1933: National Monument
About the SiteA huge natural amphitheater has been carved out of the wildly colorful Pink Cliffs near Cedar City, Utah. Cedar Breaks is more than 2,500 feet deep and three miles across, and the visitors center on the rim is over 10,200 feet above sea level. The view above the rim is lined with Englemann spruce, subalpine fir and aspen; broad meadows of brilliant wild flowers enchant in summertime. The amphitheater was created first by millions of years of sedimentation deposits back when Utah was covered by a vast inland sea. Then the ground was thrust up, and eroded by streams and rainfall to create a magnificent canyon of rock walls, fins, spires and columns.
What You're Going to SeeFantastic views of colorful cliffs and eroded rock spires are yours, from the visitors center parking lot! Nothing is subtle about the great natural amphitheater, wrapped in bold and brilliant colors. This is not one of Utah's famous Sites, but it's possibly the most immediately dramatic. Cedar Breaks is a product of many of the same forces that created the Grand Canyon, Zion Canyon, and Bryce Canyon, but it's a work of nature not quite like any other.
It's shaped like a huge colisseum, carved by millions of years of uplift and erosion in the steep side of the 10,000-foot-high Markagunt Plateau. Apart from the fantastic colors, the shape of the rocks themselves astonish first-time viewers. Stone Spires, columns, arches, and canyons of intricate design are amazing to see. Different combinations of manganese and iron give the rock its reds, yellows and purples. Early Indians called this the Circle of Painted Cliffs.
There are two short trails to take -- The Alpine Pond trail, and the Spectra Point/Ramparts Trail. Both offer great views of the amphitheater. The Alpine Pond trail is a 2-mile self-guided loop trail through meadows and forest. A high point is the small spring-fed pond. You can buy illustrated trail guides for both this and the Spectra trail, and I recommend you do. The Spectra trail leads for one mile to the Spectra Point Overlook. It will also take you past an ancient stand of bristlecone pines.
Personal ObservationsWow. I loved this place. Sure I'd heard of Zion and Bryce and Arches, but until I got caught up in National Parks I'd never heard of Cedar Breaks. It's a little surprising, since it's actually more accessible than any of those three better-known parks. Cedar City, Utah is right off I-15, and is a good destination town on its own. From one point on the rim overlooking Cedar Breaks, I could see Cedar City down below, about ten miles away (as the crow flies) and 5,000 feet lower.
The colors are unbelievable. Who knew there were rocks like this? Yellow, red, purple, orange, cream -- I was there on a partly cloudy day, and the blue sky and white clouds just highlighted the natural beauty of the place. The ski resort of Brian Head is visible to the north. I found myself taking picture after picture of the canyons down below, trying to capture the fins and spires and seemingly tiny arches. There still was snow there in late June, in shaded spots. For that reason, the Monument is pretty much closed from mid-October through May. The snow buries the roads. Winter accumulations of 10 to 15 feet aren't uncommon, though the drought of recent years has seen less than that.
I highly recommend hiking the Alpine Pond loop if you get the chance. It's a two-mile loop that's fairly easy, although you should remember the rim is over 10,000 feet above sea level. My three boys of 13, 9, and 6 had no problem with the trail. We were a little bit early for the best flowers, I think, but there were a few good places in the meadows and between the trees, plants and flowers that just shone with color. We even had time for a little snowfight. There were a few places along the trail that offered overlooks of the canyon, and a few places where we could walk the other direction and catch the road, if we had gotten tired.
Getting ThereTake I-15 from Las Vegas or Salt Lake City to Cedar City, Utah. Go east on Highway 14 for approximately 17 miles to the Hiwhway 148 turnoff. Go north for about three miles and you'll find the visitors center.
Nearby AttractionsCedar City is an excellent jumping-off spot for southwestern Utah, or a destination in itself. Brian Head ski resort is about ten miles to the north. Zion National Park is 40 miles to the south. Another 60 miles southeast beyond that is Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. Pipe Springs National Monument is 80 miles to the south. To the southeast are Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Capitol Reef National Park is about 90 miles to the northeast. Bryce Canyon National Park is 40 miles to the east. Las Vegas is about three hours southwest on I-15, and Salt Lake City is about four hours north on I-15.
Visited June 2004.