St. George

At the end of March, camping plans dashed by mid-week rains were replaced with a weekend in St. George. (This decision was reinforced when we woke to several inches of snow Friday morning.) We left Friday afternoon to make the four hour drive, and it was immensely pleasant to leave a world of white behind for the vibrant green of desert spring. We stayed with Ryan and Lisa at her mom’s home in St. George which was a nice change of pace from camping or Airbnb.

Since this was a make-up weekend for us (see Yant Flat), I had a couple of things I wanted to do. First on my Utah bucket list was Snow Canyon State Park. Since we couldn’t take the dogs to Snow Canyon, we went back to the house to pick them up before lunch. We grabbed tacos at Angelica’s per Lisa’s recommendation. Reinvigorated, we set out for our afternoon hike. Lisa and I had chosen two potential hikes both in Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA). We thought we’d try the lower section of the Red Reef Trail first and squeeze in Babylon Arch at the end of the afternoon.

Located at the end of the Red Cliffs Campground, the Red Reef trailhead has a decent amount (but not abundant) day parking. It was far more crowded than we anticipated and no parking spots were available. I think some people were parking elsewhere and walking along the road, but that didn’t appeal to any of us and neither did the promise of a more-crowded trail. We decided we’d rather try our luck with Babylon Arch instead.

Gorgeous view from the main trailhead

On the opposite side of I-15 in a different section of the NCA, we reached the trailhead via a fairly well-graded dirt road (with some rough spots). There are two trailheads for Babylon Arch: one just off the main road and another slightly closer one at the primitive campground. We could (and later did) drive to the closer trailhead, but we chose to hike from the first to get in some extra mileage. (Though by the end I think we all secretly wished we had parked closer.) It was clear we had made the right decision. There were only 5-6 other cars in the main lot.

Arriving at the primitive camping area

The trail was fully exposed and beginning at the farthest trailhead meant the small dogs tired more quickly. By the time we arrived at the second trailhead, Belle had already given in to the comfort of Lisa’s pack. We went down a steep sand bank and began to follow a cairned route through layers of sandstone. It was a steady descent – which was fun and easy – and we soon found ourselves at the crest of an incredibly steep hill of deep sand. It was steep enough that I decided to carry Tru. It was actually fun to descend; we simply let our feet sink and slide with each step.

From our approach, the arch wasn’t very appealing. It was shrouded by scraggy juniper trees. But on the other side it was spectacular. The arch itself was cave-like underneath offering a lot of shade. We had the arch to ourselves, so we rested a while then took some photos.

Babylon Arch hidden by juniper
Babylon Arch from its better side
Well camouflaged

The Virgin River was nearby – and the true end of the trail – so we continued a little farther and found a gentle approach to the river bank. Sasha was thrilled, the other dogs less so. After spending 20 minutes at the river, we turned back toward the arch and began the hot, more arduous trek out. Sufficiently exhausted – none of us had seen that much sun in a while – we retired for an evening of burgers, beers, and relaxation.

Spot the arch
Tru hitches a ride for the return
Walking the road back to the main TH with a stunning view of the Pine Valley Mtns.

In the morning we all took our time, tidied up the house, and parted ways. I was interested in hiking to the Snow Canyon Overlook while Lisa & Ryan went off in search of Toquerville Falls.

Loacted outside of St. George in the Dammeron Valley, our hike on Sunday was much cooler and pleasant. The trail was fairly rocky with little discernible elevation gain, maybe a little uneventful even, but tranquil. Bounding rock to rock was enough to sufficiently wear Truman out by the time we reached the final couple hundred yards of deep sand (ugh). As the landscape opened up, we knew we were closing in on the overlook.

Lovely view of the Pine Valley Mtns. at the beginning of the trail
Our view opens up

Just an offshoot of the Red Mountain Trail, the overlook is probably most hikers’ destination. Even still, there were only two other groups of hikers the entire time we were there. Having visited the park the day before, it was fun to get a different perspective of the canyon.

The sun was rather high in the early afternoon, so while our view was spectacular in person, there might be a better time of day to photograph the canyon. We could see clear to the city of St. George and beyond to Arizona. It was a stunning view and more than worth the slightly boring (but enjoyable!) hike. We sat for a while and ate our snacks, explored other angles, and then turned back toward the trailhead.

From the Dammeron Valley we drove back to St. George passing Santa Clara Volcano and the Cinder Cone inside the state park but outside the main canyon. We weren’t in a rush to return home, so we opted to stop at Kolob Canyons, a section of Zion NP off I-15.

Kolob Canyons are included in the Wilderness area of Zion and see significantly less traffic than the main canyon. There are a few trailheads and opportunities for several-day backpacking trips into the canyon, but we were interested in the five mile scenic drive – a brief detour. There are a few beautiful spots along the way, but the panoramic view along the final climb to the top is stunning. The weather had turned colder and windier since we’d crossed to the other side of the Pine Valley Mountains, and this was certainly the case within Kolob too. The overlooks were quite breezy. It was worth the detour though as one of our last trips to that section of Utah for what may be quite a while.

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