Panguitch, Utah provides easy staging to Cedar Breaks and Red Canyon hiking trails.
Panguitch is a Paiute Indian word meaning 'Big Fish'. Panguitch is also a small, unassuming, historic town in southwest Utah located on Hwy. 89 in the center of some of the most spectacular scenery on earth, which includes the Bryce Canyon National Park, Capital Reef National Park, Zion National Park, and the Canyonlands National Park, as well as the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Cedar Breaks National Monument.
Nearby state parks and forest management areas are Red Canyon, Kodachrome Basin, Escalante Petrified Forest, Anasazi (Ancient Ones) Indian Village and Calf Creek Falls.
Panguitch is a busy tourist town for the summer months each year but it is about as far from a typical tourist town as anyone could imagine. Sure, there is the row of motels along Main Street which are very busy in the vacation season.
There are no flashy gift shops and many buildings are original structures struggling to retain their historical pride. Much of the community is rural farming and ranching. Tourism seems to be a summer preoccupation. The small town has a down home, comfortable feel.
Panguitch smacks of history and stubborn determination in the face of adversity. Even though I have arrived on the Labor Day weekend many stores are closed and the town has a hint of subtle, ambivalent reticence. The summer is over and a welcome peace has descended.
In 1864, determined and courageous Mormon pioneers settled this area in mountain country where the growing season is short and winters are harsh. Basic survival was a significant challenge.
The first settlement was abandoned in 1866 due to the Black Hawk Indian War but determined settlers returned in 1871. The town's heritage is reflected in a large variety of inconsistently maintained but beautiful, red, brick homes scattered throughout the community. Early settlers established a brick factory amidst this rich source of wood and iron-rich clay. Workers were paid with bricks instead of money and the legacy is English and Dutch architecturally influenced brick homes and buildings. Many of these brick buildings have a fascinating history.
A few of the original log cabin and wood homes remain standing, interspersed between newer, typically modest homes of every imaginable type.
After taking Hwy. 20 east off I-15, then south on Hwy. 89, the familiar Panguitch Blue Pine Motel provides familiar accommodation. Panguitch is 6,666 feet (2,032 m) above sea level.
Following a short walk around town the decision is made to drive out Hwy 143 to explore and do a bit of hiking in Cedar Breaks National Monument. On good road, through Dixie National Forest and large lava fields, elevation increases rapidly and the highway soon passes through the Panguitch Lake recreational area. Trout fishing is big here. Lodge accommodation, plus boat and equipment rental is readily available.
At the T junction a turn left initiates further elevation gain. The first viewpoint, Chessmen Ridge Overlook, is breathtaking at 10,467 ft. (3,190 m). WOW!
The Cedar Breaks amphitheater is in the middle of nowhere, atop the Markagunt Plateau in the high country of Cedar Breaks.
At the Cedar Breaks National Monument Visitor Center a very cost effective annual park pass is purchased. Local good weather is surrounded by spectacular electrical storms. The Visitor Center has roped off the adjacent Point Supreme viewpoint as a precaution against lightning strikes. All the other trails are open and even more exposed, (Perhaps they just don't want to SEE anyone get fried), so it is an easy walk over to the nearby Rampart trail-head to hike along the cliff edge adjacent a stand of ancient Bristle Cone Pines to beyond Spectra Point and back.
The amphitheater is more than 2,000 ft (610 m) deep and more than 3 miles (4.8 KM) in diameter. Millions of years of uplift and erosion carved the huge bowl in the steep west-facing side of the 10,000 foot (3,048 m) high Markagunt Plateau.
The vistas are spectacular. Much of the trail is on loose rock at the very edge of steep cliffs so not an ideal place for children. Within the amphitheater, stone spires, columns, arches, and intricately designed canyons combine with nearby heavy weather to create awesome, colorful, mystical and surreal vistas.
On the way back to Panguitch, at the T junction, the option is chosen to continue 4 miles (6.4 KM) further to Brian Head.
Brian Head is an 11,307 ft (3,446 m) mountain composed of volcanic rock created by numerous, violent explosions about 28 million years ago. On this day a unique requirement is the drive through hundreds of sheep to get to the summit. It is necessary to gently nudge them out of the way with the car to get to the top on 4 wheel drive road. The 360 degree views over Cedar Breaks are spectacular and enhanced by distant and isolated storm clouds.
There is a finely crafted stone lookout at the true summit built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1935.
On the 40 mile (64 KM) drive back to Panguitch, brief stops to take photos from the North View of Cedar Breaks are virtually mandatory.
Back in Panguitch at 6 PM, it is a short walk to the Flying M Restaurant. All meals in town will be enjoyed here.
Dining at the Flying M is a tradition established over many years of hiking missions in the American Southwest. It's like home and the down home food is consistently excellent.