By Tamara Dormer
Every July, Cedar Breaks National Monument located on Cedar Mountain, Utah, holds their wildflower festival to celebrate the blooms that grace this natural amphitheater and the surrounding woodlands and hillsides. You can hear a ranger guide you to several of the wildflowers or you can take your own ramble through the two main trails.
This was my second time visiting, though this year I hiked both trails and greatly enjoyed the differences between them. The Alpine Pond trail is a two mile loop through dense woods, going by a pond and a creek that you can hear, but cannot see because it is sluicing underneath the plant cover. When you live in southern Utah, you live amongst sage and sand and rock and heat. Yes, there are certainly desert flowers, but there are rarely bodies of water so what is on the desert is usually small and on the edge, always fighting to live and to bloom and to reseed in this harsh environment. The flowers that live in the under stories of trees are quite different than the ones out on the open flats of sage, and this is a lot of what you’ll see along the Alpine Pond trail. You’ll see lavender fleabane, columbine, scarlet Indian paintbrush, silver lupines, alpine bluebells, along with elkweed and many others. But you won’t just see, you’ll hear—the songbirds that flit about in the woods, the scampering of animals in the underbrush, the sound of the water. If you stand still long enough and listen and watch, you will see the birds and other creatures, including the yellow-bellied marmot, which I was fortunate enough to see, then watch for several minutes.
As you walk along the trail, which has gentle rises and dips in elevation, you can peek through the trees and see glimpses of the amphitheater; on different parts of the trail you can look out over meadows that stretch out into the distance, awash in wildflower blooms. Being deep in the woods with moisture, shade, and wildflowers is a magic you don’t experience often here, but yet it is almost in the backyard of South Central Utah, about 70 miles from Kanab. The day I most recently visited, it was 47°F (8 degrees centigrade) at nearly noon, overcast and recovering from recent storms—in other words, a perfect day for long hikes. The recent rains had pushed the wildflowers further in their blooming and increased the greenness of the woods; however, what really makes the wildflowers rich and full in color and number is the winter snows that come to Cedar Mountain and then melt and trickle down in the early spring.
The Rampart trail I’d never hiked until this visit, and it is quite different than the Alpine Pond trail, both in scenery, distance and difficulty. This trail is four miles in length, with two viewpoints along the way; the Spectra viewpoint at the one mile mark, then the Rampart viewpoint which terminates the trail. This trail goes along exposed cliffs and you can look down into the amphitheater most of the way. The soil is harsher, a limestone scale that has smaller wildflowers that you could easily miss if you’re looking for big or bright or tall plants. At the Spectra viewpoint, there are several bristlecone pines, the oldest trees on the planet; there is one of a group of three or four right at this viewpoint that is known to be at least 1600 years old. Combined with the strength and deep spirituality that these trees exude, and looking deep into the amphitheater to the incredible results of 60 million years of erosion, made me feel small and insignificant. However, that is just a fact because compared to the planet and how it moves forward and lives, I am. It is an humbling sensation.
Continuing to the Rampart viewpoint you descend into woods, but the difference is that if you look to your right on the way out, there is the amphitheater and to your left are deep woods with a stream carving its way through. Balancing on the trail, you are on the edge of two very different worlds, and if asked I could not choose a favorite. On the edge of and throughout the woods, are the same types of wildflowers that you will see on the Alpine Pond trail and in the meadows, while on the right is the limestone scale going into the amphitheater with its smattering of wildflowers that are more alpine in their needs and displays, which usually means tiny flowers, low to the ground. The Rampart view itself is right on top of some erosions that are very hoodoo-like, which brings to mind Bryce Canyon—in fact, the amphitheater at Cedar Breaks reminds me of a “mini Bryce”, which is one of the reasons I love Cedar Breaks so. Bryce is probably my favorite canyon, but Cedar Breaks offers what I also crave which is flowers, color, and moisture.
I urge anyone who’s not been to Cedar Breaks to visit, and July is a fine time during the wildflower display. You not only see many aspects of nature there, but it’s a wonderful break from the heat that is going on at the lower elevations. If you have been to Cedar Breaks before, maybe this will serve as a reminder to visit this place that feels like a secret; a powerful secret held in the bosom of Cedar Mountain.