Yant Flat – Candy Cliffs near St. George
It all started a couple of years ago, when Steffen found an image on the web of an interesting looking place with the vague description “at the foothills of Pine Valley Mountains”. He saved it on his computer, but then… guess what!? He totally forgot about it and never showed it to me…! It wasn’t until we got an email early last year from a local offering to guide us to a remote unknown crazy sandstone area near his home in the St. George area without mentioning any further details. That’s when that place at the foothills of Pine Valley Mts instantly came back into Steffen’s mind and he told me that he probably knew what this local was talking about.
We were on a phototrip during that time, but back home Steffen showed me what he had saved on his computer and we were surprised how easy it was to locate it on Google Earth now. A few years ago the resolution was so bad that Steffen was not able to see anything, but now the place “at the foothills of Pine Valley Mountains” was there and looked absolutely incredible to me – just like a combination of White Pocket, Yellow Rock and Valley of Fire‘s Rainbow Vista area seen from above. The moment I laid my eyes on it, this place was high up on my bucket list. So glad the next Southwest trip was coming up!!!
And we did what Steffen and I always love to do most: find and explore places on our own. Steffen looked for the right roads leading there and I took note of the GPS waypoints of the most colorful spots at the cliffs. Parts of it seemed pretty steep to me. So much looking forward to heading out there and seeing it in real life!
And it all happened much earlier than scheduled because our car did not perform well at the Paria Plateau (the Toyota RAV4 was the most miserable SUV we’ve ever had… so far… ). We skipped our motel reservation in Kanab and headed to St. George hoping for a wonderful sunset at the “new place”.
Arriving way too early, we unfortunately missed the meet-up with Michael, the local who wanted to guide us there. So we needed to search for it on our own. We had found a spur track leading directly to our target cliffs on the satellite images and that’s why we drove back and forth the main forest road. There was obviously no jeep trail anywhere, but after a while we saw a National Forest sign in the woods prohibiting motorized access. We parked our car nearby and followed by foot an old, now totally destroyed road. After a couple of yards we were back on track and the road was visible again. This was the old jeep trail leading to the cliffs we were looking for.
And what a breathtaking sight, when we arrived at the edge of the cliffs! It was in fact a perfect combination of our favorite “wonderland of rocks” in the U.S.: the buttes, bowls and cross-beddings reminded us of the Coyote Buttes, the patterns and swirls looked like White Pocket or Crazy Hill at Valley of Fire and in the distance way beyond the steep cliffs there were another fantastic landscapes, the towers of Zion National Park. The colors were not as bright as in the Coyote Buttes or in Valley of Fire, but the whole scenery was just incredible. And with all these prominent stripes, dots and fancy shapes, I couldn’t help thinking of a giant “candy shop”.
I am sure, not only sandstone aficionados will like it there. Especially at the area where we found the “Sandstone Eye” (37°12’55.5”N, 113°28’07.5”W), the surrounding hills look just as if an artist had accidentally spilled his palette of paint all over the place. Do not expect any very fragile sandstone formations there, this place is more about patterns and beautiful scenery. The area you might want to explore is just about 1 km (0.6 mi) in length up to a big dryfall at 37°13’13”N, 113°27’23”W, but there are a lot of ups and downs in between and some steeper sandstone bowls as well requiring good hiking shoes and maybe a little bit of scrambling too. Be sure not to miss the swirls on this hillside 37°13’00”N , 113°27’50.5”W. And these two GPS waypoints may help you finding the slope we used to get back to the upper plateau and get further east to the above mentioned big dryfall: 37°13’5.28″N, 113°27’43.52″W and 37°13’7.15″N, 113°27’40.72″W.
Heading back to the car (cross-country or the way you came in), you might still visit a very special and colorful place at Yant Flats, a small “Yellow Top” with gorgeous patterns all around it (37°13’04”N, 113°27’24.5”W). For us this is surely one of the most scenic spots along the rim. But the access is not easy to find and it’s a rather strenuous sidetrip. Some scrambling and bushwhacking is involved between the upper plateau and the second plateau before heading down to this yellow hill. Please take care, the steep drop-off towards southeast is pretty scary in places!
You will definitely need a couple of hours for the whole hike and way more if you intend to do some shooting at the Candy Cliffs. Since the edge of the plateau faces southeast the best time for photography here is at dawn or during the morning hours. I also liked it there shortly before sunset, when only the top of the “Crazy Hill” at the Candy Cliffs was lighten up. Couldn’t resist catching that one again with a person for a better size comparison.
After a wonderful sunset we had dinner at the Golden Corral (their buffet is better than some Las Vegas buffets and pretty inexpensive; all you can eat buffet with steak for about $10) and a good night’s sleep at the Quality Inn in Saint George (Exit 6 from I-15). The next morning the clouds looked even crazier than the day before, so we could not resist stopping again at Yant Flat for more explorations and photos. I once named one of my images from White Pocket “land of confusion”, I guess here at Candy Cliffs I could have written “land & sky of confusion” as a subtitle for every single image we took. What a great place and what a great storm front! We felt so lucky!
Brief summary: The Candy Cliffs near Yant Flat are a fantastic place well worth visting and spending a couple of hours. Photographers and sandstone aficionados will love exploring all those slickrock bowls and crazy sandstone patterns. And it felt so good being out there all alone with nature again in a place way off the beaten tracks. We will hopefully be back soon!
And talking about rather unknown places… I guess this whole story also showed me that there is one thing I should definitely do before heading again to the Southwest or even before looking for new places at satellite images and in the internet: “Take a closer look” and “explore” Steffens hard disk…!
Directions to the trailhead: Yant Flat and Candy Cliffs are located northeast of St. George within Dixie National Forest and accessed from an improved gravel road. Coming from St. George you’ll leave I-15 at Exit 22, drive the Main street through the town of Leeds for about 1.5 mi until making a left on Silver Reef Road near Exit 23. You may use Exit 23 if you are heading south on I-15 only. Reset your odometer here at the junction Silver Reef Road / Exit 23 and drive northwest for 1.1 mi where Silver Reef Road bends to the left and you’ll keep going straight on Oak Grove Road (FR 032). The pavements ends after 1.5 mi, but the gravel would have been even passable with a regular passenger car, when we were there last fall. You will see a lot of dispersed camping areas along the roadside (maybe a good place to spend the night if you intend to do an early morning or late evening visit?). Further uphill there are some windy, narrow switchbacks, so trailers or RVs are not recommended from there on. After 3.1 mi keep left at the intersection of the forest road 032 and 031, following the sign that says “St. George 24 mi”. When your odometer shows you are about 10.4 mi away from Exit 23, you will see a dirt road leading to Pine Mountains on your right hand side (FR 903). You arrived at the trailhead (37°14’05”N, 113°28’37”W). Leave your car on a place where it does not block traffic and start your hike on the left side of forest road 031.
Required time: more or less 30 min from Exit 23 or 45 min from St. George.
For driving directions please also check our map contained in the zip-file, by clicking on the Topo icon below.
The Trail: There isn’t any established hiking trail across the sandy and bushy Yant Flat plateau to access the cliff area. Starting at the unsigned trailhead you can either hike along the old jeep trail and then navigate cross-country to this GPS waypoint 37°13’06”N, 113°28’03”W or simply continue following the former road up to the cliffs (1,8 km/1.1 mi). It is only a small detour and without a GPS device the safest and easiest way to get there – even without any route finding skills. Personally I do prefer this access since this place is pretty remote and seldom-visited (at least up to now) and I am sure rattlesnakes abound in the undergrowth. By following the old road you’ll have to hike along the cliffs for about 600 yards (~550 m) heading northeast until you reach the same slope that gives you easy access to the Candy Cliffs area (see GPS waypoint above or image on the right). At that slope you are almost there, just 200 yards (~180 m) away from the “Sandstone Eye” our favorite area at the Candy Cliffs.
There is also a hiking map in our zip-file, please click on the Topo icon below (all GPS waypoints in WGS84/NAD83):
Back to St. George: Forest road 031 leads back to town, but it deteriorates very badly shortly after the trailhead. Not sure if this road is usually maintained or not. But in case you have a 4WD vehicle and want to take that road to St. George as a shortcut better inquire at the Interagency Office (345 East Riverside Drive, Tel: 435-688-3246) first about the current road conditions. We refrained from going that way with our “rented wreck”.
• Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness
• Road Map of Pine Valley Ranger District
• Steffen’s German version of the story with some additional images (Candy Cliffs at Yant Flats)