Category Archives: Southern Utah

rock canyon rap

Exploring Canyons ofSouthern Utah

As an avid hiker, explorer, and outdoor lover, living in a place like Saint George Utah can be overwhelming. Amazing hikes surround us here, to the point where even after fifteen years of exploring the area, I still get to find new adventures every year. The BLM wilderness Southeast of Zion National Park is a massive, wild, backcountry area full of slot canyons, 4×4 roads and mountain lion tracks. This year I finally stepped foot into this area to explore some canyons I had never seen before.

At Paragon Adventures, we always strive to give our guests a unique experience, and as some of the areas we use become more popular, we find new ones. For months, owner and lead guide of Paragon, Todd Goss had his eyes set on a few canyons in this area, as possible remote canyoneering routes for our guests, and the weather was finally warm enough to go see it for ourselves.

We drove to the trailhead and loaded up onto the Honda Pioneer: a 1000cc ATV that seats five people. Now the adventure begins. Riding on the soft sand is almost like boating over mid-sized waves, except on a boat, you don’t have to dodge trees and navigate the network of confusing trails, marked only by thin, brown, numbered posts, which are hard to read as you speed past them at thirty miles per hour. Some trails were so narrow, we had to duck away from the edge of the ATV so as to not have our ears scraped off by the trees we swiped. Upon finding the parking spot, we quickly hiked downhill through the sand, as the terrain gradually became sandstone. There was still ice on the ground, which, on such a steep slope, could have sent us on a long, fast descent to the bottom of the canyon, had we slipped on it. The drainage we followed turned out to be the exact one we hoped for: Joe French Canyon. We reached a 200+ foot drop off with an incredible view of the Parunuweap river ahead. We found the easy hike down and descended a steep trail full of loose rock and deer tracks. This was clearly the only way down without rappelling. At the bottom we looked up at the big 200+ foot wall we bypassed to see it had a sheet of frozen ice on its lower half. Todd’s expensive camera was immediately deployed and put to good use.

As we worked our way downstream through Joe French Canyon, we quickly encountered flowing, clear water. We put on our wet suits and canyoneering shoes. The first step into the shallow water was met with surprise and laughter as some of us sunk up to our knees in quick sand. Now, even more cautious than before, we passed through the rest of the thickly-vegetated canyon, marveling at the unique plants growing flat against the canyon wall, as if glued there. Even Kenn “the Biologist” couldn’t identify this plant. The canyon quickly ended at the Parunuweap river which is the east fork of the Virgin River, and due to the snow melt it was flowing more heavily than expected. We tucked our cameras and phones into dry bags and began hiking downstream through waist deep water. This can be tougher than most would think. Three out of the four seasoned guides we had out there that day all fell into the water at one point due to not being able to see what we were stepping on in the murky water. This is good though, as it gives us something to laugh at throughout the day.

Our goal was to get to the narrow and technical portion of the canyon, called Fat Man’s Misery. Fat Mans is not in Zion National Park, which means we CAN guide here. We hoped to find the way in, through, and back out of this part of the canyon. After about three quarters of a mile through the deep, gorgeous canyon, which required countless waist-deep river crossings and a few unplanned falls/baths, we reached Poverty Canyon. This is a side canyon that feeds into the Parunuweap River. We hiked up the short tributary about a quarter mile until it suddenly became very narrow. Todd’s eyes lit up and again, out came his camera. These deep, narrow sandstone canyons are a nature photographer’s dream, especially with “canyon light.” This refers to the way sunlight becomes more and more colored as it reflects off of red and orange canyon walls on its way down to you at the bottom of slot canyons. We could easily have spent hours here but we had a goal. After several quick photographs, we moved along, back to the Parunuweap river.

We continued downstream, encountering a series of large mountain lion tracks that followed the river, and seemed to cross in some spots where we would not. This was one big, bold cat that left these prints! We reached a spot where we could not go any further without some serious down climbing on wet boulders through a raging waterfall. We decided this was not the time of year to be going through this section of the canyon. If it is too rough for us, then we would not be taking guests down it anyways. We would have to return when the river was lower, later in the year. We continued to eat snacks and make fun of each other on our long hike back to the vehicle.

We had seen three amazing canyons in one day, all of which most visitors to the area will never see. We had a world class adventure in our own backyard, and after re-ascending the long, steep hike out of Joe French Canyon and looking back at the network of slot canyons, slick rock, green trees and blue skies, I realized that I had barely even scratched the surface of this area. We had just explored one tiny hair on the head that is Southwest Utah. That’s alright. I like feeling small. We will definitely be back. Finally we reached the Honda Pioneer, changed out of our wet suits, and sipped cold water. As we climbed back into the Pioneer, and realized that Todd was now in a hurry to get home,  I thought “I better buckle up. This adventure’s not over yet!”

White Pocket

Marbled sandstone

White Pockets

It is difficult to get the term “sedimentary chaos” out of my mind as I wander across the jumbled convolutions of White Pocket Arizona. The normal explanations for the colors, striations and crossbedding of the Navaho layer seem fantastically inadequate for the geological craziness that stretches off in every direction. It feels like I am walking around in an Escher painting and at some point I begin simply attributing everything to leprechauns and stop trying to imagine how all this rock got so geologically befuddled, which is not to say that the amazement factor is diminished in any way.

White pockets is a long way from nowhere, and mid February road conditions start at terrible and degenerate from there.  Turning off of highway 89A onto House Rock Valley road is a transition of time traveling proportions, from the predictability of 21st century asphalt to the frozen rutted clay of the 1850’s. Nine miles never seems very long at highway speeds, but when your head is being smashed into the driver side window with regularity, it makes me realize that thirty miles per hour is actually pretty damn fast after all.  Turning off onto the “sand roads” of the Paria Plateau are actually a relief until I realize that the violent bashing has simply been replaced with being sucked into the earth, as we traverse through the softer portions of the “road”.  So the stress of being bludgeoned is simply replaced by the stress of being buried alive.

Fio Antognini standing in for the  big guy in white pocket

Fio Antognini standing in for the big guy in white pocket

Arriving at the combination parking / camping area of White Pockets is both a stress relief and anti-climax at the same time. Perhaps I am jaded from twenty five years of tramping around some of the more remote and spectacular corners of the region, but at first glance it does not really live up to its billing, and I begin to regret the punishment that both body and vehicle have endured in getting to what appears to be basic blanched polygonal sandstone dune deposits that are easily visible, and with far less travail, five miles from my house. A brief stroll through the barrier sand dunes leads onto a lichen speckled, white gray sandstone that rises towards a ridge. Here my usual expectations are simply decimated, as the boring wash that I expect to find on the other side is actually a small valley simply alive with a universe of inexplicable stripes, swirls, whirls, and some kind of geologic marbling that resembles nothing more than a fine steak. While I am visually overloaded and stand slack jawed at the sweep of color and texture extending in 3 directions, the silence that this landscape lies steeped in, gives it a sense of drama that no theme music could improve on. A frenetic landscape marinated in a stillness so complete that the blood running through your ears becomes so obviously audible that you begin to wonder if others can hear it as well.the kaisers helmet

The desert southwest is renowned for landscapes that epitomize the word “grandeur” and yet so many of these are vast vistas which the human mind is ill equipped to grasp, the prime example of which being the Grand Canyon.  White pocket is intimate and intricate with few areas so steeply inaccessible that human fingers have yet to caress the textured stone, and offering a new delight around every turn.  It is an area that lends itself to an aimless saunter across bowls, through drainages, over ridges and around reflecting pools of water in the right season, the fringe of soft sand lapping against the edges of stone like waves at the shore.the golden alcove

Venturing out on the surrounding sea of sand, landfall is made at the surrounding mesas that rise as islands of color and texture. Switch backing up the millennia is to follow a rising seam of deposited stone, eventually moving to the next younger cross bed in a new direction, climbing an exposed slope in the process. The north end of the seemingly insurmountable White pocket mesa is approachable with this technique, and with each foot of elevation gain new wonders begin to reveal themselves. Pristine piles of sand lie in the wind shadows next to deep pools of winter rain. Alcoves hide multi hued bands of gnarled and eroded stone fins with so many variations on the color of gold, that an actual nugget would be unnoticeable, and comparatively banal. Few places offer this wealth of wonders in such a compressed area, and are still free from the odious permits, online lotteries, group size limits and law enforcement typified by the popular Coyote Buttes areas to the north.

It is worth hoping that the difficulty of the driving approach through the deep sand will continue to leave White pocket as a place that attracts a kind of explorer looking for the less traveled and untrammeled.last light on wihite pocket

Directions:  Best approached from the south via highway 89A  turn onto house rock valley road and travel north for 9 miles to road 1017 (there is a coral near this intersection)  Follow 1017 for 6.1 miles (going around the ranch house in the middle of the road) and turn left onto 1087. stay on 1086 for 9.3 miles to the parking and camping area on the left.

Roads:  The soft sand roads necessitate 4wd and good tires. Lowering your tire pressure may permit passage when the surface gets deep. Consider a means of re-inflation afterwards.

Preparedness:  No services, no gas, no water,  no cell coverage,..nothing. Bring everything that you will need.

 

Navajo Lake

Navajo Lake Mountain Biking

The Coolness

 

Growing up east of the Rocky Mountains leaves a person unprepared for the effects of high elevations above sea level. In the middle of summer heat and humidity, the distances that you would have to drive to the north to experience a 40° temperature drop anywhere east of Kansas would be in the thousands of miles. Around here you can make that drive on a quarter tank of gas, and not break any traffic laws in the process.

 

I left St. George in the late morning of mid June, as the temperature was cresting the final few double digits, and began an inexorable climb above the sweltering zone of the low Mojave desert. By the time I reached the Silver Reef exit on the interstate the temperature was already cool enough to turn off the air conditioner and roll down the windows (though conventional wisdom now says that this is less fuel efficient than keeping the AC running). Passing through Cedar City and beginning the climb up Cedar canyon, I actually had to progressively roll the windows up due to the wind chill that I was encountering.

 

Though I have driven this route hundreds of times over the past couple decades, I am always dumbstruck by the speed at which the landscape changes over so few miles. Crossing over the Hurricane fault and climbing up onto the Colorado plateau is a journey through 100 million years of geology, and a graduate course in ecology at the same time. The rate of ascent is evidenced by the speed at which the vegetation changes from Utah juniper to bristlecone pine over the course of 20 miles. The color green changes from sage to spruce and the tans and browns are left behind in the flats of the Great Basin; replaced by riots of wildflowers in the sudden meadows.

 

The road finally flattens and begins to follow the contours between cinder cones and vast lava flows, and yet flat is not necessarily the word that springs to mind up here, as there are peaks, mesas, and summits in every direction covered with spruce, columbine and waves of volcanic blocks that stretch to the horizon. Small dirt roads depart from the pavement disappearing into the fir and aspen and leading to who knows where. I try to explore one of these on every trip up here, choosing a random track that heads into the forest and onto the unknown. Usually these roads quickly degrade towards the high clearance side of 2wd, and often cross over the point of four. Mostly they lead nowhere special and yet each of them offers an opportunity to flex muscles of discovery that have atrophied since the closing of the frontier, and admittedly the end point is also a great place for a nap in the cool mountain air.

 

Perhaps the last thing one expects to encounter at the top of a mountain is a lake. With its propensity to flow downwards, water would seem to have little opportunity to stay put here, as down is nearly all there is. So as highway 14 turns through an aspen grove, the blue water of Navajo lake always comes as a surprise. The fold in the mountain that holds the lake is blocked at the far end by a lava flow, without which there would likely exist only a winding stream and grassy meadow. Yet the basalt blockage also prevents this particular lake from having any visible outlet at all, leaving only volcanic cracks in the lake bottom as the means of escape. The water flows nearly a mile underground before it exits from a cave on the rim of the plateau. This is the birth of the North fork of the Virgin River, and from here it tumbles down the slope of the Markagunt plateau, carves the incredible canyons of Zion national park, and the Virgin River gorge before feeding into lake Mead, 8000 vertical feet below its spectacular beginning.

 

I come up here as often as our demanding guiding schedule permits, both to escape the oppressive heat and to enjoy some of the most beautiful mountain biking in the region. The single track trail that surrounds Navajo lake is the perfect diversion in just about every meaningful way. Departing from the Te-ah campground at the far end of the lake, the trail winds back and forth across a contour line as it dives into spruce and aspen woods and alternately emerges onto a wildflower studded meadow above the lake. A few up hills keep things honest, but generally I pedal as much as coast, the only disappointment being that it does not go on forever. At the far end of the lake the trail actually continues through the lava flow plug via what is an amazing feat of trail building. Vast amounts of gravel and volcanic cinders were brought in and used to create an elevated trail over the jagged rocks that would puncture both tires and skin. After crossing the North fork road the trail slowly climbs up onto a hillside before it begins to parallel both the road and the lake. The riding always seems darker on this side as the forest is dense fir and spruce, the shade is deeper and the soil richer.

 

Swooping through a shady tunnel of trees and plowing through the hidden pockets of coolness on a summer morning is an incredible experience that comes as close to something spiritual as I believe I can have while riding a bicycle. At this point the trail offers a wide range of loop options, from bailing onto the north fork road to climbing up onto the Virgin River Rim trail with a couple of nuanced options in between those two extremes.

Virgin River Rim Mountain Bike Trail

Leo Boren on the Virgin River Rim Trail

 

Departing the Navajo loop trail and climbing to the rim via the Navaho trail (confusing) is the most punishing and brutal of these choices. I have found many trails that were harder that I could not ride, but none so barely ride-able and yet at the same time so relentlessly steep and bereft of oxygen. It is a battle of will power and pride verses gravity and altitude, and every time I ride here, I actually both dread and anticipate the point at which I have to decide to take on the challenge or pass it by for an easier option.

 

9000 feet above sea level is over a mile higher than where I live in St. George, and the price paid for the cooler temperatures up here is the lower air pressure, and fewer oxygen atoms that you get with every lungful of air. Just walking around up here makes me breath harder, and riding a mountain bike uphill often seems an absurdity. As the trail ascends to the rim via endless uphill’s punctuated by steeper switchbacks, there are no moments of repose, or reflection, the only relief is to pedal the less steep sections slowly to recover for the sprint through the switchbacks. I always think of these tactics as the wisdom of the old bull.

 

Slowly the top of the mesa begins to take shape as sky begins to backdrop the remaining trees, and eventually there is no more up to climb, just the never ending Virgin River rim trail that snakes along the top of the plateau from Strawberry point down to Woods Ranch in Cedar canyon. At 33 miles this trail is a major undertaking as a day ride, few people do the entire stretch in one go, and those that do are very happy to go a few days without sitting on a bike seat afterward.

 

I have referred to the portion of the Virgin River rim trail from the top of Navaho trail down to the North Fork road as the “nirvana section” for years now, as it was a seminal experience in my early mountain biking career, and has since become a bit of an annual pilgrimage. As the trail leaves the rim of the plateau and begins to plunge towards the lake, conscious thought and mental chatter abruptly cease as instinct takes the reins of control. For me it is not really meditative in the manner that I lose my sense of self, more that I can actually feel my limbic system take control and for the next 15 minutes the reptilian brain has command. If I do manage a conscious thought while weaving between trees, over roots, and too close to fallen logs, it is usually something along the lines of “Holy shit, be careful! You could really get hurt here” -to which the reptile replies- “and it would be totally worth it!” At some point I become an observer of sorts, I can hear the heavy breathing and sense the muscles twitching and burning but it is all a somewhat detached reality witnessed by an observer that no longer identifies with the physicality of the body/bike combination racing through the woods. It is that sense of detachment, that feeling of flow that is the addictive drug of these pursuits. It seems to manifest during moments of practiced physical movements in an envelope of risk, where your body is under duress and yet on auto pilot using encoded engrams to fire specific muscle groups automatically and without thought. One movement blends seamlessly into the next as the flow of events arrive at a rate that although challenging seems feasible, with the conscious thoughts of what I am experiencing just along for the ride.

 

Soon enough the trail dumps itself onto the North Fork road and in short order I am back at the starting point, where there is a cold beer in a cooler to look forward to. As fun and rewarding as this ride has been over the years, savoring a cold one while watching the sun sparkle on the blue waters of the lake is a worthy reward, especially when I consider that it is probably over 110° in Saint George at that moment.

Written by Todd Goss

-Guide and Owner at Paragon Adventures

 

 

 

 

Wasatch crest mountain biking

Wasatch Crest Trail

As we crept through the early morning traffic slowness heading into Salt Lake City, I could not fathom why people subject themselves to this horror on a daily basis.  “ Why do all these people live here?” I queried the other occupants of the Durango. Neither Bryan nor David had a good answer, as they had just endured a 4 hour drive over the length of the state which began for all of us at 3am. The effects of 3 cups of coffee on my nervous system had long since moved downward, and as we arrived at the pick up point for the shuttle, I hoped that my fast and purposeful stride into the Sinclair bathroom was not too obvious.

Relieved.. that we had arrived in time to unload the bikes and organize gear I was a bit surprised that the shuttle van to the top of Guardsman pass was completely full, and began to despair that this ride would be a shit show of fraudulent politeness, and disingenuous patience as we waited for masses of other bikers to pass us or move off the trail. Yet upon arrival at the 9000 foot elevation pass the vibe was more supportive and the numbers far fewer than I had imagined. We got a bit of beta from one of the locals and followed as they disappeared into the thick forest trail to the left of a gravel road.

The first 5 minutes of riding Scott’s bypass was worth the 5 hours of travel. Twisting turning downhill swoops of tacky dirt through the trees grabbed our attention and gave it a good shake. I could imagine the pure joy that riding this bit must be like with a little foreknowledge, and not on-sight with every twist and turn being a new experience. I could imagine the sense of connection with the contour, and the flow through the trees being nearly spiritual… Thanks Scott, whoever you are.

Puke hill is aptly named. As we started the climb on the graveled road I seriously contemplated what the Maverick breakfast burrito would look like on the side of the trail, the thought alone kept it down and me pedaling. Bryan and David were far ahead seemingly unaware that we were riding up a steep hill at 10,000 feet, or at least that is what their speed seemed to indicate. My focus at that point was on not embarrassing myself by walking the bike up the final 100 vertical feet that they had apparently floated, without effort.  While it is true that I am older than both of their fathers, that fact is only to be used as an ultimate last resort, moments before the stroke that kills me, to salvage the final vestige of my honor. I simply could not breath harder, or deeper,.. and it was close to being not enough.  You know when you are at your aerobic limit when you can’t spare the breath to spit, and drool just dribbles down your chin. The question that crosses your mind at that point is ”spit and pass out, or just look like a demented old man?”  Go with the latter, and try to redeem yourself later.

At a certain point in life you never really catch your breath, and so as we started back uphill it didn’t seem unusual to be back to sounding like a vaguely pissed off asthmatic locomotive within a few feet, but the trail soon enough flattened out and turned back into what must be some of the most stunning single track in the country. I am completely unsure of how good the riding was over the next few miles. I recall a few hills that required some toil, but otherwise the combination of buttery smooth trail, sweet swoopy flow and “Song of Music” views combined to create a sense of bliss that I have never had the opportunity to experience on any other trail.

Wasatch Crest Trail

Bryan (right) and David (left) on the Wasatch Crest Trail.

As we approached “the spine” I passed David just standing up from what must have been a spectacular digger. I had discovered earlier in the ride that even minor variations from the trail here are met with unexpected violence, and an advanced course in particle physics.  David had just received his doctorate, and after checking his intactness I rushed to join Bryan at the spine.

We had received some beta about the best line being to the left, and though it looked really ride-able, neither Bryan or I felt any guilt in walking down the scary bits, as this would not be a good place for a broken bone.  The phrase “pride goeth before the fall” seemed quite pertinent at that point of the ride.

As we watched David ride/walk down the spine my eye seemed to find something wrong with the scene, it was as if I was watching  it reflected through a fun house mirror somehow.  Some things that should have been straight lines were wobbly, wavy and moving in unexpected directions… especially his front wheel.

After a brief attempt with a spoke wrench it became obvious that we needed to fight violence with violence and I began to beat the warped rim against a flat rock interrupted by brief evaluations of the effects as Bryan suggested where to bash it next. The riders who passed us seemed completely unfazed by someone beating a wheel against a rock, and in fact applauded our ingenuity and resourcefulness, which made me realize how little removed from the stone age we really are.  Since we didn’t have to ride it, Bryan and I eventually decreed that the wheel was straight enough, and with about 1/3 front brake power David sucked it up and played the hand that he was dealt, and we continued down towards the now visible city in the distant haze.

The second half of the ride is somewhat of a blur for me. Endless, smooth, twisty trail diving through spruce and fir, aspen and alder. Relentlessly down, incessantly twisting, roots and rocks an unexpected relief to the smooth sticky dirt that seemed to grab at the treads and hold the tires to the planet despite any ideas that gravity or inertia had in mind.

We dove down through Mill Creek canyon and began to encounter bikers heading up, and hikers with dogs and so slowed our headlong fall out of the mountains in favor of a more measured and cautious pace that was still as fun as hell. It seemed endless, I have never knowingly wished that a downhill would end, but here I actually began to have fond recollections of the easier uphills and flat sections where you actually had the choice of whether to pedal or not. I remembered being able to feel my hands.

Suddenly there was pavement, cars, dogs, hikers and regrouping mountain bikers.  We chatted with some of the locals who were friendly and seemed genuinely happy that we had a good experience. As we began down the canyon and I reflected on what a spectacular ride the trail was I was struck by the realization….

This is why they live here.

-Todd Goss

Beat the Heat in Saint George Utah

Summers here in the Mojave desert can be challenging. It is the rare afternoon where the temperatures are not in the triple digits by 2pm, and most creatures with any common sense find cool and shady environments to while away the afternoon heat. An added challenge is the fact that this small city offers very few indoor activities (beyond a long nap) to keep us busy in an air conditioned environment, and so finding ways to beat (or at least outsmart) the heat of summer becomes a vital skill for the outdoor adventurer. Over the years most of us who live here for the vastness of outdoor activities have developed our own ways of dealing with the summer heat. Here are some of our tips for cooling off in the midst of a desert summer.

Start Early

Our simplest solution is to get up before the sun heats up the beautiful surroundings. The early morning is the coolest part of the day, as the desert has been cooling off all night and has yet to be heated up from the rising sun. At Paragon Adventures, we often have guests arrive for our outings at 6am. This is a bit early for most people, but if we had our way, we would start at 5am. These early outings are tough to get out of bed for, but you can always take a nap in mid day, when it is too hot to leave the house anyway. If possible, you can always go out again in the evening when it starts to cool down.

If you start early enough, it will still be cool and even dark when you begin your walk, jog, hike, bike, climb, or whatever your outdoor hobby is. You may even need to bring a long sleeve or sweater to start. Don’t bring a flashlight, invest in a headlamp: a battery-powered light that straps around your head, leaving your hands free. These are not only convenient, but also safer because, if you trip or fall, your hands will be free to catch yourself and protect your face. We always make our guests put their water bottles back in their packs before continuing their hikes for exactly the same reason.

Cold Water

It helps a ton to have cold water. Thanks to technology, you can now buy drinking containers that can keep your ice water icy for hours, even in the Mojave Desert summer. Go to The Desert Rat (our local outdoor store)  ( http://www.thedesertrat.net/ ) and ask about Hydroflasks. These are insulated steel bottles that, when filled with ice, can be continually refilled with warmer water from your backpack all day and usually still have small ice chunks left in them by night. Impressive and life-saving! If you feel like you are over-heating, get to shade and soak a piece of cloth in this ice water and hold it to the back of your neck until you feel able to move again, or until help arrives.

Get back to air conditioning by noon

Plan your outing so that you are back in your home, vehicle, or at least the shade before noon, or whatever time you determine has tolerable temperatures. (It can sometimes get up to 90° as early as 8am when in direct sunlight.) By noon, the only safe places to be outside are in the shade or in the water.

Don’t Explore

Plan your outing ahead of time and know where you are going. If you go off trail, or on trails you aren’t familiar with, you may not make it back to your vehicle or dwelling before it gets dangerously hot. You may even get lost. People have died this way. Take it seriously.

Water and Shade in Canyons

In a desert water can be scarce, but here we have many streams and a couple rivers running through the area, thanks to our nearby mountains. There are a few dams/reservoirs to play in, as well as some very nice spots along the rivers themselves that allow you to play in the waters, or at least enjoy the cooler air from the evaporating water near you. Below is a list of places near Saint George where you can visit and find haven in the water.

Veyo Pool & Crawdad Canyon Climbing Park

Veyo Pools is one of the best reliefs from the summer heat. Less than 20 miles from town(north on Bluff St./Highway 18), this section of the Santa Clara river runs through a canyon of basalt rock up to 100 feet deep. These canyon walls provide shade at times, plus the river itself feeds a healthy riparian habitat dense with trees that provide shade all day. The town of Veyo is also at a higher elevation than Saint George, making the temperatures even cooler. The river has non-native crawdads (crayfish) to catch and is usually low and calm enough to allow kids to play freely in it. If that’s not enough, add to this a spring-fed pool! A natural warm spring fills the pool here so easily that the owner drains and cleans the pool every evening and re-fills it every night, leaving fresh, clean water daily. The spring also constantly flows into the pool and the overflow drains into the river all day. As a result of this constant flow of clean water, Veyo pool is the, cleanest, purest pool in the county! There is also a snack shack that serves great burgers, fries, soft serve ice cream and much more. There are many picnic benches and camp sites here as well. If you are a rock climber, there are over 200 well-bolted sport routes here that range from 5.7-5.13a.

This is a privately-owned resort and fees are required for all activities here, but they are very affordable, so don’t let that deter you. Please click the link below for details on this amazing summer haven. Enjoy!

http://www.veyopool.com/

Kanarra Creek Slot Canyon

This is a gorgeous slot canyon that doesn’t require any technical skills, like rappelling, or permits. As long as you can walk through a shallow creek several times, you can enjoy this amazing 3.5 mile round trip hike. A slot canyon is a deep canyon that is deeper than it is wide. As a result, the canyon walls often offer shade from the sun, and therefore can be comfortably hiked in many hours of the day. This creek has cold water flowing year-around from the nearby mountains, making it a great hike in the summer heat. There is a parking lot that was built for this hike and there is a $10 parking fee to use it. To avoid this, you would have to park significantly far away and hike an extra mile through town to the parking lot. It’s worth the $10. From this parking lot, there is a clearly marked gate for hikers’ access. Walk through the gate and follow the dirt road past the water tank. After passing the water tank, the road heads downhill into the creek. This road turns into a hiking trail and crosses the creek several times, but generally follows the creek upstream. As long as you are following the creek you can’t go wrong. Please try to stay to the trail though (and do not litter), or this hike could eventually be limited to permit-holders or closed altogether. If you hike far enough, you will encounter two waterfalls. The first can be ascended fairly easily by climbing a log that has been placed there that is covered with boards for hand and foot holds. Floods could wash this log away at any time so don’t count on it being there. The second waterfall has had a rope you can climb at times, but this is not always there either. Regardless of ascending these waterfalls, the hike to the lower falls is an incredible hike in and of itself.

Kanarra Creek is about 45 minutes north of Saint George, along the I-15 freeway.

-Drive north along the I-15 freeway and exit right on Exit 42, New Harmony/Kanarraville,

-Turn right off of the off-ramp onto highway 144,

-Turn left onto the Old Highway 91,

-Continue on the highway for approximately 4.5 miles to 100 North St. in the town of Kanarraville,

-towards the end of this street, there is a clearly marked parking lot on your left. Park here.

Zion Narrows

Our local national park, Zion, features the world’s deepest slot canyon: The Narrows. Canyon walls over 2,000 feet high offer much shade and cool waters to hike and play in. Just one hour drive and a 20 minute shuttle ride away, this is one of the best day hikes in the summer.

Along the main Canyon Drive shuttle route in the park, exit the shuttle at the Temple of Sinawava. From here you can hike the one-mile paved trail to its end and hike the river from there, or look for the “River Access” sign leading you to your left to get in the cool water sooner.

https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/thenarrows.htm

Indoor swimming (click title to link to our swimming page)

Splash Pads (Click title to link to our Splash pads page)

Nearby mountains

Higher elevation equals cooler temperatures. It also means that trees grow there, providing more shade than Saint George’s desert environment.

Pine Valley

45 Minutes north of Saint George is the small town of Pine Valley. There are few amenities here, but there is a nice reservoir that sits at just under 7,000 feet elevation. It is too small for boating, but is great for fishing. There are several campsites near the reservoir and a fairly new paved trail system that is perfect for families and easy enough to ride that you should bring bikes and scooters for kids.

http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/dixie/recreation/recarea/?recid=71836

Cedar Mountain

Approximately one hour to the north is Cedar City. Just east of Cedar City is the Cedar Mountains that top out over 11,000 feet above sea level. There are many hiking trails, atv trails and small fishing spots up there, and even a national monument.

From Cedar City, go east on the highway 14. You will pass several hiking trails and campsites along the way. Turn left a=onto the highway 148 to enter Cedar Breaks National Monument.

*We are currently working on building our Cedar Mountain Activities page. Please be patient for more content on this topic.

-Cedar Breaks

 

Cedar Breaks vs Bryce Canyon

Why sit through over 2 hours of driving to get to Bryce Canyon National Park when you can get to a location that will provide a similar experience in about half the time? Bryce Canyon is a 2 hour and 15 minute drive from Saint George; whereas, the drive to Cedar Breaks National Monument is only 1 hour and 30 minutes.

The Atmosphere of Cedar Breaks is reminiscent to that of Bryce Canyon. Much of the vegetation is the same along the way, as thick forests cover much of the terrain in both locations. Even the views at Cedar Breaks are very similar to those at Bryce. The same type of rock produces the same kind of rock formations, called hoodoos. Color variations in the stone produce magnificent streaks throughout the cliff sides at both Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks.

Cedar is located near Cedar City, Utah. At an elevation of over 10,000 feet, it is even cooler in the summer months than Bryce Canyon, which is only 8,000-9,000 feet. The higher elevation feels like a step backward through time, as spring is just beginning in June at these heights. During this time, Cedar Breaks boasts breathtaking patches of wildflowers in full bloom.

Link: https://www.nps.gov/cebr/index.htm

Pine Creek canyon Zion national Park

Pine Creek Slot Canyon

As a guide at Paragon Adventures and a gear specialist at the Desert Rat, I often get asked about slot canyons in southern Utah and which ones I recommend doing. The great thing about living in this area is there are so many good slot canyons to choose from.

When recommending a canyon I always try to talk about one aspect that a lot of people don’t stop to consider. Canyoneers, especially newer canyoneers often spend so much time talking about the number of rappels, if there is water in the canyon, etc., that they don’t stop to consider what I think is the most important factor when deciding which canyon you want to go do: what I call the “effort to fun ratio.”

The effort to fun ratio, when it comes to canyoneering, is all important I think. Yeah, there really are slot canyons EVERYWHERE in this area, but it doesn’t mean they are all worth doing. I remember getting suckered into going to do Boundary Canyon once… beautiful canyon and really fun, but the hike out was so indescribably horrible that any fond memories made in the canyon were erased long before we made it to the top.

When it comes to canyons with a high effort to fun ratio one canyon in particular really stands out: Pine Creek Canyon in Zion National Park.

Pine Creek was one of the very first slot canyons ever descended by modern canyoneers (back in 1977) and man was it ever a great choice. The canyon is full of surreal beauty, awesome rappels and fun down climbing.

While I’m definitely not trying to provide a blow by blow account of how to get through the canyon (for that, check out this great site http://www.bluugnome.com/) let me share a few of the Pine Creek highlights. I just went through it again May 1st, 2016, for about my 12th time, so the great effort to fun ratio of the canyon is still nice and fresh on my mind.

First, the approach. Inevitably, many of the best slot canyons in the world are going to have a long approach. Slot canyons naturally form in the most rugged terrain in the world and the probability of a great road going nearby is pretty slim. That’s one of the things that makes Pine Creek so awesome. You drive through the tunnel on the east side of Zion, park your car in the parking lot immediately after the tunnel, and wallah! You’re at the start of the canyon. Just scramble down the short hill and you are just yards from the first rappel. I can’t think of a better approach.

Pine Creek slot canyon Zion national park

Rappelling in Pine Creek can be almost surreal, but always fun.

Second, the rappels come right away and they are fun rappels. You might as well harness up in the parking lot because you’ll be at your first rappel in Pine Creek in less than five minutes. They are fun, fairly straight forward rappels. The canyon is done often enough that the anchors are well maintained and easy to find.

Third, the beauty of Pine Creek is pretty hard to beat. Right away you do several rappels that get you down into the deep, beautiful, sculpted parts of the canyon. And when I say deep, I mean deep! It gets pretty dark down there and what light does make it down comes in beautiful reflections off the fantastically carved walls. Pine Creek isn’t like a lot of canyons that are more of a fissure in the rock that got scooped out a little bit by occasional flash floods. The entire thing is one long, carved and sculpted thing of twisting beauty. The area known as “The Cathedral” is an unbelievably cool chamber complete with arches and bowled out walls that will take your breath away. The rappel down into The Cathedral, complete with the pool of water at the bottom is one the most picturesque rappels you’ll ever do.

If The Cathedral is cool, the last rappel of the canyon might be even better. 70-110 feet (depending on how much sand has recently washed into the canyon), the last rappel is a mostly free hanging rappel through more spectacularly carved walls. A spring gushes out into a pool at the bottom. Once you get off rope and come around the corner you’re struck with stunning views of the park downstream. It really is just incredible.

Just as important as the approach, the hike out of Pine Creek isn’t bad at all and offers fun challenges of its own. Depending on where you park it is a mile to a mile and a half of boulder hopping, interspersed with several great swimming holes should you want to cool off. Before too long you’ll find yourself back at one of the switchbacks on the road before the tunnel. Oftentimes I’ve made it through Pine Creek so quickly and so enjoyably that I’ve gone through and done it a second time. It’s just that fun!

Pins Creek slot canyon Zion National Park

Just one of many amazing views in Pine Creek slot canyon, Zion National Park.

Pine Creek, like any other canyon inside Zion National Park boundaries does have some challenges:

First, getting a permit for the canyon is hard. It’s a popular canyon and permits go fast. That being said, the permits are still a blessing and make sure that if you do see another group in the canyon it won’t be a big one.

Second, you do have to have technical expertise to get through the canyon. If you’re not experienced at rappelling you’ll need expert instruction before you go. Also, since Zion does not allow commercial guiding inside park boundaries you can’t take a guide through with you. If you do Pine Creek, you’re on your own with just the skills and equipment that you bring with you. You’ll encounter multiple rappels, most likely swim through cold water and do lots of down climbing. You have to be prepared to go in there.

That’s another fun part of my job. We guide people through slot canyons that are both easier and harder than Pine Creek. Our goal in doing so is not only to help them have a fun time on the canyons we’re taking them down but also help them to develop the skills they need to do harder canyons all on their own. It’s always a rewarding experience to run into an old client on a hard canyon in the park and hear them say that their canyoneering career started years ago on a trip with Paragon Adventures. To anyone that I have guided before or to anyone that loves the sport of canyoneering and is looking for a great, fun canyon to do, I don’t think you’ll find better than Pine Creek. It’s not as long as many and certainly not as technical or as remote as others I’ve done, but man is it ever a good time!

Written by: Jerel (Supe) Lillywhite

-Paragon Adventures guide

 

Southern Utah’s Climber’s Coalition’s re-bolting efforts at Crawdad Canyon

As rock climbing guides in Southern Utah, we have the coolest job in the world. Every day we’re out hiking, biking, climbing, rappelling, canyoneering or doing some fun, crazy activity in the beautiful St. George area with clients that love this kind of thing as much as we do. One of the questions we often get asked by our clients is, “what do you do on your days off?”

Honestly, most days we do the exact same thing we do as when we work. We climb, hike, bike and play in the outdoors doing the things we love.

Rock climbing at Crawdad Canyon/Veyo Pool Resort 20 minutes outside of St. George, UT is a great summer  haven.

Rock climbing at Crawdad Canyon/Veyo Pool Resort 20 minutes outside of St. George, UT is a great summer haven.

As long time climbers, though, we also recognize that playing every day is not enough and some days we need to give back to the community and this area that gives us so many awesome recreational opportunities.

One of the ways we do this is by partnering with the Southern Utah Climbing Coalition (SUCC, great name, we know) to replace old, rusting out climbing bolts in the St George area.

When you first think of rusting bolts you probably wouldn’t think that St. George would have many. Isn’t that something that just happens in Thailand and other tropical locations? While it definitely happens faster in the tropics, the same thing also occurs here for two basic reasons.

First, there has been a lot of climbing going on in St George for a long time. It’s a simple fact that older bolts, no matter how dry the conditions, will rust, corrode or otherwise be in need of replacement. Also, climbing bolts have come a long way since the first expansion bolts placed in rock 30 years ago and many of the older bolts around here are in need of replacement. SUCC works with local climbers to make sure these bolts, especially when they are in popular climbing areas, are replaced with newer, better bolts that will last a long time (think 30+ years) and that you can be confident climbing on. If you’ve climbed at Chuckawalla Wall lately (just outside of St George) you’ll see a great example of the work SUCC did there replacing all the old expansion bolts with shiny new glue-in Wave bolts. Many of the climbs in Snow Canyon State Park are on the list for the next round of replacement bolting.

The second reason bolts need replacing around here is, believe it or not, there are some climbing areas that are almost tropical in nature. Can’t guess where? Crawdad Canyon off of Highway 18 in Veyo (about 20 minutes from St George) is a beautiful, lush canyon with the Santa Clara River running right down the center of it. Now, a lot of the bolts in Crawdad are in serious need of replacement after years of exposure to the moist conditions.

 

Old rusty climbing anchor bolts removed from Crawdad Canyon/Veyo Pool Resort thanks to SUCC and local volunteers.

Old rusty climbing anchor bolts removed from Crawdad Canyon/Veyo Pool Resort thanks to SUCC and local volunteers.

So what does it take to replace old rusted-out bolts? It’s a surprising amount of work. New holes have to be drilled, new bolts placed in the new holes and the rusty old bolts have to be removed. Sometimes the old bolts slip out of their old holes after they’ve been loosened but more often than not they have be broken off. All this is taking place while hanging from a rope. Let’s just say it’s certainly not an easy day off from guiding. But it is worth it. There is a great deal of satisfaction that comes from seeing a route newly-bolted, knowing that it will be safe for people to enjoy for many years to come.

One of the greatest things about replacing bolts in southern Utah is how it is all funded. New bolts, especially the high quality bolts that SUCC uses on its routes, are not cheap. The money to pay for those new bolts comes from membership dues paid by the members of the Southern Utah Climbing Coalition ($30 for new members and $20 for renewing members). Those new bolts are then placed on routes in the area that are most in need of attention. Often when a route is re-bolted, the bolt hangars from the route are still in good condition and can be salvaged. When this is the case those hangers are given to route developers in the area that are working on putting up new routes. In this way nothing is wasted and southern Utah climbers not only get old routes safely re-bolted, they also get new routes put up. It’s a great deal for everyone involved.

Bolt sand Hangers

​Over seventy bolt hangers salvaged from Crawdad Canyon.

 

Want to know how you can get involved? While you may not need to go out and re-bolt climbs yourself, joining SUCC (if you’re not already a member) is the best way to help make sure the routes in this area are safe and receive the attention they need. When you join SUCC, not only will your fees go to making local climbs safer, you’ll also get a huge discount on the fee you pay to climb at Crawdad Canyon (which is on private property, thus the fee). Instead of paying $9 each time, you’ll pay just $3. You can join SUCC at the Desert Rat climbing shop, located at the intersection of Bluff Street and St George Boulevard.

And if you haven’t climbed at Crawdad yet, you need to. Shady climbs, right next to the beautiful Santa Clara River with temperatures 20-30 degrees cooler than St George make it the best place to climb in the summer hands down. Whether we’re up there climbing ourselves or working on re-bolting a route for you to enjoy, we hope to see you up there!

Supe Lillywhite

Paragon Guide

 

Winter in Saint George, Utah

They call them Snowbirds: people who flock to warm Saint George Utah when other, colder areas start to freeze and become unbearable. They come from all over the state mostly, since the majority of Utah gets pretty chilly in the winter, but also from all over the United States. Some of them own homes here, others just take vacations during this prime time of year. No matter where you are from, or what weather you are accustomed to, Southwest Utah is at a low enough elevation that the winters are extremely mild and are actually perfect temperatures for the avid nature lover.

Many have this idea stuck in their head that snowbirds are mostly retirees who don’t want to live in cold areas, but this is not the case at all. They come in all ages, for all types of outdoor activities. There are active families from New York who take vacations here in their condos to enjoy the nearby slopes of Brian Head Resort just an hour and a half away. There is even a movement of climbers who proudly call themselves “dirt bags” who save money just to camp and climb here through the winter. And yes, there is definitely a population of retirees who come just for the mild winter and to enjoy whatever their sport may be, from our myriad of hikes, to our many pickle ball courts, or any one of our thirteen golf courses. Whatever your activity is, the average winter months here are mild enough to enjoy it outside. Historically, December and January temperatures average 25-54° F and has very little precipitation. On average, December only receives less than an inch of rainfall and less than an inch of snowfall, while January receives just over an inch of rainfall and about the same amount of snowfall. So ignore the Utah license plates of the skier and focus on the Arches/Red rock plates. All year around, people are seen jogging on the sidewalk, and climbing on the cliffs in t-shirts and shorts.

Though this sounds ideal, and it is, Paragon Adventures‘ guide services actually slow down drastically during this season. Most of our guests come to us while traveling here from other areas. This means that most of St. George’s visitors come here when it is warmer, and even in the hottest months of summer. It would seem that the word has not gotten out yet that our part of Utah has perfect, mild winter temp.’s. Other tourist areas of southern Utah, like Moab, are at a higher elevation than St. George, and actually are much colder in the winter. Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks are all around 4,000 feet elevation or higher. Though Zion is above 5,000 feet, St. George does not have this problem. We can actually run nearly all of the same programs in the winter that we do in the summer, including the famous Virgin River Narrows in Zion National Park and all of our most popular adventures.  So we welcome you all to come and enjoy Southwest Utah’s amazing winter weather. Paragon is a small company with a small staff and we often have to say “no” to people’s requests, especially in our busy season. This time of year we get to say “yes” much more often and we would love to take you out on our programs that take advantage of this great season.