Utah is known for its amazing rock formations, including spires, pinnacles, hoodoos, natural bridges, and arches, as well as buttes and canyons.
Some of the most spectacular can be seen at Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Natural Bridges, Cathedral Valley, and Monument Valley.
The Island in the Sky is a massive plateau within Canyonlands National Park with excellent off-roading possibilities and wild rides for those who dare to attempt the White Rim Road which precariously floats 1,000-feet above the Canyonlands terrain. Also in the park is Upheaval Dome, a three-mile section of deformed rock layers that have been shaped into a dome. No one quite knows how this dome was formed, but one theory contends that a large meteorite may have been involved.
Utah is also noted for its significant mountain ranges. When you drive out of Salt Lake City, the nearby Wasatch Range has endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, hiking, and, when it is the season for snow, both downhill and cross-country skiing. The La Sal Mountains, part of the Rocky Mountains, lie on the east side of the state, encompass the Moab region and form a backdrop for Arches National Park.
The second-highest range in Utah, they are part of the Manti-La Sal National Forest, with hills full of vivid colors in the fall.
The primitive Henry Mountains create the headwaters for the Fremont River, which flows north into the Dirty Devil River and south into the Colorado River where it meets Lake Powell. Boulder Mountain is the formation to the west of Capitol Reef National Park. The mountain is relatively flat on top and worth the trouble to explore during its brief snow-free weeks. It harbors numerous small natural lakes nestled within undulating forests and flowering meadows. Part of the Dixie National Forest, it is the highest timbered plateau on the continent.
The Sheep Creek Cave is a wild, watery cave near Flaming Gorge in the Ashley National Forest that is open to spelunkers during the summer months, with permit by the Manila Ranger District.
Scenic Whiterocks Cave, near Roosevelt, poses a lottery that, if won, allows your group to go on a free ranger-led tour.
Mammoth Cave near Duck Creek in the Dixie National Forest is a large lava tube with over 2,200 feet of passageways. Only a few thousand years old, it supports several bat species as well as small birds and animals. This wild cave has no tours, lights or amenities.
Ice Cave, just east of Cedar City, is also a wild cave that contains year-round icicles.
The Wasatch-Cache National Forest is home to Wind Caves, a fascinating triple arch cave cut out of limestone by wind and water. The two-mile trial offers interpretive kiosks at the trailhead which winds through Witch’s Castle and views of the China Wall. The Timpanogos Cave National Monument, also in the Wasatch Mountains, is a great summer hike with an elevation gain of over 1,000 feet with views of the American Fork Canyon before entering the three chambers of the cave.
Rangers lead you through the Hansen Cave, a tour that takes you on a caving expedition sans electric lights (except for head lights worn by the participants) and paved pathways. The crawl, scramble and hike is strenuous and exhilarating if you don’t mind total darkness, tight spaces and heading blindly into the unknown. Once you are hooked, join the National Speleological Society to find a local caving club that can teach you about cave exploration, preservation and fanclubs.
Rocks worth Exploring in Nearby States
The area around Sedona is noted for its brilliant red sandstone. Courthouse Butte straddles Coconino and Yavapai counties in Arizona. Part of the Red Rocks of Sedona, these monoliths rising out of a flat desert floor stand in stark contrast against the brilliant blue skies. A famous monolith is thought to resemble Snoopy lying atop his doghouse near another formation that locals say resembles Lucy from the famous Peanuts comic strip. From just the right angle, they sort of do.
Minnetonka Cave in Idaho’s side of Bear Lake contains nine caverns, the largest measuring more than 300-feet across and 90-feet high. This sky-high cave system’s entrance is at an elevation of 7,700 feet, which makes it one of the coldest caverns (40-degrees!) you are likely to explore. Filled with a half-mile of banded travertine, stalactites and stalagmites, the living cave is reached after descending (and ascending at the end) 400 steps. The Bride is a lacy stalactite that is a favorite of visitors and the five species of bats native to the caves. Fossils of coral, brachiopods, bryozoans and crinoids stems are found within the cave ceiling and walls.
Nearby, the Paris Ice Cave is a non-commercial cave accessible in the summer when the small stream dries up.
Valley of Fire was Nevada’s first state park and is considered one of the most photogenic. It has been the backdrop of a number of movies including Star Trek Generations and Total Recall. With bright salmon-colored sandstone, petrified sand dunes, hoodoos, arches and petroglyphs, the more than 34 thousand acres are full of mystery and suspense. Some of the more interesting formations are well known. Elephant Rock looks exactly like an elephant with its trunk hanging onto the ground for stability. This would be an interesting arch, in any other setting, but the rock structures are so fantastic and arches so plentiful, the elephant is just taken in stride.