Southern Utah is a place of inexhaustible adventure possibilities. Indeed, that is what attracts millions of people from around the world each year. Most flock to the iconic landscapes of the major national parks and monuments, and deservedly so. I must display my privilege here. I am blessed to have over-familiarized myself with some of those places, and find my eye wandering to bright patches of sandstone beyond the major roadways. Over the course of 28 years, I have made the drive to St. George from the Colorado City/Hildale area many times, and have always marveled at the vibrant sandstone formations that sprawl beneath Pine Valley Mountain. The general area is known as the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, which abuts the Dixie National Forest. At first glance, it appears to be inaccessible, but it is not. Yant Flat is perhaps the crown jewel of Red Cliffs, with rock formations and expansive views, on par with those that can be found in some of the better-known locations.
The somewhat remote location of the preserve is part of the allure. Heading south on I-15 from the Toquerville exit, Yant Flat can be accessed via a forest service road which eventually drops into St. George, Utah. Taking the Silver Reef exit, take a right toward Silver Reef and follow the road into the Dixie National Forest. The road winds for a few miles and comes to a fork, with a sign that indicates the road (Forest Road 031) leads to St George. The trailhead can be difficult to spot, but it lies around seven miles from the junction and is known as Anna’s Viewpoint Trailhead. There is limited parking space, and depending on the day, it may be totally unoccupied.
At the trailhead there is mostly pinion and juniper with no red rocks to be seen. The viewpoint lies just over a mile to the south. The trail is well defined and relatively flat, making it an easy hike. There are a few small sandy spots at the end that may present a small challenge to some. As with any hike in southern Utah, it is prone to extremes. Temperatures can soar during the summer, and the landscape offers little by way of shade. Always bring plenty of water, a hat, good hiking boots, and some snacks. One benefit of this hike is that cell phone service is generally available, but always plan for the worst.
It is easy to know that you have reached your destination. After reaching the top of a small sandy hill, a vast expanse looking over sand hollow reservoir and warner valley in the distance unfolds. Keep heading south and the Candy Cliffs come into view below. What is striking about these formations is myriad folds and striations of textures and colors. The colors range from the common white and red to various shades of purple. They run through the rocks in streams that are reminiscent to, you guessed it, candy, like several strands of brightly colored taffy that have been pulled and folded onto one another. The shapes in the rock vary widely from hexagonal, triangular, circular and linear forms. Each pattern folds into the next in endless, kaleidoscopic streams and flows. The place is almost comical when you observe its structure; geological whimsy in one of the harshest environments around. A full display of mother nature’s sense of irony.
Nestled in the nooks and crannies of the place are miniature gardens of succulents, manzanita, grasses, and other flora. Small islands of sand in a vast ocean of stone. There is no end to the sensory delight. Light plays with the landscape in a spectacular way. Under a clear midday sky, blue hues jump forth from the white rock formations and cool the shadows beneath the red ones. Early morning brings a copper hue as streaming morning light bounces from the red cliffs to the west, standing in stark opposition with the icy blue shadows in the bowl. Sunset basks it in gold.
If you choose to visit, take the time to observe and integrate yourself. Wander about and take time to contemplate it. There are few places I have seen that have such richness of shape, color, and texture in such a confined space. Pictures, while vivid, do it no justice.