We are huge fans of scenic drives, and we are very big fans of the National Monuments/Parks that aren’t visited as much, so when we heard from Cori about Cottonwood Road we absolutely knew that was something we wanted to do. We talked to a couple of BLM offices about whether we could do the road without four-wheel drive and when they both said yes (as long as it was dry), we headed off down the road, with a packed lunch and a list of things to see that was provided by the BLM. Some of the things I will mention are on that sheet, but others we stumbled across on our own.
We had a wonderful day, so I am going to provide a visual tour of what we saw and did, and if you reset your tripodometer when you enter the road from Highway 89 these mile markers should be pretty close. As an FYI, we started the road at 10:11am, made the roundtrip drive with multiple stops and one 3 mile hike, and still were finished by 4:30pm. That being said this is an isolated road and before heading out check your tires and bring water and some snacks just in case.
MM 3.5 – Our first stop along the route was some prehistoric oyster beds that were over 93 million years old. Look for low cliffs of sandstone and get out and walk across, and then you can see (and touch) the fossilized oysters. For many people this wouldn’t be a big deal, but I loved touching something that was verified to be so old.
I definitely should say that the road, although challenging, wasn’t even close to the worst we have been on. It was smooth in several places with patches of washboard, but only a few deep ruts. I actually found the steep climbs and dips the most scary, but Lee loved them, and our truck handled them like a champ.
MM 7.4 – We took a short road to the see big boulders and a huge rock with a table on the backside. Lee noticed that it looked a little bit like a fifth wheel so he moved the truck and we took a picture.
MM 7.6 – You start to see the Pariah river off to the left. It was a muddy little creek when we were there, but there was enough water for a small group of cows to hang out. Plus lots of vegetation.
MM 14.2- There are two trailheads here, Hackberry canyon on the left and Big Yellow Rock on the right. Big Yellow Rock is a “strenuous climb” according to our paper, and looked like it might be right up our friend Deb’s alley! I should also mention that electric power lines were along the road we were driving for the first 25 miles or so. In places I got out to walk a bit and take a pic and the ground had lots of snake holes in it. We didn’t see a snake all day, but were constantly on the lookout, so I ultimately took the pictures and photoshopped out the lines, when I wanted to. I did leave them in though in a few pictures so you could see.
MM 19– On the left there was this huge purple and white rock. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. Then we came up over a hill and we saw an incredibly neat cloud formation that looked like a UFO hanging over the valley. I’ve done my best to capture that moment, but it looked much better in person.
MM 24.4- This is the Cottonwood Narrows south entrance which we went into and MM 25.4 is the north entrance. I would actually recommend going in at the north entrance and I’ll tell you why later in the post. The hike is 1.5 miles long (each way) through the canyon, or 1 mile if you walk back on the road. It is a narrow canyon so you may want to time the hike when you will get good light, but we chose to do it at the end and it was still very pretty. Near the north entrance you go up a hill and see some of the most amazing scenery I ever ever seen on one of these scenic drives. The landscape makes a change and it truly looked like a fairyland or ogre land as Lee thought of it. Fantastical!
MM 28.9- This is the turnoff for Grosvenors arch, and we arrived at 12:06, just in time for lunch. Thankfully the road quality was the same as the other road we were on, but it would be worth the 1 mile hike there if it wasn’t. There are a couple of picnic tables and a pit toilet at the location, but I would definitely recommend bringing your own toilet paper because it was out when we got there. It is a short walk up a paved path to a great viewing area or you can go farther and walk right up to the arch itself. At 152 feet I really didn’t understand exactly how big it was, and the views changed the closer you got. This was our first experience with a large stone arch like this and what a wonderful one to start with.
MM 40ish – After leaving the arch, we drove another 12 miles to Kodachrome Basin State Park (if you are using your tripometer don’t forget you just put a couple extra miles on going to the arch) The traffic did get a little heavier in this section since many people were coming south from the park to see the arch. Originally we were planning on paying the $8 and driving into the park, but the attendant said it was a really small park and in order to see it you really needed to do a hike. Since we were planning on doing the canyon on the way back we decided to just head back, but I did put the park on my list of places to stay and we will try and go there and do a hike while we are in the Bryce area.
On the way back we stopped at the Cottonwood canyon and although the hike was one of the best we have ever been on it was much harder physically than we expected. Part of the problem was walking in sand in many sections and another problem was piles of rock we had to clamber over at both ends. You decide for yourself if it was worth it though, and if nothing else I recommend starting at the north entrance and walking at least to the arch if you don’t feel you can do the whole thing. The best part was on a Sunday we only saw three other single hikers, and it really felt like we had the place all to ourselves.
I would absolutely recommend the road and if you are able take the hike. It’s rough in places, but completely worth it. We loved the day and are definitely adding this to our list of favorite, remote scenic roads. I would like to go again and explore some of the other slot canyons and maybe take the half day hike to a 120 foot waterfall. Definitely stop at the Big Water BLM office and get information before you go, and don’t forget to take plenty of water and snacks just in case. Oh, and one last thing. This whole day only cost us a quarter tank of gas and an inexpensive packed lunch. I really don’t think it can get better than this 🙂
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