Polygamist Canyon

We woke up early and stopped in Cedar City for lunch, at a big coffeeshop/cafe called The Grind. We had delicious sandwiches and sat next to a nice knitting/sewing circle. Then we continued South on I-15. That particular highway has several stretches where the posted speed limit is 80mph, and it’s mostly straight and flat with visibility for miles. Since there wasn’t much traffic and it was sunny and warm, I decided to test out the capabilities of our rental Prius (which did fine once it got up to speed, but took a whole lot of effort to get there), and spent a fair bit of time hovering around 100mph. Fun!

Side note: I’ve decided that Priuses (Prii, Priora…) judge their drivers harshly for not driving ‘green’. In addition to the (really neat) little animated graphic on the dashboard that showed whether the car was using battery or gas power or both and/or charging the battery, the laboring sounds the engine made when accelerating (particularly uphill) sounded a lot to me like “UGH, THIS IS NOT ECO-FRIENDLY, WHY ARE YOU WASTING GAS AND KILLING THE EARTH, SLOW DOWNNNN” as opposed to the normal steady-pace engine sound of “Ah, coasting along, how peaceful and economical, lalala, look at that scenery, isn’t nature grand?” Thanks for the feedback, Prius.

We detoured briefly at St George for our last outing and hike of the trip, to Snow Canyon State Park (named after a couple distantly-related pioneers who shared the same last name, not because it’s known for its snow).

Side note on those pioneers, mentioned so casually in the article on the Utah State Parks website linked above:

  • Erastus Snow was a prominent Mormon polygamist who had an estimated 15-16 wives and fathered about 37 children. Wife #3 was the mother of wife #2. I have a feeling that he married her at her daughter’s request, so as to have an excuse to bring her along on their journey west across the plains, or as a way to recognize his mother-in-law as part of his family. The other 15-ish wives, though, seem to have been the child-bearing sort.
  • Lorenzo Snow was also an early Mormon leader, and the fifth president of the LDS Church. He had nine wives and fathered 42 children. Six of his wives were teenagers when he married them (including his last two wives, who were each 16 at marriage and who each had five children. He was 44 and 57 when he married those last two).

Anyway, back to the scenery!

Snow Canyon has exciting rocks and fauna, including lava fields, lava tubes, so-called petrified sand dunes, and desert tortoises. The tortoises are protected, and when you pay your entry fee you’re given strict instructions about them, which include “if you see a turtle crossing the road, stop your vehicle immediately, get out, pick up the turtle gently with two hands, and set it down off the road on the side it was aiming toward, maintaining its original direction of travel.”

I learned after our visit that it’s also home to Gila monsters, sidewinders, and the giant desert hairy scorpion, which is over five inches long and apparently “aggressive and active”, but fortunately I didn’t see any of those (or any tortoises, sadly).

The ‘petrified’ sand dunes are quite beautiful, and fun to clamber across. When I told my dad about them he asked how a sand dune could really be petrified, given that it’s already essentially made of rock, just ground-up rock, and petrified things are organic things that become rock when minerals are added. He was absolutely right — further reading shows that the term ‘petrified’ is applied incorrectly to these dunes, which were once part of a vast desert. The dunes were covered by layers of other material, and then cemented into rock as water and minerals (mostly quartz and calcite) permeated the sand and the weight of everything on top compressed it. Later the sediments that had covered the sand eroded away, exposing the original shape of the now-solid dunes. Here’s one that looks like a sleeping giant:

And here’s a more colorful one (please pardon my poorly-stitched-together ‘panorama’):

Disregard the unusually exciting sky and focus on the dune.

There were lots of interesting cacti, and all the colors of sandstone you could want. My favorite part was this little section of the rocky outcropping in the first photo above, that looks all folded and bent:

Geology is fascinating.

After a fair little hike I crawled into a collapsed lava tube, pretending I was Indiana Jones and practicing my contortionist yoga skills, all without realizing I was probably only inches away from one of those huge, terrifying scorpions, which, if I had seen it, would have completely ruined my adventure-movie fantasy. Then we continued on and I climbed up a large solid dune to admire the view.

Finally, we reached the last and biggest lava tube, which you can walk right into if you don’t mind clambering over big and very sharp chunks of basalt in pitch-black darkness, which is totally fine with me. This tube is about 50′ long, but we probably only went about halfway in. It’s completely dark, and there are cute medium-sized bats! I like watching bats fly because they’re much quieter than birds, echolocation aside. I was very proud of mom for climbing down a steep bit to get to the entrance of the cave, and glad she joined me in the slightly-scary dark.

After we left the cave, we headed back to the car to complete our adventure. We stopped in St George for a quick lunch, then it was back to Vegas to drop off the car (goodbye little Prius, I hope your next driver is more gentle) and catch our flight home. It was a wonderful trip, and I’m looking forward to my next desert visit already!

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