Brian Head Peak and the Vermillion Castle Trail
Our visit to Brian Head Peak and the hike of the Vermillion Castle Trail were both done the same day as the Bristlecone Pine Trail and the visit to Cedar Breaks, but with a total of over 30 photos I thought I’d break it up into two posts despite that fact that I’m over 3 months behind on getting these adventures onto the Internet. Sorry about that, by the way.
Anyway, as we turned away from the rim of the Cedar Breaks amphitheater and continued gradually gaining elevation, the stands of trees gave way to more and more yellowed meadows. Just before crossing back into Dixie National Forest the highest peak in the range – Brian Head – becomes visible, surrounded by lovely open fields dotted with firs. As part of the tour Tom stopped the car to point out a very important trailhead (for a hike I cannot wait to show you photos of) and to allow me to scope out the meadows and take some pictures of the peak. It may not look so grand from my photo, but the elevation of the summit is 11,307 feet; the height is camouflaged since the surrounding meadows are all above 10,500 feet.
The top of the peak hosts a cute little Civilian Conservation Corp rock shelter and has some pretty great views across into Nevada (when there’s not a rainstorm over there), down to the valleys to the north, and to the ski resort right below it. We made the briefest of possible stops at the top though because of the wind. While this entire area regularly has winds over 20 mph, continuous (read: not just gusts) winds of over 50 mph are common. It was so windy that neither one of us even got within 10 feet of the edge because the wind was pushing us so much. Abby ventured closer – much to our dismay – but quickly retreated – much to our relief – without us calling her back.
After heading back down to SR-143 we descended through the ski town and glided down the steep curves back into pinyon and juniper tree habitat, watching as the red sandstone began poking out more and more from the forested mountains. Turning off at First Left Hand Canyon Forest Road, we started climbing again, back to about 7,000 feet and the trailhead for the Vermillion Cliffs Trail. This area of red and white sandstone is still pretty shrouded in tree cover despite it being drier here but the trail leads through a relatively exposed section of sandstone and is exposed. Exposed and really hot in the sun.
Barely two miles round trip, the trail nonetheless climbs almost a thousand feet, switchbacking steeply up the side of the cliffs. As you hike the sandstone gravel begins to alternate with solid slabs of sandstone until near the top yo find yourself unexpectedly looking at some very oddly-shaped conglomerates. The trail then flattens a bit and crosses a ridge that provides fantastic views down the valley. One last climb past some ponderosa pines and the exposed fiery red spires are revealed. We cruised around just under the Vermillion Castle formation for awhile hunting for interesting viewpoints and lookoffs into the valley below, but finally after we’d had enough sun and heat we descended, ending our day by riding out the road to the border of the district of Dixie National Forest.