Kodachrome Basin State Park
Thursday, October 3
Bright Morning at the Prospector
We were in a bit of limbo-land. With the departure of Roland and Stephanie and the impending arrival of the rest of Arn's family the following day, and with the ongoing federal government shutdown, we had a number of constraints hemming us in. A long backpacking option was out, as was any sort of extended length day-outing (we had slept in today, and we didn't really have the time for any outing of that sort). Also out was any visit to any national park unit other than the Grand Staircase-Escalante. And the Grand Staircase-Escalante doesn't really have a profusion of short and easy day hikes (Calf Creek Falls - upper and lower - notwithstanding).
So, we turned our attention to state parks (in other words, parks which we knew would be unaffected by the shutdown). Immediately, I thought of Kodachrome Basin. Kodachrome Basin is a state park not far east of Bryce Canyon. I had visited and camped there once before years ago, and recalled it being a quite scenic little pocket of countryside, with several short to medium-length trails. Seemed like a plan.
Heading towards Kodachrome
By late morning, we were driving west out of Escalante on scenic UT-12, back in the direction of Bryce Canyon. After about forty minutes of driving, we turned south onto Cottonwood Canyon Road in the small town of Cannonville. Fifteen further minutes of driving brought us to the entrance of Kodachrome Basin State Park. As we turned onto the park road, we noticed the "Full Campground" sign, and as we drove in, the fact that it was very busy. Surprisingly so, for an out-of-the-way park like this one. Very likely another case of "refugee" vacationers, seeking an alternative after being kicked out of national parks.
Kodachrome Basin SP
Kodachrome Basin, so the story goes, was "discovered" in 1948 by a group of photographers from the National Geographic Society. Impressed by the colorful scenery, they named it in a manner congruent with a tool of their trade. More specifically, a tool that was used to capture that color: Kodak's Kodachrome slide film.
Kodachrome interpretive sign
With that interesting explanation under our belts, we examined the very nicely-illustrated and detailed park pamphlet, which had good overviews of the various trail options. All of the trails were relatively short, and so we chose one of the longer of them - a multi-use looped path called the Panorama Trail.
The Panorama trail started out flat (in fact, it is almost entirely on the flat). Flat, wide and rather sandy. We headed west across a flat dotted with sagebrush, mormon tea, juniper, and other desert plants, angling towards a craggy outcropping of red Entrada Sandstone. Higher up, a bit further in the background, the Entrada was overlain by a thick and high white layer - the Dakota Sandstone. This was a rock unit we hadn't seen much of in the other parks we'd recently visited.
Unlike almost all trails in National Parks, this trail was multi-use: hikers, horses and bicycles were permitted. For this reason, the trail had a bit of a road-like feel to it. The tread of the trail was covered with a two or three inch powdery layer of sand, which impeded walking slightly. It was still a very nice trail, but the quality of the trailbed reduced the enjoyment ever so slightly.
Easy path beneath colorful cliffs
It was cooler today. Partly cloudy, and with a gusty wind. The passing clouds created fast moving shadows that played over the colorful cliffs and hills to our north.
Kodachrome basin is primarily an area of flat land below a two-tiered set of cliffs rising to the north. The trail we were on - the Panorama Trail - more or less meandered west, following the base of the lower cliffs. Therefore, our views were almost entirely up to cliffs above us, and the elevation change we experienced was minimal.
Every so often, The Panorama Trail would throw off a side trail. These side trails - always foot-only trails - led to some scenic or otherwise interesting attraction. The first of these was "Indian Cave". It wasn't clear what the origin or nature of this "cave" was, but in any case there were some curious hand-shaped gouges in the sandstone near the cave.
Soon we came close to "The Ballerina" - one of Kodachrome Basin's signature features - a so-called "sand geyser" or "sand chimney". These are tall pillars of white-colored stone, clearly different in composition from the surrounding bedrock.
Towards the Ballerina
In addition to being scenically impressive, these towers of rock are very curious, because they are a geologic structure that is not seen anywhere else on the Colorado Plateau (at least as far as I was aware), and they way they formed was not at all clear. They looked very much like an intrusive (i.e. intruded into the parent rock after the parent rock had formed) feature, but yet they seemed sedimentary in nature (intrusive rocks are generally igneous in nature).
The Hat Shop
Next up on the attraction list was "Hat Shop" (which was a scenic enough stop under colorful and craggy cliffs, but as far as "hats" went, there weren't many in the shop!).
Next up, a short distance along the main trail, was a side trail to "Secret Passage". This was a more interesting attraction: an area of extremely smooth slickrock at the base of Entrada Sandstone cliffs. Rising out of this smooth rock were a series of conical-shaped hoodoos. Both were a unique variant of pattern, texture and form that we had not seen before. I wasn't sure what exactly made this area a "Secret Passage". Perhaps the narrow "V" between the conical hoodoos?
Secret Passage side trail
Slickrock near Secret Passage
Smooth Hoodoos, Secret Passage
After the "Secret Passage" side trip, we returned to the main Panorama Point trail, and continued along westward. The vistas along the escarpment of Entrada Sandstone were classic Colorado Plateau high quality desert scenery, but again, the trail itself was less than perfectly enjoyable for walking. It didn't have the allure or aesthetic quality of a nice, narrow "single-track" footpath. We could even faintly see the tank-like tracks of some sort of little bulldozer that they had used to essentially plow the trail out of the desert (I know, I know - I'm complaining too much about this. After all... this is a multi-use trail).
Approaching Cool Cave
We had finally reached the far end of the Panorama Point Loop, and were approaching the most distant of the trail's attractions: "Cool Cave". Hitched up to some trees near the start of the short footpath to Cool Cave were several horses - our first example of horseback travel along this trail.
The short side trail led up a small nondescript wash that came out of the cliffs of Entrada Sandstone. Upon reaching the cliffs, we entered a large cavernous space carved deep within: Cool Cave.
Cool Cave was actually the final drop of a narrow slot canyon, draining a small area of benchland above. Below the final drop of slot, erosional processes had widened the slot into a round, cave-like space. It really is a cool cave-like spot. It should really be called "Cool Hidden Cave", because it is completely invisible from any direction outside. You have to walk right into it to see it.