Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Great Trek West, Part 6: Backcountry Utah and three national parks

Backcountry Utah is remote.

Seriously. We were lucky in that the roads were clear and the weather was dry; had the roads been the smallest amount compromised, we would have been in trouble. We drove from one side of the state to the other, and passed through three national parks, a national forest, and a national monument, and I think I saw less than ten cars all day. At one point we went an hour without seeing another car, a house, or any sign of human civilization.

But oh my goodness, it was gorgeous.

And really, is there anything better than having a road all to yourself? Especially a scenic one, so that you can stop and take pictures wherever you want?

It was another day of starting off in the dark, driving all day, and ending in the dark. But it was by far the most scenic day. We took Scenic Byway 24 to 12, which winds directly through Capitol Reef National Park, Dixie National Forest, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and Bryce Canyon National Park to Zion National Park.

Capitol Reef is one of the most remote national parks; and Grand Staircase was the last area of the continental US to be mapped. It's a tiny two-lane mountain road that winds along the backbone of the ridge, miles from any town, with the steepest drop-offs I've ever seen (naturally, with no guard rails). Do not attempt this drive if it's rainy, snowy, icy, or overly windy, and do not pass by a gas station without refilling to a full tank--there aren't that many of them. I can't understand why Grand Staircase isn't a national park. We didn't go off the main road, so we saw only a small percentage of what there is to see, but I'd love to go back there one day when hiking or off-roading would be a possibility.

Here are pictures of Capitol Reef (note the petroglyphs):

The view from Dixie National Forest:

Grand Staircase:

I also can't understand why there's a public road that cuts through so many mind-numbingly beautiful things, and not many people live along that road. I am glad I had the thing largely to myself. In summer, behind RVs and trucks and normal traffic, it would have been infuriating.

Bryce and Zion were just as beautiful as I remembered. Zion was a relatively steamy 54 degrees (when we left Moab at 6 am, it was nine below), and the wildlife was out in full force. We were also able to drive the entire road. In spring, summer, and fall, one major branch of the road is closed to private cars; you can only take a shuttle bus.



Our brains were saturated by the time we bedded down for the night. The next day's drive was obscured by fog, which was a shame, but I'm not sure how much astounding scenery we could have absorbed. How did Utah get all the good stuff?

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful! I've been to Utah a few times to visit family. But we'll always been so set on getting from point A to point B that we've never really SEEN Utah, which is a shame. Someday I want to get out there just for the natural parks.