In 1948, the idea of color film was still relatively new (Kodak had only come out with it in 1935 and magazines hadn't started using it until 1939) and so was the idea of tourists going out and taking their own pictures. When a field expedition from the National Geographic Society visited this scenic area south of Cannonville that year, they were so impressed with the range of colors and rock formations that they called the place Kodachrome Basin.
The name appeared in National Geographic magazine in the fall of 1949. Up until then, local folks has simply called it Thorley's pasture, says ranger Tom Shakespeare, in honor of the man who kept his cows there. But the colorful name stuck.The area became a state park in 1963. "State officials heard that Kodak was upset because Kodachrome was a trademark name, so they changed the name to Chimney Rock State Park," explains Shakespeare. "Then Kodak contacted them and said, 'No, we're not upset. We like that name.' So they changed it back."
It is a place that definitely lives up to its billing, he says. "It photographs really well." Throughout the day you get such a range of colors, a dramatic play of light and shadow on the red sandstone cliffs, he says. Mother Nature puts on a grand show.
However, the color isn't the only drawing card. What makes Kodachrome Basin truly unique is the geology. Here you find the world's best collection of chimney rocks, sometimes called sand pipes or sand spires, even though many are made of limestone. Geologists are still studying them, but the latest theory is that these spires were formed by minerals such as calcite, quartz and feldspar that bubbled up in springs or geysers similar to those in Yellowstone. But over the course of a few eons, the minerals solidified and the surrounding sandstone eroded away, leaving the spires, which range in height from about 6 to 150 feet.
The chimeys are spectacular. But other rock formations also attrack the eye. Clearly visible strata on layered cliffs attest to the patience of geology. Rich, red spires draw thoughts to the heavens. Fanciful shapes tickle the imagination.
A popular attraction is the arch that Shakespeare discovered in 1976 and now bears his name. "I was out looking for a coyote den on a little motor bike and rode right up under the arch. I figured everybody already knew about it, but when I started asking around, it turned out that it was new." The Cannonville City Council chose the name, he said. It honors not only him, but also his grandfather, who was one of the first settlers in the area.
Kodachrome Basin is best enjoyed on foot, at a pace that allows the soft and scenic surroundings to sink into your consciousness, to be savored and appreciated. Seven different trails provide that opportunity and range from the short and easy to the long and strenuous:
Nature Trail: Recently upgraded to be handicapped accessible, this 3/8-mile trails takes off from the campground area. A printed guide provides information about plants and formations along the trail.
Shakespeare Arch Trail: A half-mile round trip, this easy climb takes you to the arch discovered by Shakespeare. It's kinds of fun, as you go along, though, to see if you can see any reminders of that other Shakespeare guy: Macbeth's knife? Juliet's balcony? Hamlet's castle? Let your imagination run wild.
Angel's Palace: A one-mile loop that gains an elevation of about 100 feet to a plateau that provides an overview of parts of the park.
Panorama Trail: The longest of the trails, this one can be from 2 to 5 miles round-trip, depending on how many loops you take as you circle among the spires. The trail provides access into the roadless west side of the park, and provides a nice view of the Ballerina Spire.
Big Bear Geyser Trail: Named for a spire that looks like a bear, this newest trail in the park is about a 2-mile loop, taking off from the Panorama Trail. It also features Cool Cave, an intriguing box-canyon cave.
Grand Parade Trail: A 1 1/2-mile trail that is fairly flat and takes you past spires and columns that look as if they were lined up for a parade.
Eagles View Trail: Once an old cattle trail north to Henrieville, this is the steepest and most strenuous hike. Upgraded by a group of Boy Scouts as an Eagle Scout project, the trail takes you to the top of the cliffs, about 1,000 feet above the park floor.
Facilities at Kodachrome include a 27-unit campground, plus a large group-use area. Fresh spring water and firewood are available, and restrooms and shower facilities have been built.
Trail Head Station, in the center of the park, is run by concessionaires MiraLoy and Bob Ott and provides food and supplies as well as guided horseback rides and stagecoach rides along several of the trails.
The park gets full quite often, says Shakespeare, who recommends advance reservations. But the design of the campground, to provide private spots screened by pondarosas and other plants, keeps things pretty quiet, he says.
Located nine miles south of Cannonville, and right next door to the new Escalante-Grand Staircase Monument, the 2,500-acre park is also in the process of developing a resource management plan, and Shakespeare invites anyone with comments to contact the State Parks Division.
But quiet is just the way he likes it. "This is one of the real gems of the state park system," he says. Virtually untouched and yet with easy access, similar to other red-rock sites and yet very different, with a timeless quality that speaks of the ages both past and future, Kodachrome Basin is a place where rock and stone tell endless stories.
P.S. Be sure to bring your camera.