Utah's Kodachrome Basin State Park overshadowed by famous neighbors

By Bob Downing

Akron Beacon Journal

Published: Saturday, July 21 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

The scenery along Utah State Route 12 is geologically spectacular. The route is a national Scenic Byway and an All-American Highway. (Bob Downing/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)

Bob Downing, MCT

CANNONVILLE, Garfield County (MCT) — There's a very colorful southern Utah state park in that gets overlooked, despite its distinctive rock chimneys from long-dead petrified geysers.

Kodachrome Basin State Park gets little respect, lost amid the glitter of its more famous neighboring national parks: Bryce, Zion, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches. It is also surrounded by Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which covers 1.9 million acres.

But Kodachrome Basin is a desert gem. At an elevation of 5,800 feet, the park lies 22 miles east of Bryce Canyon National Park and nine miles south of Cannonville. It is in the heart of Utah's "color country."

Kodachrome Basin offers remoteness, desert solitude and reddish cliffs, along with its distinguishing features: 67 rare, whitish monolithic limestone towers.

The tallest chimney or sand pipe is 170 feet high and the shortest is 6 feet. They appear to stand as rock sentries towering above the park. Most are 30 to 50 feet tall and are more than a little surreal. The basin has more spires of its kind that any other place in the world.

The views of the rock formations change with the sunlight, as does the contrast. Some jut upward from the valley floor. Others tower above surrounding cliffs and outcrops.

Geologists believe that the spires formed when liquefied sand hardened inside ancient geysers. That may have resulted from earthquakes or the remnants of ancient springs.

The calcite and feldspar inside the geysers' pipes remained after softer exterior rocks of Entrada sandstone eroded away.

Kodachrome Basin is believed to have been very similar to Yellowstone National Park — with hot springs, geysers and boiling mud pots.

Visitors from the National Geographic Society in 1948 suggested naming the 2,241-acre park for the color film. The society led a photo tour via automobiles in 1947 into the little-known Escalante Lands of southern Utah. Society members suggested changing the name of Thorley's Basin or Thorny Pasture, as the place was locally known, because of the contrasting colors in the pretty little valley.

The film had been introduced commercially in 1935 and was first used in the society's famous magazine in 1936. Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y., proudly agreed to the name change in 1949. Kodachrome Basin became a state park in 1963.

The park's green color comes from the dominant juniper, plus pinion pine.

It features eight short hiking trails. They include a half-mile nature trail and Panorama Trail, a three-mile loop that is the longest in the park. Panorama Trail includes a second loop of two miles and several side trails. It leads to Panorama Point.

The Panorama Trail takes you to Ballerina Slipper spire, the wide-brimmed pedestals of Hat Shop and Secret Pass, a narrow passage between red-rocked walls. It also takes you past a rock spire that looks like cartoon and film character Fred Flintstone. Mountain bikes are permitted on the Panorama Trail and on park roads.

The Grand Parade Trail stretches 1.7 miles on the canyon floor and past two box canyons, and Cool Cave Trail is two miles long with stops at Big Bear Geyser and Cool Cave.

Eagle's View Trail climbs a quarter-mile via a steep, narrow path to provide an up-high look at the park.

Shakespeare Arch is 20 feet across and 90 feet high in a small out-of-the-way cove. It is a one-mile round trip to get there. Angels Place Trail is a one-mile loop that offers great park vistas from atop a butte. The Nature Trail offers a look at rock formations and desert plants.

The park is classified as semidesert in the Upper Sonoran Zone, with plants and animals that must adapt to drought as well as extreme heat and cold.

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