Cedar Breaks National Monument in southern Utah is a small park most cherished by us desert dwellers for its cool summer temperatures and spectacular views into its deep, hoodoo-filled amphitheater. During July and August, you’ll find the little park brimming with additional activities, any one of which, by itself, might be worth the journey there.
The park’s annual wildflower festival runs through July 20. Just driving through the park this time of year, you will be surrounded by meadows ablaze with floral color. By taking to one of the trails on foot, you can see the flowers individually and start counting up the different kinds. More than 260 species are found there.
Favorable geography is at the root of this remarkable diversity. The park is on the Markagunt Plateau at an elevation of more than 10,000 feet. This time of year, moist air moves inland from the Pacific, and because hot air holds moisture, the air currents retain their moisture while traveling over the hot Mojave Desert. But once they hit the higher, colder plateau, the currents cool and release monsoon rains. Plenty of monsoon rain, and the plateau’s fertile sedimentary soils, add up to ideal conditions for wildflowers.
During the festival, volunteers and wildflower specialists will lead guided walks at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily. Children who visit on the weekends from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. can make crafts, play wildflower bingo and even earn a Wildflower Festival button as a master flower protector in the Daisy Defenders gallery.
The Zion Canyon Field Institute will also offer educational workshops related to the festival. One of the most appealing is set for July 12, when photographer Michael Plyler is set to teach the techniques of photographing the park’s stunning wildflower displays. Also planned is a workshop in wildflower journaling, where you can learn some of the best ways to record your experiences. Advance reservations are necessary for both these workshops; make them through the Zion Canyon Field Institute at 800-635-3959 or zionpark.org.
Outdoor fun doesn’t end once night falls, as Cedar Breaks offers stargazing parties on Saturdays through Aug. 30, with a special midweek party Aug. 12 to view the Perseids meteor shower. All the night sky programs take place at Point Supreme Overlook. Park staff members and astronomy volunteers will be on hand to give you a constellation tour and assist you in viewing the skies with the large telescopes that will be set up for visitors. You are also welcome to bring your own optical equipment.
All star parties during July start at 9:30 p.m., and those in August at 9 p.m. Of course, star parties are dependent on having unclouded skies. The cool nights at this high elevation can dip into the 30s or lower even in summer, so bring a warm jacket, hat and gloves.
The park has a 25-site campground for tents and RVs. Some sites are available by reservation at recreation.gov, but many are on a first-come, first-served basis. Restrooms and showers are available.
From Las Vegas, Take Interstate 15 north 162 miles to exit 57, Cedar City, Utah. Go north on Utah state Route 14, taking a right after 2 miles, which continues Route 14. Drive 15.4 miles farther and go left onto Scenic Byway 148. Drive about 3 miles to Cedar Breaks National Monument’s main entrance.
Deborah Wall is the author of “Great Hikes, A Cerca Country Guide” and “Base Camp Las Vegas: Hiking the Southwestern States,” published by Stephens Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.