Under the jurisdiction of Dixie National Forest is an excellent prelude to Bryce Canyon, if you are traveling eastbound on Highway 12. When we were heading out to Bryce the first time the tall spires minarets of Red Canyon struck us with awe. I later learned that most visitors just pull out on the side of the road for a few quick photos then move along. I was determined not to be one of those people. I know when adventure and exploration are sending me an invitation, and it was doing so in the form of those bright red spires.
Pink Ledges and Hoodoo Loop Trail Combo
From the Red Canyon Visitor center, we decided to do a combo loop hike of two trails: Pink Ledges and Hoodoo. Since this is US Forest Land controlled by the Department of Agriculture, it means that you can bring horses, mountain bikes, and ATVs in addition to regular foot hiking on designated trails. Thankfully these two trails are restricted and only foot traffic is allowed. Hoodoo trail is short, allows some intimate contact with hoodoos. The rock is a super bright red and seems to change color as the day moves on.
I enjoy the scent of sagebrush, pinyon pine, and juniper. I discover that ponderosa pine bark smells like vanilla or butterscotch when I set my nose upon a bark crevice and breath deeply. Other hikers tell me it smells like cinnamon or coconut. The nearby sign says the aroma may arise from a chemical in the sap being warmed by the sun. Today, the weather is sunny and 80°F so the bark smells like baked cookies. Apparently, I’m getting intimate with the tree’s armor against fires. This ponderosa bark is thick, flaky and looks like a jigsaw puzzle; its protective layer.
Hitch and I take the turn-off junction toward Pink Ledges trail. There’s suppose to be some kind of interpretive map to go along with this trail, but we didn’t pick one at the visitor center. So we make things up at each numbered spot. What I do know is that the rock at Red Canyon is very much the same rock found at Bryce Canyon. In the geological timescale, Bryce and Red Canyon rock exposed are younger than the ones found at Zion National Park, with Grand Canyon being the oldest.
Although it’s not a grand of a hike as Navajo or Queen’s Garden in Bryce, the environment is still pretty and inspires the imagination. The color of the rock is stunning and stands out against the blue sky. There are few benches along the trail, and we stop and take it all in before heading back to the visitor center.
Cassidy, Rich and Ledge Point Trail Combo
For the rest of the afternoon, Hitch and I drive along SR-12 for a few hundred feet, park that the Red Canyon Trailhead, and start our hike up Cassidy Trail. This is a mix use trail and horse riders, bikes and hikers are allowed. We wind our way through ponderosa pine, green-leaf manzanita, limber pine, and junipers. The terrain is rugged and occasionally we have to walk around piles of horse dung. Surprisingly, there isn’t as much horse poo as I expected, probably because it’s still early in the hiking season.
The trail parallels a wash with pink limestone scree slopes bordering the edge. In about half a mile, I see the first hoodoo formation along the route, and at 0.8 miles we take a left, and up the southern half of Rich Trail. We make our way up through a series of mild switchbacks, paralleling another smaller wash. There are fine examples of pink hoodoos and alcoves of stone. The terrain gets a bit rocky and we have to do a bit of scrambling, but it isn’t long before we get atop a plateau. We make our way through some trees, onto Ledge Point Trail, and before long, we come to an astounding panoramic view of Red Canyon with a portion of SR-12 visible. Having soaked up the view, we head back the way we came, relieved that it’s downhill all the way.
Arches Trail Loop
On a later day we head out to SR-12, eastbound we turn left on Castro Canyon Road. It’s a dusty dirt road, but our RAM truck makes quick work of the two miles to Losee Canyon Trail Head. Arches Trail is a quick hike, but there is a bit of scrambling to do. We wander up through pine and red color scree, only to encounter a curious man-made structure. It’s too small to be a shelter, and we later learn that its was once a makeshift food storage hut used by Butch Cassidy and his gang.
Our hike parallels a wash, and we spot a stupendous natural arch. I can’t resist and climb up for some photos. After I’ve had my fill, we make our way back down on to what we think is the trail. Turns out we missed it by a few yards and scrambled up some rocks unnecessarily. If we followed the trail properly we would have hit a switchback and a set of wooden stairs leading up to the route. Oh well!
We next encounter a set of amazing hoodoos and windows all rolled into one. More pictures ensue! This time we stick to the trail proper, just beneath a bright red cliff face and toward a spur in the trail. The spur travels 200 feet out to a wonderful viewpoint facing westward toward SR-89 valley floor. I can spot Haycock Mountain and Sandy Peak in the distance. From there we make quick pace down the later half of the loop trail, but take a slight detour to walk back via the wash. I look up and see a rock formation of a “fin” and the beginnings of a new hoodoo. A nice short trail with easy payoffs.