Standing on top of a boulder in Utah’s Devils Garden, I take in the Martian landscape and realize that this is about as far away from the frenetic energy of my home town, New York City, that I can get in the continental United States.
The desert landscape stretches for miles, dotted with brittle trees and the towering rock formations known as hoodoos (or more whimsically, fairy chimneys). The hoodoos are like clouds; I seem to find a human form in each twisting spire of sandstone.
The Devils Garden is part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and both entry and parking are free. The sandy trails are relatively flat and make for an easy hike (or more accurately, walk).
This cluster of rock formations is a worthwhile stop on Scenic Byway 12, which winds its way from Bryce to Capital Reef National Park.
The Devils Garden is one of the first stops on the historic, 57-mile “Hole in the Rock” road first traversed by Mormon pioneers seeking to establish a new town across the Colorado River. We opted not to drive the full length of the trail, which is a six hour round trip over a corrugated (i.e., very bumpy) road.
Devils Garden is about 15 miles from Escalante, a small town that serves as a launching point for self-guided hikes and guided canyoneering excursions. Most of the road is unpaved but relatively flat; 4WD vehicles are recommended, although we spotted compact cars and an RV making the trip. You won’t come across major traffic on this dusty road but look out for herds of cattle (and an occasional cowboy on horseback).
The hoodoos are located right next to the Devils Garden parking lot, so you won’t have to walk for very long to get a scenic view.
Exploring the hoodoos
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument encompasses 1.7 million acres of land, which ensures visitors to the Devils Garden get 360-degree views of multicolored mountains and wide-open skies. The monument was established by President Clinton in 1996 and is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, unlike a national park. This is pristine wilderness, so you won’t find McDonald’s golden arches here!
The sandy, dry landscape reminded me of the Sahara desert. In fact, one of the stops on the Hole in the Rock road actually bears the name “Egypt.”
While the Devils Garden is a popular stop on Utah’s Scenic Byway 12, it is by no means crowded. You’ll see other visitors near the trail head but it’s easy to find a remote spot to sit and contemplate the rock formations.
There are no fenced-off areas, so you can climb into the crevasses between the hoodoos and peak out of “windows” in the rocks.
Emerging from a slot between two hoodoos I experienced a sense of wonder that reminded me of the first time I saw the ancient Treasury building in Petra, Jordan. In the Devils Garden I felt a bit like Indiana Jones exploring a remote archeological site– albeit one that was very easy to access and just a short drive from civilization.
I couldn’t help but see human faces and figures in the hoodoos, which are formed by natural elements like wind and rain. Hoodoos are common throughout southern Utah, notably in Bryce Canyon, but are also found in other parts of the world; in Cappadocia, Turkey, hotels have been carved into these spires.
The sandy ground does not seem hospitable to plant life, but wild flowers and cacti manage to thrive here– lending some truth to the name “Devils Garden.”
Have you been to southern Utah?
Share your thoughts on the area by leaving a comment below! If you are reading this via email or RSS feed, click on Downtowntraveler.com to leave a comment.