Dixie National Forest Utah – Caves and Hikes

Echo Cliffs, Route 89, Arizona.

Echo Cliffs, Route 89, Arizona.

Echo Cliffs, Route 89, Arizona. Lake Powell, Arizona

Lake Powell, Arizona

Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona

Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona.

Vermilion Cliffs, Kanab, Utah

Vermilion Cliffs

Cool cave, Mt. Carmel Junction, Utah

Cool cave nearby.

Pretty scenery, Mt. Carmel Junction, Utah

Scenic Utah.

Mammoth Cave entrance, Utah

Mammoth Cave entrance.

Entering Mammoth Cave, Dixie National Forest, Utah Inside Mammoth Cave, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Inside required a flashlight.

Low ceilings, Mammoth Cave, Dixie National Forest, Utah Exiting Mammoth Cave, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Looking out of Mammoth Cave.

Bowers Cave, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Bowers Cave entrance.

Climbing into Bowers Cave, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Mark climbs in.

Lava flow, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Lava flow.

Dirty snow in the Ice Cave, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Dirty snow in the Ice Cave.

Navajo Lake scenic overlook, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Navajo Lake.

Wildflowers, Dixie National Forest, Utah Bristlecone Pine, 2,000 years old, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Wizened old guy,

2,000 years old.

Bristlecone Pine, 2,000 years old, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Bristlecone Pine Tree.

Bristlecone Pine, 2,000 years old, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Bristlecone branches

resemble bottle brushes.

Bristlecone Pine, 2,000 years old, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Bristlecone pine cone.

Awesome views, Cascade Falls hike, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Views on Cascade Falls hike.

Hiking path on Cascade Falls hike, Dixie National Forest, Utah

The trail follows the canyon's edge.

Red rock scenery, Cascade Falls hike, Dixie National Forest, Utah Stunning vistas, Cascade Falls hike, Dixie National Forest, Utah Well-built stairs on Cascade Falls hike, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Stairs make it accessible

for everyone.

Red rock overhang, Cascade Falls hike, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Don't move or it might collapse!

Gorgeous red rocks, Cascade Falls hike, Dixie National Forest, Utah Trail snaking along the red rock cliffs, Cascade Falls hike, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Trail snaking along the edge of the cliffs.

The waterfall on Cascade Falls hike, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Cascade Falls.

Well groomed trail on Cascade Falls hike, Dixie National Forest, Utah Horses and riders at trailhead for Cascade Falls hike, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Horses and riders greet us on our

return to the trailhead.

Dixie National Forest, Utah: Deep Caves and Spectacular Hikes

Mid-August, 2011 - We left

Bonito & Wupatki National

Monument in Flagstaff, Arizona,

aiming for southern Utah and red

rock country.  We got our first

glimpse as we passed Echo Cliffs

where we jumped out of the truck

for a few minutes and ran around

taking photos.

The climate in this desert area is

dictated by altitude, and we

watched the temperature rise

from 75 degrees in Flagstaff at 7000' to 100 degrees in Page, Arizona where we had

dropped to just 3,000' elevation.  So our visit to Glen Canyon Dam and sighting of Lake

Powell were limited to viewings from the truck window as we drove by in the blazing heat.

Approaching Kanab, Utah we watched

the Vermilion Cliffs begin to loom on

our right, and once past, we set up

camp and started exploring an

unusual cave near our campsite.  This

cave was just a drainage culvert

under a road, but it had cool patterns

in the red and white sandstone.  Little

did we know that cave exploration

would become the theme of the next

few days.

We continued up the road to spend some time in the cool pines in Dixie National Forest where the altitude is 8,500'.  We had

seen a little marker on the map, "Mammoth Cave," and were curious what was there.  Like Sunset Crater in Flagstaff, this is

volcano country, and eons ago lava flowed as the volcanoes erupted.  When the lava began to cool, in certain places the molten

lava on the inside drained out from the cooling, hardening rock around it, creating a cave or lava tube.  Mammoth Cave is one

of these lava tubes.

From the outside it just looks like a big hole in the ground, but once

you are inside the cave the tube extends about 1/4 mile.

Bats live inside, using the cave for hibernation during winter.  Because

lots of folks visit the caves in the wintertime, the bats get woken up

again and again with each intrusion, depriving them of the rest and

energy conservation they rely on to survive the harsh winters.  So the National Forest Service has placed a grate over the main

tube entrance with a little dog door-like opening for people to crawl through during the summer months.  That way, by closing

and locking the "dog door" in the winter, they can prevent winter visitors from entering the cave and bothering the bats.

After watching a family ahead of us shake their heads and leave as

they decided they didn't need to explore the cave badly enough to

crawl through a dog door-like opening, we crawled into the yawning

darkness.  Instantly I was really grateful that I travel with a man who

likes to be prepared.  Mark whipped out a much needed flashlight and

then pulled a second one out of his pocket for me.  For some reason

"cave exploration" and "flashlight" hadn't connected in my mind ahead

of time.  I guess I was expecting lighted tunnels!

As we walked, the tube angled slightly, the bright light of the opening

disappeared, and suddenly everything was pitch dark.  I mean, inky

blackness surrounded us and I couldn't see my hands in front of my

face.  Mark's flashlight got a little dim and he teased me that it might

go out and then we'd be relying on my flashlight… and what if mine

went out too?  I stumbled at that thought, because you could get disoriented so easily in there.  I sure didn't want to look away

from the little circle of light I was casting ahead of me as I walked.  It was really eerie.

Eventually we reached the end and turned back.  Only afterwards, when we saw the

photos we took, did we really get a sense of what the inside of the tube looked like.

Other parts of the cave are

shorter in distance and

shorter in height too!

Leaving the cave I noticed

some really exotic patterns

on the roof.  Finally we

crawled back out into


We were in a quiet and remote

part of Dixie National Forest,

having driven down several small

dirt roads to make our way to

Mammoth Cave.  As we left we started checking out what was down some of the other dirt

roads.  There were boondocking spots galore, and lots of people with ATVs and

toyhaulers were set up for a few days of fun.

Suddenly we saw a tiny sign that said,

"Bowers Cave."  Mark spotted the cave

opening -- a small hole in the ground.  Like

Mammoth Cave, this is a lava tube that

was formed ages ago.  Someone had put a

tree trunk down into the hole to make it

easier to crawl down in.  A National Forest

Service sign outside the entrance said,

"Bowers cave is an undeveloped 'wild'

cave."  The sign went on to explain that

caving is a risky activity for those who

aren't knowledgeable or prepared.

Mark shimmied down into the darkness while I watched from a safe distance above ground, deciding I was neither

knowledgeable nor prepared.  He yelled up reports of what he saw.  He said it was a good sized room but he couldn't find the

tube leading out.  Apparently it travels some 950' but he returned to daylight without finding the path.  That was fine by me.

In the era when the volcanoes were active, flowing lava didn't leave

just vacant tubes behind, it also left enormous piles of sharp, jagged

black rock.  This stuff is razor-edged, and climbing on it is extremely

difficult.  We passed a large lava flow on our way out to see our last

cave:  the Ice Cave.

Like the other caves, the Ice Cave appears to be just a dark hole in the

ground on the outside, and you have to do a bit of scrambling to get in.

Here on August 19th we found there was still a large pile of dirty snow

leftover from last winter.

Granted, we had been told

that winter didn't really end

here until mid-July this year,

but still, a snow pile in August

is impressive.  Something about the

orientation, elevation and thickness of the rock

above keeps this cave very cold so the snow

doesn't melt.  A ranger told us that the man

who owned the land before it was acquired by

the National Forest Service had used the ice

cave to keep food cold over the summer

months, like a huge refrigerator.

After all this cave exploration we had had

enough of underground tunneling and were

ready for some above-ground activities.  We

drove past the scenic Navajo Lake overlook on

our way to the trailhead for the Bristlecone

Pine Trail.

This mile-long trail wanders through some

wonderful woods on a soft dirt path, and we

breathed deeply, filling our lungs with the rich

pine scent.  The Bristlecone Pine Tree is

considered to be the oldest living thing on the

planet, and we couldn't wait to see what it

looked like.

It turned out that there were quite a few of these

ancient trees on this trail, and the oldest ones

were about 2,000 years old.  The bristlecone

pine grows only in Utah and Nevada on high,

barren windswept slopes.  You'd think that the oldest

living thing in Nature (some trees in Nevada have

been measured at over 5,000 years old) would prefer

a fairly cushy existence, like a comfy retirement home.

But perhaps achieving that kind of extreme old age

requires a kind of gritty toughness that scoffs at any

but the most rugged lifestyles.

What makes the bristlecone pine tree able to live as

many as 60 human lifetimes is its ability to stop

growing all together when things get ugly.  When the

going gets tough -- drought, wildfire, etc. -- this old

tree just stops.  Maybe there is some wisdom in

that strategy.

What I liked about these guys is that they have a

fantastically wizened appearance, bent and twisted

into gnarled shapes.  Most of the tree is dead

wood, the heart of the tree seemingly laid bare to

the elements, the grain of the barkless wood clearly

visible in striated colors.  But a thin thread of life

snakes through the tree along a vein just under the

dead wood, and branches that resemble bottle

brushes hang in clusters from the living parts.

The Bristlecone Trail Hike had been one of two that a

forest ranger had recommended to us, and a day later we

tried his other suggestion, the Cascade Falls Hike.  "It has

a nice view and a waterfall at the end."  Hmmm… it might

be okay, but it didn't sound all that unusual.

When we took our first footsteps at the trailhead our

hearts leaped.  What an incredible view!  It turns out this

spectacular 1.6 mile roundtrip trail meanders along the

edge of a stunning red rock canyon.  You are positioned

about halfway up the cliffs, wandering along the contours

of the red rocks on a perfectly groomed gravel trail.

Our cameras clicked along at full speed.  Every

view in every direction was gorgeous.  A little

brother and sister, about 3 or 4 years old, walked

along with me for a while.  They couldn't wait to

get to the waterfall, but all along the way they

were saying "Wow, look at this!  Look at that!"

I felt the same way.  The

whole trail was a feast for

the eyes.

Forest rangers have

installed really solid stairs in

certain places, so people

young and old can enjoy this

rare hike.  From the little kid

on dad's shoulders to the

oldest grandma with a

hesitant step, everyone on

the trail wore a grin from ear

to ear.

Utah's canyon country is full of surprises like this.  This area would no doubt

be a national park if it were located in any other state.  But Utah is so

overloaded with national parks that a little gem like this is just that, a special

gem to be enjoyed by the public without the fees, hype, extensive literature,

crowds, "do's and don'ts" lists and the roaming rangers that are so often a

part of the national park experience.

It was a Saturday afternoon, so Dixie

National Forest was teeming with Las

Vegans escaping the heat for a few

days.  But the trail, although busy and

loved, was not overcrowded.

We turned a corner and suddenly the

sound of rushing water filled our ears.  It was crashing down

the rocks through the lush greenery far below us.  A few

more twists and turns along the canyon walls and suddenly

there it was, Cascade Falls, in front of us.

The little boy I had seen earlier was

standing on the viewing platform

staring at the falls.  "Look at that!" he

said to me.

"Wow, that's awesome!" was the only

response I could come up with.

We hiked back out vowing not to take any more

pictures.  But the cameras wouldn't quit.  Even at

the parking lot at the trailhead the cameras kept

going as two horses and riders showed up at the

edge of the woods.

We had come to this neck of the woods to see

Cedar Breaks National Monument, but we'd

already spent a week in the neighborhood without getting there yet!