Hidden Pinyon & Petrified Dunes Trails, Snow Canyon

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It seems like the very last place I visit before heading home often ends up being one of the most special.  On the morning of Day 12, I had just a matter of hours before I had to hit the road for Las Vegas.  With my deadline in mind, I headed north from St. George, Utah, towards Snow Canyon State Park.  It had always been on my “to-do, if I had one more day” list, but at long last I had found the time.

As I pulled up to the entrance, and paid my admission fee, I asked if there was one trail in particular that I shouldn’t miss.  The answer: Hidden Pinyon Trail.  So, that’s where I went first.

The Hidden Pinyon Trail is in the middle of Snow Canyon State Park, so it offers a little bit of everything.  For a moment, the trail follows the Whiptail Trail, a paved 6-mile path for bicycling and rollerblading.  This easy part only lasts a moment…

… then the trail splits off from the pavement and heads through bright orange sand…

… into a small canyon surrounded by rounded sandstone hills.  You have to do a little bit of “sliding on your butt” rock climbing, and squeeze through some tight spaces.

The trail is also a bit rocky in places, as the sharp, black volcanic rock that’s common further north in the park begins to appear.

The trail eventually passes between these petrified sand dunes…

… and squeezes through another tight spot (I think I had to slip through that crack on the right-hand side).

More volcanic rock begins to appear…

… as you reach a crossroads.  The Hidden Pinyon Overlook marks the end of the Hidden Pinyon Trail.

Here, the sandstone is capped with flat, black rocks.  Climb out as far as you feel comfortable…

… to see views like this one, of the southern end of Snow Canyon…

… and to the north, where the canyon reaches a dead-end.  You can see West Canyon Road running through the valley — this 8-mile-long maintenance road is closed to vehicles, and unfortunately, I didn’t have a bicycle with me.

After dangling my feet over the edge of the rocks at the overlook for a while, and watching other park visitors clumsily climb up and down from the viewpoint, I headed back to the crossroads.  Just beyond the sign, a huge range of petrified sand dunes begins.

I think this was the most fun part of the park, especially for a photographer.  There’s no definite trail through the dunes — you can wander around anywhere you want to go.  Since the dunes are rounded, there’s almost nowhere you can’t go, including to the tops of the dunes for another great viewpoint.

There are a few plants surviving in the sandstone, but mostly…

… this trail is all about the sandstone.  I loved the lines that seemed to lead into an endless number of possible pictures.

Keep an eye on other people, to figure out possible routes through the dunes.

They tend to get a bit jumbled!  It’s amazing though, with a little work, how you will be able to figure out a way through them, onto the next hill.

I could have spent a lot more time here, but I knew there was a lot more to explore…

… such as these big, white mountains at the northern end of the park.

You can hike the Petrified Dunes Trail all the way through the dunes, and back to Snow Canyon Drive, but then you’ll have to walk down the road to get back to your car.  I returned via the Hidden Pinyon Trail.  Since part of it is a loop, I got to see some areas that I hadn’t passed through on the way in.

Snow Canyon State Park is located north of St. George, Utah on Route 18 (Bluff Street).  You can enter Snow Canyon from the north, directly off Route 18, or you can enter from the south, by taking Snow Canyon Parkway to the entrance (just watch for signs along the road).

Snow Canyon is not named for the white mountains, which (with a little imagination) appear snow-covered.  The park was originally named Dixie State Park, but was later renamed for Lorenzo and Erastus Snow, two early Mormon pioneers.  Erastus also lent his surname to the Arizona town of Snowflake.

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