By Golden Webb
Tis the season of spring baseball, NBA Playoffs — and red rock camping, fishing, hiking, biking and off-roading. Utah’s high ranges are still snowed under, but the Colorado Plateau is in the midst of its yearly vernal metamorphosis: The sun is shining, the trees are budding, and the cactus rose is on the bloom. If cabin fever’s got the kids bouncin’ off the walls, here’s a great southern Utah spot big and beautiful enough to absorb your family’s restless springtime energy.
Kodachrome Basin State Park, located in the heart of what geologists call the Grand Staircase, is one of Utah’s best camping destinations for families. If your cabin fever’s at 106 degrees and rising, and you’re itching to take to the road with the family to get a healing medicinal dose of shining sun, blue sky and stunning desert vistas, Kodachrome Basin is the place to go.
Kodachrome Basin is situated in a kind of natural cul-de-sac, a hidden valley that abuts the rugged badlands of the Kaiparowits Plateau. Against a backdrop of blue-gray shale cliffs to the east, and under the shadow of the polychrome scarps of Bryce Canyon to the west, Kodachrome’s wondrous tableau of towering limestone spires rise from the desert dust. This is the kind of scenery one associates with the Old West . . .with cowboys riding off into the sunset, six-guns smoking.
Kodachrome was originally named Thorley’s Pasture for a rancher, Tom Thorley, who ran cattle there. That all changed in 1948, when a party from the National Geographic Society came through the region. Inspired by the spectacular rainbow hues displayed in the rocks, the party’s leaders felt inspired to name the little valley Kodachrome Flat for the color film that was then being made famous by the Society’s magazine. After a rumor circulated that Kodak was unhappy with the park’s nomenclature, the Bryce Lions Club came up with “Chimney Rock State Reserve” — a name that referred to the park’s many tall and slender rock spires. As it turned out, Kodak decided it missed the free advertising, and the basin has been officially known as Kodachrome Basin ever since.
Over 180 million years of geologic time are recorded in Kodachrome’s brilliantly colored and ever-changing rocks. Amid the park’s many awe-inspiring rock formations are towering, monolithic spires called “sedimentary pipes,” which are unique to the area and reflect its geologic past. Scientists believe that the Kodachrome region was once very similar to Yellowstone National Park, with numerous underground springs and geysers. In time, the subterranean thermal spring channels dried up and filled with sediment, which solidified into rock. The softer Entrada sandstone surrounding these ancient geyser plugs, vents or tubes eroded away and left behind free-standing pillars and spires. Approximately 67 of these rare chimneys have been identified at Kodachrome, ranging in height form two to 52 meters. (Local cowboys-cum-shyster-artists like to tell gullible strangers that the pillars are actually “petrified postholes.”)
Ever since the 1930s, when the Civilian Conservation Corps put a road through to the basin, the Kodachrome area has been a favorite family picnic and camping locale. The park’s campground loop contains spacious, private sites sheltered by towering sandstone cliffs and shaded by large junipers and pinyon pines. There are numerous hiking trails in the park, including a self-guiding nature trail with numbered markers and a brochure located at the trailhead that describes the natural history of the region, which is rich and varied. In addition to mixed Utah juniper and pinyon pine groves, the park supports sagebrush, rabbitbrush, cliff rose, yucca and prickly pear cactus, as well as native grasses and many seasonal wildflowers. Antelope ground squirrels, cottontail rabbits, chukars, coyotes, gopher snakes, lizards, rattlesnakes, and the occasional mule deer are animals you might see at Kodachrome; mountain lions haunt some of the more remote coves and canyons. The resident, noisy pinyon jays and ravens are ubiquitous, and vultures, hawks and golden eagles can be spotted soaring overhead most of the year.
In addition to hiking and picnicking, Kodachrome offers mountain biking, horseback riding and, of course, photographic opportunities. The Panorama Trail is open to mountain biking and offers several loops, ranging from three to six miles. Cyclists also enjoy biking the park roads. Horseback riding is permitted on Panorama Trail and on the one-mile Grand Parade Trail. A private concession (Trail Head Station, located at the center of the park) rents horses and offers stagecoach rides.
For mountain bikers and four-wheel-drive enthusiasts, the Cottonwood Canyon road leads south from the park. This graded dirt and gravel road (passable only in dry weather) follows the Cockscomb, a major flexure in the earth’s crust that divides the Grand Staircase and Kaiparowits Plateau regions. Cottonwood Canyon road provides access to the sinuous narrows of Round Valley Draw, and also accesses Grosvenor Arch, an intricate double arch considered by some to be the most impressive of Utah’s many spectacular arches.
Deer Creek Campground: Located six miles southeast of Boulder along the Burr Trail road, Deer Creek Campground contains two RV camping sites and five tent sites. The campsites are located along Deer Creek, which flows off the east side of Boulder Mountain and contains brook, cutthroat and rainbow trout. The campground accesses great fishing and hiking along Deer Creek and in adjacent canyons in the spectacular upper/eastern Escalante drainage, and also serves as a great base camp for four-wheel-drive forays onto the Burr Trail. Facilities/Accommodations: toilets; Fees: $4 camping fee; Information/Reservations: (435) 586-2401, www.ut.blm.gov:80/monument/Visitor_Information/hiking.html.
Calf Creek Recreation Area: This beautiful, BLM-maintained recreation area is located 15.5 miles east of Escalante off Utah Highway 12. Calf Creek Campground contains five RV sites and 14 tent sites, and accesses the spectacular Lower Calf Creek Falls, located at the end of an easy 2.7-mile (5.4 miles round-trip) hike that begins at the north end of the campground. There’s also good fishing along the creek. Facilities/Accommodations: drinking water, picnic tables, toilets, volleyball court; Fees: $7 camping fee, $2 day-use fee; Information/Reservations: (435) 826-5600, (435) 586-2401
Escalante State Park: Located one mile west of Escalante off Utah Highway 12, Escalante State Park contains a petrified wood forest, fossilized dinosaur bones, Fremont Indian artifacts, and the 140-acre Wide Hollow Reservoir, where visitors can fish for rainbow trout and bluegill, go canoeing, or watch for Canada geese, terns, ducks, coots and grebes. There’s also a visitor center, with displays of mineralized wood and dinosaur bones. The campground has 21 RV and tent sites. Facilities/Accommodations: Canoe rentals, drinking water, dump sites, picnic tables, showers, toilets; Fees: $13 camping fee; $4 day-use fee; Information/Reservations: (435) 826-4466; (800) 322-3770.
If you go:
Distance from Salt Lake City: 270 miles
Best seasons: Spring and fall. This is also a good summer destination if activities are limited to morning and evening hours.
Guidebooks: Jan Bannan, Utah State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide, The Mountaineers Books; Tony Huegel, Utah Byways, The Post Company; John V. Young, State Parks of Utah: A Guide and History, University of Utah Press.
Access: From Cannonville on Utah Highway 12, go nine miles south on the Cottonwood Canyon Road (follow the signs and placards).
Facilities/Campsites: Facilities include a 27-unit campground and two large group areas suitable for family reunions or group outings. Each campsite contains a picnic table, cement slab, and barbecue grill. Fresh spring water and firewood is available all year. Restrooms with shower facilities and full-service camper cabins are also available. Trail Head Station is located at the center of the park. The store provides information, film, food, ice and supplies. Trail Head Station also offers guided horseback and stagecoach rides into remote and picturesque areas of Kodachrome.
Fees: Camping: $13; Day-Use: $4 per vehicle; Five-day Pass: $15
Campsite Reservations: (800) 322-3770.
Contact Information: Kodachrome Basin State Park, PO Box 238, Cannonville, UT 84718-0238 (Phone: 435-679-8562); Utah Division of Parks and Recreation, 1636 West North Temple #116, Salt Lake City, UT 84116-3156 (Phone: 801-538-7220; Hearing Impaired: 801-538-7239).