SOUTHERN UTAH is famed for huge, brightly colored rock formations such as those found in Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument. But unknown to many people are the similar but much smaller formations in remote sections of northern Utah.
Eroded rocks and red bluffs visible from I-84 in Weber Canyon between Devil's Slide (a strange rock formation of its own) and Echo Canyon, and along the early portion of road from Croydon to Lost Creek Reservoir, are reminiscent of the sandscapes to the south.But the biggest grouping of scenic rocks in that area is found in Chinatown, a 13-acre site of strangely colored, eroded red-rock formations atop a 7,000-foot mountain range on the Morgan-Summit county line.
Since Chinatown is on private land - there's no public land within 10 air miles of it - a trip to this remote area (accessible only by seven miles of rugged jeep trail, through four private gates and with the aid of detailed directions) is a rarity and virtually impossible for the public at large. Maybe these observations and photograph of Chinatown and the surrounding area can serve as a proxy visit for the general public.
Chinatown looks like a mini-Cedar Breaks Monument, or even like a small part of Bryce Canyon, with its 200- to 300-foot-high eroded red pinnacles.
While Cedar Breaks is about a mile wide and three miles long, Chinatown is probably less than one-sixth that, but both are in amphitheaterlike forest settings near mountain tops.
Cedar Breaks has a little more vivid reddish rock coloring, but Chinatown does contain shades of a faded red, amid a background of evergreens and quaking aspens.
Chinatown was so named because of formations that reminded pioneer visitors of Chinese pagodas - pyramidal towers several stories high. Some other formations in Chinatown are in the shape of Indian totem poles.
Most of Chinatown is a conglomerate mix of rock and gravel that could perhaps best be described as "nature's own cement." (It's no wonder a cement plant is just 14 miles away in Croydon.)
The summit overlooks a large portion of surrounding area. The highest portions of the Wasatch Mountains are visible to the west, and the high Uintas can be seen to the southeast.
Chinatown's summit-high location also hides it somewhat. The formations can't really be seen except from the overlook.
En route to Chinatown, unusual rock formations can be spotted in several other places along this large tract of private property.
One set of formations is reminiscent of some sections in Zion National Park, though much smaller. Other rocks look like southern Idaho's City of Rocks. One large rock, about two miles north of Chinatown, is shaped like portions of abandoned castle lookouts in south Wales and England.
The town of Croydon boasted of Chinatown's scenic value and encouraged visitors as recently as the early 1960s, but public abuse and vandalism were probably the big reasons for today's seclusion behind locked gates and no-trespassing signs.
There are also reportedly several other scenic wonders in the Croydon/Morgan area, like Red Canyon, but all are also on private property.
After a tiring roundtrip visit to Chinatown (a 100-mile automobile ride - 12 on a dirt road - eight miles of mountain bicycling and six hiking miles with a 2,000-plus foot climb), it is rather satisfying to have visited a rather obscure natural wonder where there were no other visitors and where things looked much as they did more than 100 years ago.
Chinatown and other rock formations in this area also prove that nature does repeat itself. Bryce, Zion and Cedar Breaks are big, but hey, they aren't so unusual after all.