Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Golden Wall Loop, Red Canyon Area, Dixie National Forest, UT

Distance: 5 mile loop (8 km)
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 7246 - 7750 ft (2210 - 2360 m)
Season: Year Round (hot in summer and potentially icy in winter)

When people of beautiful pink/orange cliffs and hoodoos, Bryce Canyon NP always comes to mind. But, there is a place nearby, with far fewer people, that offers scenary as beautiful, if not more. The pink cliffs, known as the Claron Formation, is among the highest levels of the "Grand Staircase". The limestone of this formation occurs between 7,000-10,000 feet in Southern Utah, and represents some of the youngest formations of the region at around 60 million years ago when the Late Cretaceous Seaway was in its final stages. Approximately 10-20 million years ago the region was uplifted from sea level to over 10,000 feet in elevation.

The Golden Wall loop begins at the Red Canyon Visitor Center along Highway 12 just west of Bryce Canyon National Park. From the visitor center, cross the highway and follow the bike trail west a few hundred yards to the trailhead. The trail begins in a pinyon-ponderosa pine forest and then quickly heads up into beautiful orange/pink rock formations. The trail slowly begins climbing up the drainage.
There will be a side trail known as the Castle Bridge Trail will depart to the left. You can either stay on the Golden Wall Trail or take the Castle Bridge Trail up the ridge to some hoodoos and beautiful views of the Golden Wall. The Castle Bridge Trail will rejoin the Golden Wall trail in 0.6 mi and then the trail will begin climbing fairly steeply up the back of the basin.

From here, the views become grander and the formations more dramatic. As for the vegetation, the species include krumholz formed Douglas firs with tightly packed needles and tiny cones, as well as, white firs, limber pines, ponderosa pine, and near the top of the ridge, bristlecone pines.

The trail will cross a saddle and at first, the views down the other side seem a little disappointing, as you imagine simply dropping into the opposite valley and into the forest below. But, what will actually happen is completely different. The trail will instead stay up on the pink rocks and will climb up to the very top of the ridge with continued spectacular views. There will be a second saddle and then a descent down a steep section.

However, the trail will climb again including several steep switchbacks to a third saddle where you will meet the Buckhorn Trail. To the left is a spur trail to the top of the ridge above. The view from the top of this formation is not really any different than what you have seen already. The trail to the right heads down hill 0.9 mi to the Red Canyon Campground. Walk through the campground to the bike trail and follow it 0.5 miles back to the visitor center.

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