It’s always a good idea to heed the advice of a park ranger – even when that advice comes with a side of shaming.
Luke and I decided to break away from the splendor of Zion National Park to see something that’s eluded me since our first visit to Utah five years ago – petroglyphs.
Yes, petroglyphs do exist within the park. I, however, was greedy and wanted to find some that were “hidden” in order to pretend I’ve discovered them for the first time. A crowd of people would ruin that fantasy altogether.
We consulted the blog Fresh Off the Grid, which is a fantastic resource for exploring the lesser-known places in southern Utah. The writers steered us in the direction of Snow Canyon State Park to see petroglyphs hidden inside of a “secret” slot canyon. The trail leading there is convoluted and the entrance to the slot is easy to miss, so they urge readers to check-in with park staff before setting out on their own treasure hunt.
Snow Canyon is located in Ivins, about 10 miles northwest of St. George. It’s largely overlooked by tourists in favor of the nearby national parks. But those who do come apparently only want to do the petroglyph hike, much to the chagrin of the rangers who work there.
We visited Snow Canyon on a drizzly Friday afternoon. The place was empty aside from a handful of Sprinter Vans and Airstreams parked in campsites near the small visitor center. I walked up to the counter and greeted the park ranger standing behind it with a breezy, “Hey, how’s it goin’?”
A shadow passed over his face when I asked him for directions to the petroglyphs. He silently scratched a complicated route into my map with a dry ballpoint pen. After sliding it back across the counter, he explained that we would be spending more time hiking through a nearby subdivision than within the park boundaries.
Also, the slot was less dramatic than the blog made it seem and the carvings were varnished over, which made them hard to see. He argued it would be a disappointing experience for us.
“If you want to see petroglyphs, there is a much better place about 10 minutes from here,” he said, handing us a small slip of paper with pre-printed directions to the Anasazi site. “If you go around sunset, you’ll get to see them in a pretty, golden light that makes them look really dramatic in photographs.”
He had us pegged. We agreed to spend the afternoon exploring Snow Canyon, which was probably the best decision we made all week.
Our first stop was Jenny’s Canyon, a short but interestingly sculpted slot a quarter-mile off the park’s main road. We followed a red dirt trail lined by these vibrant blue-green plants that glowed in the muted light. The beautiful contrast was impossible to capture in a picture, so we spent a few minutes committing it to memory before moving on.
We then found a shallow cave where Mormon pioneers painted their names onto the back wall with axle grease. This graffiti dates back to the 1880’s, which makes it old enough to be considered “historic” rather than “annoying.”
Finally, we hiked the Hidden Pinyon Trail to a field of massive, petrified sand dunes straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. I crab walked straight to the top of the tallest dune and spent a good hour soaking up a 360-degree view of the park. Somehow, all four corners managed to feature distinct geological formations including red sandstone, white cliffs and black volcanic rock.
Unlike Zion, Snow Canyon’s larger than life landscape was occupied by very few human life forms. Its silence was broken only by my own whoops of joy. Sun rays shone down through the cloud cover in the direction of the Anasazi site.
Our hearts were full and we still had petroglyphs to look forward to.