They give us those nice bright colors
Give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah”
– Paul Simon from Kodachrome
For day three of my Utah adventure, my plan was to switch from the national park system to the state park system and hike in two of Utah’s finest; Kodachrome Basin State Park and Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. Upon waking up though, I was a bit sore from the previous day’s hiking and briefly considered not going to give my body a break. Additionally, the temperatures were forecasted to be in the high ‘90s as opposed to the mid-80s I had experienced the day before. And finally, I thought these parks might pale in comparison to the grandeur of what I had seen in Bryce Canyon. But then an idea hit me…. Instead of hiking, what if I saw Kodachrome Basin on horseback? A quick call at about 8:00 AM to company running the trail ride program in the park and I was told they already had five people for the 9:00 AM ride but they could probably add me as long as I could get there in time.
Despite the park being only 20 minutes away, I had to scramble to get everything pulled together to be prepared to go. Finding the motel’s ice machine to not be working, I had to make a quick run to the convenience store for ice for the Camelbak which cost me some time I didn’t have to spare. I got to the park about 10 minutes after nine, cursing my timing, formulating an apology for being late and hoping I could plead my case for being allowed to join the group. I needn’t have worried as when I got to the trail ride center, there was only one couple waiting and the trail guide was moving very deliberately as he readied the horses to be ridden. Upon asking him if I could still join the ride, he gave a slow nod and went about his preparations.
In 1948, the National Geographic Society explored and photographed the area for a story in their magazine and named it Kodachrome Flat after the film produced by Kodak known for its bright and vibrant colors. Later after making it a state park, the Utah state park commission changed the name in fear of repercussions from the Kodak company but subsequently got permission to use the name and it became Kodachrome Basin State Park. Similar to, but not the same as the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, Kodachrome is known for its sandstone spires and columns called sand pipes. There are multiple theories on how these were formed and there are sixty even of them throughout the park set against the signature red landscape this part of Utah is known for.
After chatting with the couple for a few minutes while we waited for the trail guide to finish prepping the horses, we got called into the small building next to the horse corral which serves as the starting point for the ride. It turned out there were three no-shows for the morning ride so it would just be the three of us. After signing a waiver, we were taken into the corral by our trail guide, Steve, as he sized each of us up and decided which horse we would ride. Steve gave us some basic instructions on what to do (and not do) and assured us these horses were used to being ridden by people with little or no experience and would be easy to manage. (Although he did say if the horse sensed we were unsure, it might be a little more difficult as horses will do more of what they please if they think their rider is not confident.) I was saddled up on a mare named Annie and was at the back of our small pack as I guess Steve wanted the couple who had no horse riding experience nearest to him as I said I had ridden a horse a few times
Steve proved to be an excellent trail guide. Probably in his 50’s, he is a third generation rancher from Utah who has the look and mannerisms of someone who has been around horses his whole life and peppered his speech with the adages and expressions one would expect from what we used to call cowboys in this country. One of my favorites was when he was about to mount his horse and he said, “The older I get, the more I appreciate a short horse.” Steve took us on a two hour trail ride through the park, taking us on the trails used by hikers and mountain bikers but also taking us on trails which are off limits to the general public. Along the way, he pointed out and told us the names of the more famous sand pipes, gave us some of the history of the park, and told us some personal stories of his life as a rancher, all the while giving us gentle corrections on how to get our horses to follow our lead if we were doing something incorrectly. He made the experience quite enjoyable by adding such a personal touch and if you ever visit Kodachrome, I highly recommend you get in touch with Red Canyon Trail Rides and schedule a ride.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get many pictures in Kodachrome as both my hands were occupied during the ride with one hand on the reins and the other in a white knuckle grip on the saddle horn. I didn’t want to suffer the embarrassment of trying to take a picture with my phone and either dropping it and having to ask the trail guide to retrieve it or worse, tumbling off my mount. A couple of the shots I did get are below.
After two hours on a horse, I was a little sore albeit in a different way than I was from hiking. And I was hungry since in my rush to get to the park, I skipped breakfast. I was told there was a great pizza place in Escalante but I couldn’t remember the name. A quick Google search pointed me to Escalante Outfitters which is a combination of outdoor gear store, log cabin rentals and pizza(?). I rode past it two times not realizing it served food and to say the least I was a little skeptical. (As a native New Yorker, I have high standards for pizza but always approach things with an open mind.) Well, I was not disappointed. If you are ever in Escalante, this is the place to go.
Up next on the agenda was Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. Having missed my opportunity to get to Petrified Forest National Park on my trip to Arizona last year, I made sure to schedule this park. As a side note, petrified is not wood at all but rather it is minerals like silica which crystallize over the course of millions of years within the wood’s cell structure when fallen trees get buried in mud and don’t decompose since they are in an oxygen free environment.
It was pretty hot by this time of the day as the temperatures were north of 100 degrees so I was hoping to make quick work of the 1.75 mile trail. I found myself struggling a bit and ended up doing the loop which had the most examples of petrified wood, All ended well when I met another hiker on the trail who pointed me in the right direction.
My day ended with me checking into the Circle D Motel in Escalante. Fortunately for me, it was right next door to the only bar along Utah Hwy 12. What a pleasant surprise. It’s run by a couple of Southern California natives who converted a 1940s service station into a bar with a California influenced menu. The crowd was friendly with a number of folks from various places who came to town on their motorcycles. I will talk a little about them on another post. The 4th West Pub was definitely a great find and worth a visit the next time you are in Escalante.