Red Rock Dreaming

Red Rock Dreaming
Quiet escape into the Mojave Desert-influenced red rock landscape of Red Cliffs. — Kristen Pope

My car's temperature reading sat at 99 degrees, and I was relieved to find a gentle breeze blowing when I stepped outside. I had been exploring and driving most of the day, including taking extra time to leave the highway to slow down and look around. I had pulled into the Snow Canyon State Park campground in the extreme southwestern corner of Utah, eager to set up camp and relax. Red rocks, a few shrubs and trees surrounded my site. As the sun began to dip in the sky, I felt relief from the day's heat. When I left my home that morning, I had driven through June snow squalls over two mountain passes on my way to Utah's desert, and the warmth was welcome.

Explore the unusual confluence of ecosystems, geology and time in Red Cliffs National Conservation Area and Snow Canyon State Park. — Kristen Pope

At the campsite, I had just enough cell phone signal to make a quick call home. Then I turned it off. The world could wait. And, without any data connection, the temptation to spend my evening mindlessly scrolling through social media — or catching up on work emails — was gone. Instead, I watched day turn to night in the desert as I prepared a simple meal.

I watched the sky change hues as dusk progressed and turned into twilight and then night. A lizard pressed its body up and down — almost like reptilian push-ups — and I noticed more lizards scurrying about. As darkness fell, insects and other creatures began their nightly show. The insect calls and nighttime noises intensified to a crescendo, a chorus for us campers to enjoy.

Red-sand trails and low-brush landscapes of this distinct region. — Kristen Pope

Subdued shades of blue and yellow enwrapped the sky. The temperature gradually dropped as the bright colors of the rocks slowly became muted, and blackness enveloped the campground. Evening's cooler, friendly embrace had arrived — a reward for making it through a scorching, parched desert day.

I leaned back in my camp chair, waiting for the celestial show to begin, and it didn't take long. First one star popped up, then another and, before long, the sky was pinpoints of glittering dots. And then one flew across the sky. A clearly defined shooting star, directly in front of me. It couldn't have been more perfect if I was watching it in a movie. I pondered how many people before me had sat in that spot to watch the stars and how many millenia ago people may have sat there, looking at the same stars.

Connecting With Nature on the Trail

The next morning, I wanted to get an early start ahead of the day's heat. It was forecast to be well over 100 degrees, so I drove out to state Route 18 for the short hike to Whiterocks Amphitheater. Making my way along the sandy trail, I admired the rock formations and trekked across the slickrock to marvel at the natural amphitheater.

Part of the 62,000-acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, Snow Canyon State Park is just one part of the larger ecosystem, which provides important habitat to a number of rare species. The park’s residents include 14 protected species, including gila monsters, peregrine falcons and desert tortoises. The park brochure contains helpful, step-by-step instructions on how to help a tortoise cross the road (one crucial tip: “don’t tip it from side to side”). I didn’t encounter any reptiles in need of a crossing guard, but I was relieved to know what to do if I came across one (and delighted the park took the time to educate visitors).

Heading back to my car, I drove to the Hidden Pinyon Trailhead and began exploring the 1.5-mile route with interpretive signage and an accompanying booklet pointing out basalt flows and plants like Banana Yucca and Purple Torch Cactus. Before long, a friendly man wearing a shirt emblazoned with “Trail Steward” stopped to chat, making sure I knew where I was going and wishing me a nice hike.

Pioneer Names trailhead in Snow Canyon State Park. — Kristen Pope

The park has signs posted at trailheads advising people not to hike between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the summer season, and I noticed it was already past 10 a.m., so I opted for one more quick morning hike. The Pioneer Names Trail is a half-mile walk which lets visitors see names written in axle grease by early travelers dating back to 1881. I wondered what their experience was like. What did they wear? What did they say to each other when they were writing their names on these rocks? Where were they going and how long had they been traveling? Did they refrain from travel between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.? The questions were almost endless. I wondered where their descendants were today as I hiked back to camp to relax and find some respite from the midday heat.

Wellness and Adventure Among the Sandstone

After a couple days exploring Snow Canyon State Park on my own, I was ready to experience the area in a different way. My next stop was Red Mountain Resort, which is located right on the edge of the park. I would be trading in my peaceful solitude for pleasant companionship in a guided retreat format. While the scenery and landscape were quite familiar, I was going to interface with the environment in a very different way. Instead of joining lizards for a “just add boiling water” style of campsite meal, I would be dining with travelers from all over while enjoying gourmet cuisine and conversation. The resort offers a variety of retreat options focusing on wellness and adventure. I signed up for the Red Mountain Essential Retreat which provides opportunities to sample many different types of experiences.

I checked in and scanned the huge list of on-site offerings like meditation, Zumba, yoga, pool workouts and off-site excursions ranging from a full day trip to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary to a day-long trek through the Narrows of Zion National Park.

Instead of joining lizards for a “just add boiling water” style of campsite meal, I would be dining with travelers from all over while enjoying gourmet cuisine and conversation.

Wandering around the campus, I went to the relaxation lounge at Sagestone Spa & Salon and scanned the menu of treatments, massages and even vibrational sound healing. I relaxed in a lounge chair in the cool air conditioning and sipped infused water as I looked out on a panoramic view of red rock scenery. I pondered swimming in one of the three pools — one indoor and two outdoors — but opted to wait until evening to take a dip since it was almost time for dinner.

I headed to my dinner reservation at the Canyon Breeze Restaurant. The resort includes three delicious and healthful meals a day, and it offers solo travelers like myself the option of joining a community table designed to bring independent travelers together. I joined half a dozen other guests and we chatted about our day's adventures.

The restaurant, like much of the resort, has signs asking people to refrain from using cell phones. It was nice to walk around the resort and talk to people, getting to know my fellow guests. Without the temptation of cell phones, spare minutes weren't spent with faces glued to screens. Instead, people talked to each other, watched lizards dart about, and gazed at the stunning red rock desert all around. It was a nice break from the screen-focused life.

After dinner, I tried out one of the hammocks strung around the property and then decided to take a quick dip in the pool nearest my room. I slipped into the water as the sun dipped low and swam a few laps, swimming on my back to watch the sky peacefully change color and transform into night.

Desert Energy

The marks of nineteenth-century travelers to this unusual place document a different era in visitation. — Kristen Pope

In the morning, I headed out to the lava field and walked the resort's labyrinth. Circles of stones guide walkers to slowly follow the spiral path until they ultimately reach the pile of lava rock in the middle. Some bring an offering or intention to leave in the center. As I walked circle after circle, I felt the sun beating down and the heat rising up from the lava rock. The desert’s energy was palpable in many forms. Walking the labyrinth with slow, deliberate steps was different from the hiking I enjoyed earlier in the week, but equally enriching. I took time to reflect on my connection to the desert and pondering the path that brought me here.

We each had our own reasons for being there, but we all shared a connection with the land and energy.

I then tried a Chi Ball Stretch class, using small balls infused with essential oils to massage and stretch using a variety of methods. Then it was time for lunch — coconut chicken, brown basmati rice, and grilled pineapple salsa, among other mouth-watering buffet offerings.

After lunch, I met Dave in the gazebo for my QiGong class. First, we chatted about QiGong, and I learned about the energy centers of the head, heart, and gut. He held a singing bowl in one hand and softly tapped it with a mallet to create a beautiful vibration, while setting intentions for our time together and acknowledging the universe. He showed me different types of breathing and we practiced a variety of movements using the arms, legs, and body. I made a mental note to look into QiGong classes when I returned home.

Next, I headed to Intro to Meditation where my fellow students and I learned about meditation techniques and how to best meditate with tips like avoiding caffeine and alcohol and selecting the right time of day. Our instructor walked us through a few different techniques, such as focusing on your breath and visualizing yourself in a peaceful place. When I tried to visualize my favorite beach, my mind went into vacation planning mode, wondering when I could find the best deal on tickets and when a good time to plan a trip might be. I kept trying to bring my mind back to the meditation, but I wasn’t always successful. I learned that quieting the mind can be a challenge.

That evening, I enjoyed another delicious meal at the community table, where my dining companions and I again shared our day's adventures. We each had our own reasons for being there, but we all shared a connection with the land and energy. We were drawn by the red rock desert’s inescapable pull, and it was empowering to connect with fellow travelers who could relate.

I relaxed for a while and then headed to the evening Sound Bath. I took a spot on a mat and our instructor told us about Himalayan Singing Bowls and then began creating beautiful vibrational sounds. As I lay on my mat, I felt vibrations through my body and began to meditate. After class, I swam a few more laps in the pool and fell into bed to sleep soundly.

In the morning, it was time to begin my long journey home. I felt relaxed, refreshed and inspired after a week among the red rocks. I was ready to go home and spend more nights, with intention, under the stars, spend a little more time off-screen, make infused water, and learn more about Himalayan singing bowls. And hopefully spot a few more shooting stars.

Written by Kristen Pope for Utah Office of Tourism and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to