The Vortex aka The Bowl or the Lower Sand Cove Trail is located near Dammeron Valley and Gunlock, UT. It is a moderate two mile hike that involves traversing uneven terrain. The trail crosses lava flows, sandy walkways, and red and white sandstone rocks. Hikers must be on their toes and watch their steps.
The trailhead is clear but after a few minutes of hiking the trail itself becomes a bit fuzzy. Luckily the path is well traveled and helpful hikers have placed a number of cairns to guide others along the way. Cairns are stacks of rocks used to show hikers the correct direction to continue on the trail. If you lose your way do not be afraid to retrace your steps and regain your bearings.
The Navajo Sandstone is breathtaking and involves a variety of unique shapes and formations. Parts of the rock look as if someone was in the midst of pouring out a can of bright orange pain. Others appear fluffy and lumpy or as if they were a checkerboard.
While the Vortex is the most prominent formation, there are plenty of other smaller holes in the rock. One of the holes even looks like a heart. Water gathers in these bowls as well as the Vortex. Desert greenery and flowers pop up around various parts of the trail, adding even more color to the landscape. The incredible views stretch for miles and miles, the altitude gain creating a perfect vantage point.
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The trail is completely exposed to the sun which can be brutal in the St. George heat. It is not recommended as a summer hike, and hot weather is not afraid to rear its head in the fall or spring as well. The best times of day to complete it are morning and evening. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen, along with shoes that have good traction. Parts of the rock can be slick and the hike does involve some scrambling. Keeping lower to the ground can be a good way to maintain one’s footing.
It is a moderate rated hike requiring balance and climbing. Dogs are allowed, though it is important to be aware of their fitness level. Any passenger vehicle should be able to make it to the trailhead along the dirt road. Rain is uncommon in the area, but if it is in the forecast it is likely best to skip the slippery slickrock. If you really want to brave the elements, four wheel drive and high clearance is best for the road in the rain.
There are enough cairns to locate the general vicinity of The Vortex, so don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from taking the hike. I’ll be the first to admit my direction skills are not the greatest. If I can locate it, so can you.
Written by Lauren Kehoe