Treasure chest: Utah is a cornucopia of exciting outdoor sites

Published: Wednesday, March 23 2011 6:00 p.m. MDT

A mountain goat stands on a ledge in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

T.J. Kirkpatrick, Deseret News archives

Lake Powell, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Flaming Gorge.

All well-known. All popular attractions. All in Utah.

The big four are among the state's most visited wonders.

But then there are Fisher Towers, Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, San Francisco Mountain, Waterpocket Fold, Peak-A-Boo Gulch, Jarvie Historical Ranch, Black Dragon Canyon, Valley of the Gods and Crystal Ball Cave.

Certainly not as well-known. Certainly not as frequently visited. But, again, all in Utah.

Utah is, indeed, a treasure chest of natural wonders that some people are well aware of, but many more that they are not so familiar with.

Some of those lesser-known sites include:

In Salt Lake County: There's the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, which will someday stretch from Idaho to Nephi, roughly 280 miles. It runs along the eastern bench of the valley. The trail follows closely the shoreline of old Lake Bonneville, which once covered most of Utah.

The trail is open to hiking, biking and running, and offers spectacular views of the valley. About 100 miles of the trail have been completed. The most improved section, consisting mostly of dirt and paved pathways, runs from Farmington to Parleys Canyon.

In Grand County: there is one of the state's more well-know rock-art panels — Newspaper Rock south of Moab. But there are a number of rock-art sites closer to town, including the Golf Course Rock Art, which is only 4 miles from town, and the Kane Creek Site, which is about 3 miles from town.

A backdrop for many Hollywood movies is Fisher Tower, located east of Moab. There is a popular hike — 2.2 miles — leading to this landmark site along the Colorado River.

In Washington County: There's Zion National Park, which tends to grab most of the headlines. Kolob Canyons near the northern border of the park is no less spectacular but draws far less traffic. The rugged sandstone canyons come with a very unique geological history and beautiful formations. The entrance to the canyons is south of Cedar City.

Inside the park, there is a 14.5-mile hike that takes visitors to Kolob Arch, the largest natural arch in the world. It spans 310 feet.

In Juab County: One of the more remote sites in Utah is Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge. It is an oasis in the Great Basin Desert. Even thought it's in the desert, even in the driest of years, the water supply varies very little, which is good because 278 different species of birds make annual stops at the wetland refuge. The refuge holds the only trees within 25 miles, which makes it a natural draw to passing birds. Fish Springs covers about 17,992 acres, of which 10,000 acres are marshlands.

The water supply to the refuge comes from nearby mountain snowpack that melted anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 years ago.

One of the state's most popular rockhounding areas for amateurs and professionals is Topaz Mountain, located near the center of the county. It is, of course, where that Utah state gem, topaz, can be found. On sunny days, the topaz crystals, which are nearly the same hardness as diamonds, sparkle like diamonds. There are also other gems found on the mountain, including garnets, red beryl, pseudo-brookite, needles, bixbyite and hermatite. Visitors are welcome to pick up these rock gems on the surface or dig with their fingers, but they need a permit if opting to dig for the gems with tools.

In Piute County: Visitors can pan for gold. Several years ago, Bullion Canyon, which flows into Bullion Creek, experienced one of those 100-year floods. As a result, a new batch of minerals flowed down into the creek. An increasing number of people have been visiting the creek and panning for what they call "black sand," which contains very small traces of gold.

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