ST. GEORGE — There may not be a zoo in Southern Utah, but you can still see rock animals in and around the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.
Two adjacent trails, Dino Cliffs and Baby Elephant Arch, provide either a short walk to dinosaur tracks or the chance for a longer exploration of unique rock formations.
Getting to the trailheads could be an adventure in itself. There are two access points— through Main Street in Washington, or Washington Parkway. The drive along the dirt road is just over a mile long, and the ride is bumpy. Park on the side of the access road under the power lines. If you’re between two water tanks to the north, you’ll know you’re in the right spot.
The Dino Cliffs trailhead is right off the road, and the trail is clearly marked. Expect a lot of soft sand. Also, be aware that although the walk to the tracks is only 200 yards, it's downhill, meaning the walk back gets steep. There are several dinosaur tracks clearly visible at the base. The color of their stone contrasts against the surrounding red sandstone, so they’re easy to see.
You could then turn back, continue along the trail, or explore the towering red rocks and blooming desert plant life. Equestrians and cyclists can also enjoy the trail, which continues for 1.8 miles.
The Baby Elephant Arch, though not part of the reserve, is across the road. The full hike to Elephant Arch (inside the reserve) is 2.5 miles and much more challenging; this miniature version (0.3 miles) is more kid-friendly.
The terrain has more rocks and dirt than sand, but it is equally messy to walk through, as well as slippery in the steeper spots. There are several paths to get down to the arch, either via foot or by using off-road vehicles. Along the route are broad views of the Green Springs area and Brio subdivision.
There is no shade, so come on a cloudy day or limit your trip to the cooler spring, fall and winter seasons. The trails are easy for kids, and the idea of an elephant rock can sound fun, but don’t get their hopes up too high: A rock formation they can climb through will probably never be as interesting as the real thing.
Directions: Take Exit 13 from I-15, and head north on Washington Parkway. At the end of Washington Parkway, continue west on the dirt road until you come to the power lines. At the power lines, head north approximately half a mile to the trailhead.