THE search for Noah's ark has sparked many an ambitious expedition or documentary over the years. However, some 40 miles from Zion National Park is Utah's own Noah's Ark, as officially named on government maps.
Of course, this isn't the real ark, but it's intriguing nevertheless -- especially with its red color.
It is located about five miles southeast of Parowan on the south side of First Left Hand Canyon at an elevation of 8,592 feet above sea level.
Approaching 1,000 feet in length, this red rock formation is about twice the estimated length of the biblical boat, which is commonly said to be at least 300 cubits (a cubit is commonly believed to be 18 inches long), or about 550 feet long and 45 feet high.
There's a signed trail starting in the Vermilion Picnic Area that leads to a closer view of Noah's Ark. However, the view from the road and picnic area is not bad.
Although signs say the trail is 1 mile long one-way, it is closer to 1.5 miles long. It climbs steeply in places, starting from an elevation of 6,927 feet above sea level and topping out at 8,037 feet — for a total climb of 1,110 feet.
There is some shade along this trail, but it is not one to do in the heat of a summer day.
The trail ends on a small plateau that also offers a view of the Little Salt Lake and the surrounding area.
There's also Grand Castle, a kingly sort of red rock formation to the north of Noah's Ark. To the west and near the canyon floor is Vermilion Castle.
The Dixie National Forest has no additional information available on the Noah's Ark Trail.
Bruce Matheson, a longtime resident of Parowan, said the formation is a landmark for all locals in the canyons. He doesn't know where the name came from. Its origin is not mentioned in the history books, and it is just assumed that some early settler starting calling it Noah's Ark and the name stuck.
"The Parowan area has some of the most gorgeous rock formations around," Matheson said. "The colors are very vivid."
He's heard of a few men over the years who have managed to get to the top of Noah's Ark, though it looks to be a steep and risky climb.
Mike Ward, who lives in Paragonah, says Noah's Ark and the surrounding area are spectacular.
"The whole area is a stunner," he reported in an e-mail to the Deseret Morning News.
He said Second Left Hand Canyon, to the south, is his favorite — especially since it has a mountain bike trail that connects with Brian Head.
• To reach the Noah's Ark Trail, go south on I-15 to Parowan (Exit 75) and go through town, turning left (east) off Main Street onto state Route 143. Turn left after about one mile and go east into First Left Hand Canyon, which heads to Yankee Meadows. (This is a paved, narrow road with 13 percent grades, if you continue past Vermilion.)
Watch the signs and turn into Vermilion Picnic Area and drive the dirt road loop, looking for the signed trailhead. There are restrooms in the picnic area.
• The Parowan Canyon area is also home to a slew of other oddly shaped features. For example, there's Free Thought Canyon; Valentine Peak (where the sun rises each Feb. 14 perfectly lined with its summit); Squaw Hollow; Hole in the Rock; Billy West Canyon; and Yankee Meadows. -From a Deseret News article on Nov. 8, 2007, by Lynn Arave.