Want to visit another planet while barely leaving your car? If you are traveling on highway US-89 between Lake Powell and Zion National Park, there is an excellent place to do it. Here the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument with its otherworld scenery closely parallels the highway. A very short and easy trail (under a mile) leads to a gorgeous yet surreal setting featuring the bizarre Toadstools.
[Photo, left: The alcove at the end of the Toadstools Trail features surreal scenery and a wonderful array of colors.]
This roadside stop is not clearly signed on the highway. There is a small parking area, a fence, and an interpretive sign on the north side of the road. (We missed it on the first try and had to do a u-turn.) The site is about 30 miles west of Lake Powell and 40 miles east of Kanab, Utah. Look for a series of white cliffs with vivid chocolate brown striping on the north side of US-89.
From the interpretive sign at the start of the trail:
"What is a Toadstool? A toadstool is a spire-like feature with a boulder perched atop a pedestal rock, like a mushroom, or 'toadstool'. It forms when softer rock erodes away, leaving a column sheltered from the wind and water. The route ahead leads to an area where conditions were right for toadstool development".
The trail itself starts just inside the fence and is 0.8 mile each way, with mostly level and easy walking. It follows a sandy wash part of the way, then cairns (stone markers) lead you in and out of the wash where there is a small obstruction. The environment is open, shadeless desert and would be extremely hot in the summer. Be sure to carry plenty of water in the warm months.
[Photos, right: A series of toadstools in varying stages of decay. Notice how the second toadstool from left has lost its cap and has completely eroded away without the protection of the cap.]
Toadstools are created when boulders roll off the cliffs in the background. They are formed out of the Dakota Sandstone layer, with rock that is harder and younger that the much older Entrada Sandstone layer composing the terrace (note in photo at top) - the strong brown-colored material. Over the eons, the Entrada Sandstone erodes far more slowly where covered by a Dakota Sandstone boulder, so much so that the ground forms a spire underneath the boulder. The spire and boulder cap together form what we perceive as a toadstool.
[Photo, below: A magnificent panorama looking outward from the toadstool terrace.]