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Deborah Wall: Cedar Breaks a break from Nevada’s sweltering summer

Now that temperatures are soaring into three digits, our hearts seek the highlands when we plan a summer getaway. Some of the most agreeable and accessible highlands are in Cedar Breaks National Monument, in southern Utah. The park lies on the Markagunt Plateau at an elevation of more than 10,000 feet, almost guaranteeing cool weather for hiking, wildflower viewing and stargazing.

The park is best known for its half-mile-deep natural amphitheater filled with colorful stone columns called hoodoos, for the supernatural creatures some people imagine in their haphazard shapes. But it’s also a great place for a whole program of outdoor summer activity, with good hiking trails, campgrounds, star parties, a wildflower festival and lots of ranger-led programs.

The Markagunt Plateau is blessed with fertile sedimentary soil, and the snows of winter are soon followed by a glorious array of wildflowers. A happy coincidence of geography prolongs the glory here. In summer, moist, hot air from the Pacific Ocean rolls inland over the Mojave Desert, which helps the air retain its heat. But once it encounters the cooler plateau, the air cools and water condenses into rain, refreshing the natural bounty of beauty. So the Cedar Breaks are one of America’s prime spots for wildflower viewing.

In mid- to late June you might find cushion phlox, aspen bluebells and kittentails. The wildflower show in the park usually peaks in mid-July, when meadows are often carpeted with color, and scarlet paintbrush, lupine and columbines can often be found along the rim trails.

At that time of year, the Alpine Pond Trail is one of the best for freelance flower viewing.

But if you’d like to view the flora in a more organized fashion, the park’s annual Wildflower Festival is set for July 8-23. During that time you can join a ranger for one of the guided wildflower hikes, which set out from the Visitor Center at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily. On July 14 the Zion Canyon Field Institute is offering an all-day Cedar Mountain Wildflower Workshop, in which botanist Matt Ogburn will lead short hikes to teach about wildflowers. Class size is limited, so reservations are necessary through the Zion Canyon Field Institute at 800-635-3959 or zionpark.org.

Cedar Breaks has recently been designated an International Dark Sky Park, the first in southwestern Utah. (Utah now has seven such parks, more than any other state.)

Star parties take place from 8:30 to 11 p.m. Saturdays through Aug. 12. Join the group at Point Supreme and park rangers will present a night sky program and telescope viewing when the weather is clear. They’ll bring the park’s telescopes, but feel free to bring your own. Flashlights also are useful but should have red filters to avoid compromising people’s night vision. Dress warmly. Call 435-586-9451 if you have questions.

The park also offers 15- to 25-minute geology talks at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily through Oct. 9. Learn how this natural amphitheater was formed and interesting facts about the unique weather the park experiences. Meet at Point Supreme to participate.

The park has a 25-site campground for tents and RVs. Some sites are available by reservation at recreation.gov, but most are first come, first served. Restrooms and showers are available.

Deborah Wall’s book “Base Camp Las Vegas: 101 hikes in the Southwest” ($24.95, Imbrifex) is available for preorder on Amazon and will be released Aug. 8. She can be reached at deborabus@aol.com.

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