Red Rocks Revisited

Even though I set my intentions to see “all new things” on my southerly migration this year, there are a few favorite stops that I just can’t bypass, one of which is my favorite state park in the little Snow Canyon just outside of St. George, Utah.

I first visited Snow Canyon while staying at the Red Mountain Resort back in 2006 for Thanksgiving weekend as a “spa getaway.”   I took several of the guided hikes from the resort which sits at the gateway to the state park.  It was my first experience ever hiking slick rock, and my first time to ever hear “trust your shoes.”   I can still remember pointing my toes down the petrified dunes for the first time, expecting to slide but instead feeling like I had little suction cups on the bottom of my shoes.  I hiked all over those dunes feeling like I was Spiderwoman.

Since that time, I’ve returned to Snow Canyon every time I am within close proximity.  It has always been a “happy place” for me.  A place that feels sunny but refreshingly brisk.  Intimate yet expansive.  Adventurous yet safe.   I never tire of roaming over those giant slickrock dunes.img_0519

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Looking down into the campground in Snow Canyon State Park.

Looking down into the campground in Snow Canyon State Park.

This is now my fifth visit to the little Snow Canyon, so I vow “no photos” this time. I am just going to take in the warmth and beauty of the red rocks via osmosis as opposed to behind the lens of the camera. I plan to soak up the other senses…the gritty feel of the sandstone as I sit and bask. The cascading musical notes of the Canyon Wren as its melody trills across the echoing canyon walls. The smell of the pinyon pine as the sun heats up the resin in the bark. I have four years of the same photos, though. So no pictures this time…

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But I can’t help myself.  I’m not a half hour into the hike until the red rocks begin to put on a show in the early morning light, daring me not to pull out the camera.  The undulating waves of sandstone all appear new to me, as if painting a different scene with the same palette.   Before I know it, I am crouching down to capture the angles, marveling at the variegated colors of the canyon as it graduates from the pale green sagebrush to the vibrant red of the sandstone topped by black lava-capped ridges against the white cliffs of sandstone as a backdrop against a pale blue sky.  There are as many colors on the horizon as there are reasons why I am in love with this canyon.

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Concretions coated in iron turn into "moqui marbles."

Waves of Navajo sandstone look different from every angle.

Waves of Navajo sandstone look different from every angle.

While visiting the canyon last year with the “red rocks gang,” we ended up in a yet to be explored trail leading through Padre Canyon on the far western edge of the trail map.   Following wandering footprints in the sand while dodging deep waterholes, we ended up in a side canyon requiring a good bit of scrambling to eventually rejoin the “official” trail near the top of the saddle.   I’d since been curious to see where we wandered off the trail.  So this trip, I decided to approach it from the opposite direction.

Cliffs on the side of the canyon glow a neon red.

Cliffs on the side of the canyon glow a neon red.

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It’s departure day, so I have to be out of the campground by 2:00pm.  I don’t have time for the entire 6 mile loop, so I decide to cut the hike in half by dropping the Tracker off in the parking lot of the Tuacahan Center for the Arts.  I’ll hike up and over the saddle, down through Padre Canyon and back to the campground where the Winnie is packed up and ready to roll.  I’ll then swing back by the parking lot and pick up the Tracker on my way out of St. George, thereby creating my own shuttle service.    I am halfway across the parking lot when I realize I have left the Winnie keys locked in the glove compartment of the Tracker.   That would have been a costly mistake, both in time and energy!

Looking up at the saddle which I must cross to reach Padre Canyon.

Looking up at the saddle which I must cross to reach Padre Canyon.

The sun reflecting off the red rock gives an added warmth.

The sun reflecting off the red rock gives an added warmth.

One of my "side routes" up the landslide leads me to this "Georgia O'Keefe-like" structure.

One of my “side routes” up the landslide leads me to this “Georgia O’Keefe-like” structure.

The route-finding up the Tuacahan Saddle seems even more difficult to me than coming the other direction, but that’s most likely because I am the one doing the finding, whereas last time, I was following.  I feel like I am scrambling up a landslide of volkswagon-sized boulders.  I have to backtrack several times, but eventually find a clear path to the saddle.

Looking southwest from the saddle, back toward Tuacahn parking lot.

Looking southwest from the saddle, back toward Tuacahn parking lot.

Looking north from the saddle, down Padre Canyon.

Looking northeast from the saddle, down Padre Canyon.

Heading down the Padre Canyon trail.

Heading down the Padre Canyon trail.

Heading down the other side through Padre Canyon is much easier, as the trail is visible looking down the canyon.   I see where we got off track last year, as the official trail curves far toward the west, whereas we followed the path of least resistance up the eastern side of the canyon.   I end up back in the Red Sands wash far too soon, as I slog my way back through the deep sand to the campground with time enough for a shower before check-out. Curiosity now satisfied, it made a repeat visit feel new again.

Looking north, the trail swings wide across the western side of the canyon.

Looking north, the trail swings wide across the western side of the canyon.

Nearing the end of the Padre Canyon trail.

Nearing the end of the Padre Canyon trail.

After these water pools, the trail intersects with the Red Sands Trail.

After these water pools, the trail intersects with the Red Sands Trail.

Note:  For anyone attempting this hike, please be aware the “Three Ponds” trail that appears on trail maps was recently renamed the “Red Sands” trail.   I was told this was done because families set out across the deep hot sand in search of actual ponds for swimming, ergo the new name, “Red Sands” trail.

14 thoughts on “Red Rocks Revisited

  1. We too had to learn to trust the grip of our hiking boots. The first time you do it you are sure they are going to give way and skin a knee for sure! We later found out that not all hiking boots have such gripping power and you have to be careful!

    • Jim and Barb, you bring up a good point that not all hiking boots are equal. If one is thinking of a slickrock adventure, I recommend hiking boots with “Vibram” soles. You can usually see their emblem stamped on the bottom of the boot. My personal preference is Merrels.

  2. Red Mountain Resort? I think that’s where we went for a Thanksgiving spa getaway back about six years ago. It’s right on the Colorado River, if I remember. It was soooo cold be we hiked that Negro Bill Canyon anyway. And my husband introduced me to slick rock. Amazing! This state park is on my list.

    • Hi, Betty — I think you might have stayed at “Red Cliffs Lodge” which is in Moab, UT near Negro Bill Canyon. The Red Mountain Resort is not near any water source. Both are equally beautiful! Thanks for the comment.

  3. So many times we have been through St George, only stopping for gas. Your pictures and narrative bring the red rocks to life, but we’ve got to stop and experience Snow Canyon for ourselves!

  4. This is a neat little park. I love that there is so much slickrock that you have lots of exploring options. We did the Three Ponds trail. Boy, that deep sand sure wipes you out fast. Looking/finding a swimming hole isn’t going to happen! It is so hard to not snap those photos when hiking in the rocks with great views. Beautiful photos! Glad you got lots of photos to share:)

  5. In the memory bank of my mind our girlfriend trip to Red Mountain Spa (2007) was a mere Slug Fest of wonderfully delicious food (Green Chili Pork Posole, Portobello Pasta, etc etc) and laid back massages and pedis. Your gorgeous photos prompted a review of my journal to recall that guided “Sandcove Slickrock Hike” I took one afternoon. The words “poignant”, “cathartic” and “epiphany” are underlined in red. Thank you for reminding me of that wonderfully challenging afternoon so long ago which resulted in a (kept) life changing promise to myself that day. I am in awe that you make these extraordinary hikes on your own! My admiration of your daring grows with each trek you share. :-)

  6. Once Red Rocks get into your blood (and vice versa :), you just can’t stop heeding their call. What is it about RED that looks so good on mountains… women… Corvettes?
    Box Canyon Mark… red with envy.

  7. Nothing wrong with re-visiting, and sharing photos, especially when seen through new eyes and trails. Only visited Snow Canyon once but with Sasha along hiking was limited. Love that red rock. Hope you’re not burnt on red rock after this last canyon hike. 😉

  8. That’s great you redid the Padre hike, but in reverse. Good thinking on the self shuttle as well. Lucky you remembered those keys. Only trouble is you missed out on all that cool bush whacking in the “wrong” canyon

  9. Beautiful as always Suzanne, just stunning pictures! I am so happy I get to see these places through you! When I get to actually go, I’ll have a great guide blog! Hope all is well!! Happy Holidays!

  10. Ever since I read The Complete Walker, I’ve been aware that one is better able to see when not taking photographs. Still, the compulsive among us must document our adventures. When I do take a hike with binoculars (Always!) but sans camera, I always see more and, frequently, enjoy the environment and my experience more thoroughly. Still, what’s a blog entry about beautiful red rocks without some photos?

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