The Best of Utah High Country

The week we spent in the Sawtooths felt all too short and as the time approached for us to leave I think we both felt the tug to stay and spend more time amidst the beauty of the mountains. Our next destination however was a return to Southwest Utah and the promise of being able to get into the high country. When we’d departed Utah 6 weeks ago for our build in Libby, Montana the higher elevations in my beloved mountains still had a couple feet of snow in most places making the hiking there nearly impossible – and my longing to see some of my favorite places unfulfilled. Knowing we’d be able to get to finally be there after having been away for 2 years gave us much to look forward to.

Our first outing, done of course with our best hiking friend Terry, was a combination of two walks which, together, showcase some of the best of the high country in Dixie National Forest. Our first stop was the Twisted Forest, a barren patch of multi-colored limestone punctuated by the hardy bristlecone pine at the edge of the Cedar Breaks amphitheater. I am forever fascinated by the tenacity of the bristlecone which survives here above 10,000 feet with little water, high winds, and virtually no soil. Many are barely staying alive in the extremity of the circumstances but some established trees – obviously over 1,000 years old by their size – have managed to grow multiple, twisted trunks, now weathered and twisted.

The incredulous bristlecone is hardly the only reason I am in love with this place however; the views thousands of feet down the Ashdown Gorge Wilderness, across the hoodoos and broken landscape of the amphitheater, and up to Brian Head Peak are jaw-dropping. From here on the rim of the bowl we love to spot our favorite high meadows, trace routes we’ve taken, and (of course) point out places we’d like to get down to and explore. We always take a different track through the bristlecones and up to different sections of the edge of the limestone, making each time an opportunity to see the character of different trees, new angles into the bowl, and new sightlines of the landmarks we know. Regardless of the routes we take or the new areas we explore however hiking in these mountains always feels like a homecoming to me, and it is literally impossible to describe how perfectly content I felt walking there that day.

My contentment only grew however as we exchanged our hike on the rocky rim of the Claron formation for another excursion in the high meadows below Brian Head and Sydney Peaks. There is no trail through these meadows ringed by the robust spruce that survived the beetle infestation of the early 90s though there is plenty of beauty to behold. The views of the of the peaks and forest are pretty wonderful at any time of year but the blooming wildflowers made that day’s walk a particularly special one. Lucky for us there weren’t any sheep grazing in the flowering fields that day allowing us to walk quite a ways, past abandoned log cabins and along the edges of lofty, magnificent forest. The greens, purples, and yellow of the meadows were captivating and oh so lovely, but it was the striding across the lengths of open land, free to choose our path, that was most exhilarating.