The 7,400-acre Snow Canyon State Park in Utah is our favorite state park of all. With its towering red and white sandstone cliffs, interspersed with black lava rock and green desert foliage, Snow Canyon is like a mini-national park.
Snow Canyon is located in the 62,000-acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, which was established to protect the endangered desert tortoise and its habitat.
About 180 million years ago, strong winds carried tiny grains of quartzite sand to blanket much of present-day Utah. These sand dunes grew up to a half-mile thick and eventually cemented into stone. The petrified dunes range in color from white to burnt orange to a deep red. And they’re super fun to climb on! Can you spot the people on top of the dunes in the photos above? (Click on the images for a larger version.)
From 2.5 million years ago to as recently 20,000 years ago, nearby cinder cones erupted and spilled lava into Snow Canyon.
This beautiful park has served as backdrop for numerous Hollywood films including “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Electric Horseman,” and “Jeremiah Johnson.”
Snow Canyon has a desert climate that averages only 7.5 inches of precipitation per year. Contrary to popular belief, Snow Canyon rarely gets any of the white stuff. The park is actually named after early Mormon settlers, Lorenzo and Erastus Snow. They were leaders in the Mormon colonization of Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.
Snow Canyon lies close to St. George, Utah, and therefore is very popular with the locals for hiking, biking, jogging, horseback riding, camping, and technical rock climbing, as shown in the photo above.
Unlike most state parks, dogs are not allowed in Snow Canyon except on a few trails, including the West Canyon Road shown above.
We hiked to the top of this now-extinct 50-story cinder cone. These steep conical hills form around a volcanic vent and usually occur on the flanks of shield volcanoes and stratovolcanoes. Most cinder cones are active only once.
These tiny catacombs in Jenny Canyon were formed by water erosion in the sandstone. This side canyon was named after Jennifer Denise Patchett, who was “inspired by the beauty and the feeling of freedom she felt in Snow Canyon,” and passed away at the young age of 16.
This 200-foot rock arch in Johnson Canyon is the only arch found in the park.
This is our second visit to Snow Canyon. We were also here in 2004, when Theresa bought me a balloon ride over Snow Canyon for my 40th birthday. At one point our balloon lost altitude and “crash landed” in this a’a lava flow. A’a is notable for its sharp, jagged edges. Our expert balloonist did everything he could to raise the balloon quickly before the lava tore up the bottom of the basket. Earlier he landed the balloon on a tall rock pinnacle. It was an amazing and exciting balloon ride.