Cedar Breaks National Monument covers 6,100 acres and lies 23 miles east of Cedar City in southern Utah. At more than 2,000 feet deep, the spectacularly colored Cedar Breaks amphitheater is laced with delicately eroded spires, fins, hoodoos and natural arches, the by-product of millions of years of sedimentation and erosion. The canyon’s rim soars at more than 10,000 feet in elevation and is forested with spruce, subalpine fir and quaking aspen. Scattered between the trees are broad meadows that come aglow with summer wildflowers. The monument’s higher elevation provides ideal growing conditions for bristlecone pines, found on the rim of the amphitheater. Foul weather and drifting snow will effectively close the park’s main road (Highway 148) anytime between October and early December, with all visitor services remaining closed from mid-October through late May. During the open season, don’t miss the Visitor Center, found near the park’s main entrance.
With the monument’s higher elevation, expect summertime highs to be on the cooler side; the upper 50s and 60s are common. Nighttime lows can be chilly, from the 30s to lower 50s. Summer cold spells can bring subfreezing temperatures and snow at any time, so be prepared. During July and August, brief but violent lightning storms are frequent; don’t get caught on the exposed overlooks. Winter visitors who plan on skiing or snowshoeing into the park should be prepared for extreme winter conditions. Plentiful snow and frigid temperatures are the norm.
Upon arrival, you’ll be drawn to the canyon’s rim. Four overlooks along the park’s main road provide many photo ops; a sturdy tripod is a must. If you’re lucky enough to visit the park after a rainstorm, the already richly hued limestone, shale and sandstone amphitheater will be even more saturated with color.
Carry a longer lens (200mm to 300mm), as small mammals, including pikas, ground squirrels and yellow-bellied marmots, are found in rim-side rock piles. The patient will be rewarded with curious animals poking their heads from rock crevices and hollowed-out logs.
Hike the Spectra Point Trail to a grove of bristlecone pines, where the gnarled trees present you with many wide-angle and close-up challenges. One of these ancient trees has been keeping watch for more than 1,600 years. From your vantage point, you’ll be able to keep your eye on the main part of the canyon and the golden light that bathes it at sunset.
The rolling meadows fill with wildflowers in summer and offer a breathtaking scene. During a good year, you’ll find them densely covered with lupine, scarlet paintbrush, columbine and sunflowers. Compose sweeping landscapes or close-ups of individual flowers amidst the spruce and fir at the meadows’ edge.
Although beautiful photographs can be found at other times, plan your visit around the wildflower bloom—July and August. Call ahead to check the progress of the meadows, as the flowers will peak at different times each year. However, many wildflowers can be found during the shoulder months, and the wildlife is consistent throughout the season.
Contact: Cedar Breaks National Monument, (435) 586-9451, www.nps.gov/cebr/.
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