Geologic Points of Interest – Dixie National Forest


Hells Backbone | Strawberry Point |  Mammoth Cave | Ice Cave | Mammoth Springs | Pine Valley Laccolith 
Hole in the Wall - Timpe Arch | Second Left-Hand Canyon Arch

View of Hell's Backbone Bridge
USDA  Forest Service photo by Kevin S. Abel
Hell's Backbone Road is a 38-mile gravel road that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and connects the towns of Boulder, Utah and Escalante, Utah. Halfway along the road is Hell's Backbone Bridge, which is 109 feet long, and 14 feet wide. A 1,500-foot drop is on either side.

Hell's Backbone - Senic Byway

Type - Scenic Byway

Description -Hell’s Backbone Road climbs up and around Box Death Hollow Wilderness. It features a dramatic stretch of road along a narrow ridge with sheer drops on both sides and crosses a wonderful narrow bridge. The route has great views over the Wilderness area and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as it twists through pine, spruce, and fir forests. It joins Posey Lake Road and returns to Highway 12 at Escalante, Utah.

Direction - To get here from Boulder, Utah drive south on Highway 12 about 2-1/2 miles. Turn right on Forest Road 153, also known as the Hell’s Backbone Road. Please be advised that the route is primarily dirt and gravel, it's difficult when wet and is closed in the winter. Plan to spend about 2 to 2-1/2 hours with stops along the way. 

Weblink - For more information visit the Dixie National Forest website.


Panoramic image showing the deep red color of Straberry Point looking toward Zion National Park.
USDA  Forest Service photo by Kevin S. Abel

Strawberry Point - Scenic Overlook

Type - Scenic Overlook

Description - Drive out to this scenic viewpoint for spectacular views of forested land, red rock formations, and Zion National Park in the distance.

Directions - From Cedar City, Utah take State Road 14 east onto Cedar Mountain. After you pass Duck Creek Village, look for milepost 31. At the next intersection, turn right onto Forest Road 058. (A left turn at this intersection will take you to State Road 143 via the Mammoth Creek Road.) Travel this well-maintained gravel road approximately seven miles to Strawberry Point.

GPS Location - 37.435611, -112.713375

Weblink - For more information visit the Dixie National Forest website.

USDA Forest Service 360VR photo by Kevin S. Abel

Mammoth Cave - Cave/Sinkhole

Type - Cave/Sinkhole

Description - Mammoth Cave is at 8050 feet in elevation, opens to one of the largest lava tubes in Utah, with over 2200 feet of passages. Formed by cooling lava and flowing water, Mammoth Cave is part of the Markagunt Plateau. Geologists believe that some of this lava is only several thousand years old – relatively young in geologic terms. During summer months, the cave is a popular nightly resting spot for several bat species and is frequented by other small birds and mammals.

The cave looks like a big hole in the ground at first glance and is fun to explore. Take a good light for every person. The cave is pitch dark after the first turn. The exit is a small tube that allows only enough room to slide through on your belly. If you are large or claustrophobic turn around and go back the way you came. Water seepage at the end of the cave makes the rocks slippery. 

Direction - Drive east of Duck Creek Village on State Road 14, turn left onto Forest Road 067. Go five miles and then turn right onto Forest Road 064. After about one mile turn left and look for the sign.

Ice Cave

Type - Cave/Sinkhole

Description - Ice Cave is much smaller than Mammoth Cave, with only one chamber. It contains year-round icicles.

Direction -  To get to the Ice Caves head east on State Road 14 from Cedar City, turn right at the Duck Creek Visitor Center. Drive past the visitor center and follow the signs to Ice Cave.


Mammoth Springs

Type - Springs/Falls

Description - The largest instantaneous discharge observed at any spring in Utah was 314 cubic feet per second at Mammoth Spring. The source of the water is believed to be precipitation on the Markagunt Plateau that recharges the karst forming limestone units within the Claron formation and overlying volcanic lava flows.

Direction - Take the Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway (State Road 143) south from the town of Panguitch. About three miles beyond Panguitch Lake, turn left onto Forest Road 067. The spring is about two miles down on the right.


Pine Valley Laccolith

Type - Mountain Ranges/Basins

Description - Laccoliths are certainly among the most unique and interesting geologic features, and Utah has some of the premier examples in the world. Best known are the Henry and La Sal Mountains laccoliths because of their spectacular exposures, but the Pine Valley Mountains and several nearby intrusions are also excellent laccoliths. The Pine Valley Mountains laccolith may be one of the largest in the world. A laccolith is formed when an intrusive body from below uplifts a region (see diagram below). It is like a volcano that did not quite make it to the surface. The Pine Valley laccolith was emplaced about 21 million years ago as molten rock from deep within the earth moved upward into shallow overlying sedimentary rocks. There it spread out and crystallized into what is one of the largest such intrusions in the world; uplift and erosion have since uncovered this granite-like rock.

Direction - The laccolith intrusions are generally the most resistant rocks in the area, and form most of the higher hills. The Stoddard Mountain intrusion is the easiest to access; it is exposed in a road cut about 2.5 miles south of the intersection of the Pinto road and State Highway 56 about 17 miles west of Cedar City. The spectacular Pine Valley Mountains and Pine Mountains Wilderness are the core of the largest laccolith of all. There is a network of over 151 miles of trails on and around the 50,000-acre Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness. Elevations range from 6,000 to 10,365 feet at Signal Peak.


Hole in the Wall - Timpe Arch

Type - Cliffs/Canyons/Outcrops

Description - The arch can be seen from southern Parowan and can be reached by driving up a jeep road west of the arch and scrambling up a steep mountain face. Formed in a poorly cemented section of the Grand Castle Formation (an unlikely place to find an arch because of the rock’s gravel-like composition), the arch spans about 12 feet and is about 4-1/2 feet high.

Direction - The arch is located four miles south of Parowan in section 35, T.35 S., R.9 W., on the west side of Parowan Canyon (State Road 143).


Second Left-Hand Canyon Arch

Type - Cliffs/Canyons/Outcrops

Description - One of at least four arches in the upper Clarion Formation (pink limestone) along Center Creek, this rectangular arch has a span of 20 feet and a height of 13 feet and can be seen from the road traveling down canyon, or reached by an easy hike.

Direction - Second Left-hand Canyon Arch lies four miles southeast of Hole in the Wall Arch, in section 19, T.35 S., R.8 W. on the east side of State Road 143.