A Christmas Eve Hike in the Red Cliffs

Since it was snowing again at the house, we decided to hike down in the Red Cliffs on Christmas Eve. It was still stormy as we drove past the 4,000 foot elevation marker on I-15 but soon after the precipitation tapered off, though the heavy cloud cover stayed with us for most of the day, and we could see it actively snowing in the Pine Valley Mountains just west of the Red Cliffs.

For cold-season hiking in Utah the Red Cliffs are a go-to area for us, due in part to the large area and incredible variety of the landscape there. Case in point was our Christmas hike: Though we departed from the White Reef Trailhead – from which I’ve taken at least 3 other hikes – we walked through an area I had never been before. We began by hiking north along the base of the cliffs until we reached the Adit Trail, which led west over one of the reefs jutting upwards from the flat red sand and dirt.

On the other side of the reef lay was the southern end of the Leeds mining district, parts of which I’ve seen when hiking from the north. This area of the Red Cliffs has been named White Reef because the white Springdale Sandstone in which deposits of silver were discovered in the mid-19th century –“reef” being a mining term for veins or lodes. The titled and fractured white sandstone emerging from the red sands at the base of the Red Cliffs also appear like a reef, but I believe the name actually comes from mining vocabulary. In any case, this southern section of the reef has multiple grated old pit mines similar to the ones I’d seen before, but a denser concentration of old rock houses that were once occupied by the miners. Generally, the structures here were of high-quality construction, were a bit larger, and have better withstood the passage of time. In one house, the wall still stood around an intact fireplace – which was impressive considering the small size and somewhat-haphazard construction of many of the other shelters.

Along the trail in this area we came across copper embedded in some of the sandstone and also had front row seats to the intensifying snow storm in the Pine Valley Mountains. Once we turned east and passed the largest of the old mines (that had been converted to a uranium mine in the 1950s) we cut back south through the small, dirt-road community of Hidden Valley which lies on the boundary of the conservation area. To return to the trailhead we first followed a wash and then the boundary fence paralleling the highway.

Snowstorm in the Pine Mountains to the west, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Snowstorm in the Pine Mountains to the west, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Chert and jasper, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Chert and jasper, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Looking south, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Looking south, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Copper in the rock, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Copper in the rock, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

More copper, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

More copper, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Abby standing on a white reef looking at the Red Cliffs, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Abby standing on a white reef looking at the Red Cliffs, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Another view of the cliffs from the reef, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Another view of the cliffs from the reef, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Rock miner's house, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Rock miner’s house, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Tom looking into a rock house, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Tom looking into a rock house, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Rock house, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Rock house, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Rock house, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Rock house, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Looking into a wash below, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Looking into a wash below, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Fireplace in a rock house, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Fireplace in a rock house, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Spanish dagger, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Spanish dagger, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Clouds totally obscuring the 10,000 foot peaks of the Pine Mountains above the Red Cliffs, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Clouds totally obscuring the 10,000 foot peaks of the Pine Mountains above the Red Cliffs, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Treasure! Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

Treasure! Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

The return hike along the fence, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah

The return hike along the fence, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Utah