires formed when liquefied sand hardened inside ancient geysers. That may have resulted from earthquakes or the remnants of ancient springs.
The calcite and feldspar inside the geysers’ pipes remained after softer exterior rocks of Entrada sandstone eroded away.
Kodachrome Basin is believed to have been very similar to Yellowstone National Park — with hot springs, geysers and boiling mud pots.
Visitors from the National Geographic Society in 1948 suggested naming the 2,241-acre park for the color film. The society led a photo tour via automobiles in 1947 into the little-known Escalante Lands of southern Utah. Society members suggested changing the name of Thorley’s Basin or Thorny Pasture, as the place was locally known, because of the contrasting colors in the pretty little valley.
The film had been introduced commercially in 1935 and was first used in the society’s famous magazine in 1936. Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y., proudly agreed to the name change in 1949. Kodachrome Basin became a state park in 1963.
The park’s green color comes from the dominant juniper, plus pinion pine.
It features eight short hiking trails. They include a half-mile nature trail and Panorama Trail, a three-mile loop that is the longest in the park. Panorama Trail includes a second loop of two miles and several side trails. It leads to Panorama Point.
The Panorama Trail takes you to Ballerina Slipper spire, the wide-brimmed pedestals of Hat Shop and Secret Pass, a narrow passage between red-rocked walls. It also takes you past a rock spire that looks like cartoon and film character Fred Flintstone. Mountain bikes are permitted on the Panorama Trail and on park roads.
The Grand Parade Trail stretches 1.7 miles on the canyon floor and past two box canyons, and Cool Cave Trail is two miles long with stops at Big Bear Geyser and Cool Cave.
Eagle’s View Trail climbs a quarter-mile via a steep, narrow path to provide an up-high look at the park.
Shakespeare Arch is 20 feet across and 90 feet high in a small out-of-the-way cove. It is a one-mile round trip to get there. Angels Place Trail is a one-mile loop that offers great park vistas from atop a butte. The Nature Trail offers a look at rock formations and desert plants.
The park is classified as semidesert in the Upper Sonoran Zone, with plants and animals that must adapt to drought as well as extreme heat and cold.
Animals include mule deer, mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, gray foxes, black-tailed jack and cottontail rabbits, rock squirrels and chipmunks, along with birds, snakes and lizards.
Kodachrome Basin is not big or fancy. It offers 27 tent and recreation vehicle sites with restrooms, showers and a sewage disposal station. The campground is open from April through September.
A park concessionaire, the Trail Head Station, rents cabins in the heart of the park, sells supplies and offers guided horseback and stagecoach rides in season. The cabins include full baths and showers and air conditioning. Call 435-679-8536 or 435-679-8787 for information.
The park charges $6 admission for day use. The overnight camping fee is $15.
One nearby attraction is Grosvenor Arch, a double arch 10 miles south of Kodachrome Basin off Cottonwood Canyon Road. It is one of the largest arches in Utah and is found in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Contact Kodachrome Basin State Park at 435-679-8562. Camping reservations: 800-322-3770. Cabin rentals: 435-679-8536.
State Route 12 is a major route through southern Utah, a land that is a geological playground. It is a National Scenic Byway, one of 120 in the United States. It is also an All-American Road, one of only 31 so designated by the Federal Highway Administration.
The federal designation stretches 124 miles between U.S. 89 in the west and Torrey in the east at Capitol Reef National Park.
Its most striking feature may be the Hogback, a narrow ridge with steep drops on both sides of the road between Escalante and Boulder.
There are turnoffs for motorists to stop and admire the sandstone Escalante Canyons carved by the Escalante River and its tributaries. Nearby are Upper and Lower Calf Creek Falls.
You can hike to Upper Calf Creek Falls. It is a slickrock round-trip hike of four miles. The trail is marked by stone cairns. It is a hot, scrubby, exposed landscape.
It leads to the 88-foot-high cascade in a shaded, green alcove at the head of the canyon. The Escalante River and its tributaries were the last streams in the United States to be discovered, named and mapped.
Lower Calf Creek Falls, where the stream drops 126 feet into a green pool in a cliff-bound canyon, attracts more visitors. It is at the end of a 3.1-mile one-way hike.
At its western end, the highway bisects the popular Red Canyon in Dixie National Forest, a one-time hideout of outlaw Butch Cassidy. There are 14 trails that stretch 34 miles in that 41,400-acre tract.
It skirts must-see Bryce Canyon National Park, a beautiful place with thousands of hoodoos, the eye-popping red-orange spires or pillars of rock that are the park’s most defining feature. The 35,835-acre park offers a spectacular badlands landscape that is bewitching.
You can admire the park’s distinctive rock formations from an 18-mile scenic drive on Rim Road off state Route 12 — with dozens of overlooks. You can also hike into the hoodoos.
The powerful blend of rock and color shifts with the light. What you see in the morning is different from what you will see in late afternoon or at twilight. There are warm yellows, browns, oranges, pinks, reds, greens, whites and purples that spill from the bizarrely shaped spires, monoliths, fins, mazes, fluted walls, sculptured pinnacles and deep ravines.
Early settler Ebenezer Bryce said of the oddly shaped terrain: “It’s a helluva place to lose a cow.” Bryce visitors will agree.
The park offers a visitor’s center, lodge with three suites, one studio, 70 motel rooms and 40 cabins (open April through October), two campgrounds, restaurant and general store. Admission is $20 per car.
For information, call 435-834-5322 or see www.nps.gov/brca. The lodge is managed by Xanterra. Call 303-297-2757 or 888-297-2757 for reservations and information. See www.xanterra.com and www.brycecanyonlodge.com.
From Bryce, Route 12 then runs along the northern edge of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
You can get off Route 12 onto dirt roads that are designated scenic backways; these will take you to less traveled scenic areas. That includes Hole-in-the-Rock Scenic Backway and Burr Trail Scenic Backway.
Grand Staircase-Escalante has visitor centers in Cannonville, Escalante and Boulder.
Willis Creek Narrows is another attraction. The stream narrows to 4 feet with cliffs more than 200 feet high. It is a colorful world of rock, water and shadows. It is one of many slot canyons in the national monument.
For information, contact the Cannonville Visitor Center, 435-679-8981, www.ut.blm.gov/monument.
There are numerous outfitters in Escalante and Boulder (the two towns are 29 miles apart) that provide guided trips, shuttles and one-day excursions to slot canyons and other nearby attractions.
The prime seasons to visit are mid-March through May and again in September and October.
For information about Route 12 and its attractions, there are two contacts:
—Garfield County Travel Council, 800-444-6689; www.brycecanyoncountry.com.
—Wayne County Travel Council, 800-858-7951; www.capitolreef.org.
You can also contact the Utah Travel Council, 800-200-1160, www.utah.com, and Utah State Parks and Recreation at 801-538-7220, http://www.stateparks.utah.gov.