The Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City is a treasure trove of adventures. Most people who have gone once have gone time and again. Not just for the plays but for the ancillary programs as well. But to complete the experience you really must take a trip into the Dixie National Forest just up the road.
Even if you aren’t into hiking, the beauty of this immense forest will dazzle you. If you’re just into a nice drive with some stops for photo opportunities I recommend you head up highway 14 right out of the center of Cedar City. Here the winding road rises in elevation quickly affording you cool weather in summer and spectacular fall colors in Autumn. I’ve often driven up here in the Fall just to see the reds, and oranges, golds, and varying shades of green. It’s the closest a Las Vegan can get to Indian Summer without a plane ride, and it is really quite breathtaking.
Once the road starts to level off you enter a forest that alternates between huge rolling green meadows and dense woodland. But by mid to late summer these meadows are a virtual carpet of wildflowers. And I honestly can’t remember driving up here without seeing wildlife. Whether it’s deer, elk, porcupine, yellow-bellied marmot, or one of several interesting birds, I’ve yet to be disappointed. But the fact is that if you’re the least bit adventurous you’ll discover all this on your own. What you might not do on your own is drive up Interstate 15 to the tiny town of Parowan and come up route 143, which is the favorite area of Randy Houston, of the US Forest Service.
Randy Houston, USFS…I think this is just the hidden treasure of our district. I think this is one of the prettiest areas there is here in the district. It’s one of the areas that isn’t used much by recreationists. It’s a real nice area. There’s a lot of wildlife here. In the ledges a lot of times in the evening, or in the morning hours you can see hawks and owls that nest in the rocks. And there’s a lot of deer and the elk numbers are starting to increase in the Yankee meadows area. So this is just a real pretty area and not heavily visited by recreationists.
Not too far outside of Parowan up route 143 is a turnoff for Yankee meadows and the Vermilion Castle trail. This is the area that Randy’s talking about. Although there are over 50 established trails to chose from here in this portion of the Dixie National forest, this one is perfectly suited for someone taking a break from all the activities at the festival. It’s a short trail. Only two miles round trip. With just over 500 foot of elevation gain. But the views are spectacular. It’s amazing how much the scenery and vegetation change in such a short period of time. You can’t help but notice the difference in flora almost immediately.
Randy Houston, USFS… We’ve come through a pinion/juniper and now we’re into kind of a stand that has Doug fir in. And we’ll eventually get to a mixed conifer type which will have Doug fir, some White fir, and Ponderosa pine.
But it’s not the flora that will take your breath away. It’s the towering rock formations that make this canyon and this trail so noteworthy. Mid-way up the trail you come to a short difficult passage where the rock becomes steep and loose. As you clear this portion you come to a landing. On the left are blond conglomerate spires covered in multi-colored lichen that contrast with the deep red limstone in the background. To the right, across the road, you’ll see a long view of the type of formation that you’re now traveling in. And on top of that ridge you’ll see a large rock formation that looks for all the world like a boat. It’s called Noah’s Ark.
But the real bounty of this trail comes at the end of the path. Vermilion Castle. As you look up at the towering spires you immediately understand why this formation got its name. The blood red spires look like castle turrets rising into the blue sky. If you hike this trail at sunset you’ll see the castle blaze fiery red. And although you can see all of this from the road below it’s amazing how much of difference it makes to be just a few hundred feet closer.
But the real trick here is to keep that sense of castles and pristine forests until you get back down to the bottom of the hill, where that feeling will be perfect at the Utah Shakespearean Festival.