Red-Rock Waterfalls at Gunlock State Park

May 31, 2023

RayB_gunlockres228c_11april23 (003)

RayB_gunlockres241c_11april23 (003)

Photographer: Ray Boren 

Summary Author: Ray Boren

A drought-relieving wet winter and spring across the western United States has filled many recently parched reservoirs, including a small man-made lake at southwestern Utah’s Gunlock State Park, where abundant run-off can create a spectacle: waterfalls streaming over red-rock sandstone. This is an instance of man working with nature, for the cascades — which don’t occur every year or for very long — are actually part of Gunlock Reservoir’s unusual spillway. 

As shown in the first photograph, taken on April 11, 2023, and featuring a pair of adventurous hikers, clever engineers decided it would be attractive, as well as effective, to allow the water, during relatively rare plentiful years like this, to go over a low spillway (shown in a second image), then to spread and tumble in multiple tresses, big and little, down the rugged sandstone cliffs, which are around a bend from Gunlock’s earthen dam. The impounded Santa Clara River, which is also managed and released from the dam itself, thus re-emerges to make its way toward the city of St. George, Utah, and the Virgin River, of which it is a tributary. Some of the water will proceed to Lake Mead and Hoover Dam, near Las Vegas, as well as the Colorado River, and ultimately the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean.

Like nearby Snow Canyon State Park, as well as Zion National Park, some Gunlock area sandstone is evidence of an extensive dune-covered desert that formed about 180 million years ago from wind-blown, and subsequently lithified, grains of quartzite sand. The sandstone, and the region’s canyons, mountains and buttes, also bear signs of ancient seas, as well as volcanism that occurred millions of years ago to as recently as about 30,000 years ago, as attested by lava-topped ridges and cinder cones.


Gunlock State Park, Utah Coordinates: 37.25361, 113.78444


Related Links:

Marbles and Sandstone in Snow Canyon