With five national parks, seven national monuments and one national historic site, Utah can consider itself blessed with recreational and scenic riches.
During a late-spring drive through the state’s backroad country, I managed to see one of them by swinging east from Panguitch onto Scenic Byway 12, the last major highway built by the state and Utah’s first All-American Road.
The byway wanders through 124 miles of the remote and rugged section of Utah’s Colorado Plateau traversing everything from sagebrush flats and ponderosa pine forests to rocky deserts and stands of aspen.
Altitude-wise, the byway cuts through the tiny hamlet of Escalante at 4,000 feet above sea level and up to 11,000 feet at the top of Boulder Mountain. Before that, it also leads to Bryce Canyon National Park, an eyefull of red, yellow, and pink jagged rock, eroded over the millennia by wind and water.
With all its hoodoos, columns and unusual rock formations, no wonder 19th century Mormon settler, Ebenezer Bryce, for whom the park is named, quipped that it certainly is a helluva place to lose a cow, a phrase that was later turned into a modern melody with tongue-in-cheek lyrics.
More a series of natural amphitheaters than a canyon, Bryce sports an 37-mile scenic rim top drive with several spectacular overlooks with names like Sunrise, Sunset, Rainbow and Inspiration. They say that, from some of the overlooks, visibility can extend to over 100 miles on a clear day.
Come evening, when the pink and fiery red rock dims to black, the night sky comes alive with stars and thrilling meteor activity (especially in season) due to Bryce being one of the darkest night places in the Southwest. Capitalizing on this advantage, the park regularly stages multi-media astronomy programs, telescope viewing, full moon hikes and an annual Astronomy Festival.