Gateway to Scenic Splendors of the World
By Randall Thatcher
Nov. 9, 2017
Convincing friends from faraway places to come visit us here in lovely Sanpete is usually not a difficult proposition. But, for the more reluctant, I tend to sweeten the proposal with two further inducements: First, I offer to make them waffles every morning; and second, I casually mention the fact that we are less than a three-hour drive from some of the most breathtakingly beautiful spots on earth.
After overhearing me repeat this alluring fact to an out-of-state friend during a phone call last week, my wife took the opportunity to repeat to me my own words—that we are, indeed, closely situated to such singularly stunning places as Cedar Breaks, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Bryce and Zion—and it shouldn’t require out of town guests to promptly to go see them.
So convincing were her blandishments that we impulsively tossed our camping gear into the back of the car and were soon motoring merrily down scenic U.S. 89.
As we rolled along through the pastoral farmlands of south Sanpete and Sevier counties, we considered our many tantalizing options, resolving finally upon a several-days’ adventure in Capitol Reef National Park.
Less than three hours later, we were pitching our tent in the Cedar Mesa Campground, inside the park, and preparing for an exploratory evening hike into Red Canyon.
The next day brought an eye-popping drive up and over the fabled—and still unpaved—Burr Trail Switchbacks (not quite as vexing to us, in our little subcompact car, as it must have been to early stagecoach passengers, but somewhat hair-raising, nonetheless.)
We hiked the Lower Muley Twist Canyon, ambling through its labyrinth of rock walls and cottonwoods aflame with autumn color, before looping back to the car to continue along the famous Burr Trail. The surprising scenery along this stretch of rough, unimproved road more than makes up for its tooth-rattling ruts and washboards. Even when these bone-jarring obstacles finally give way to blissfully smooth and welcome pavement, the scenery only intensified, as Burr Trail turned into legendary Highway 12.
Search the internet for the ten most scenic roads in America, and on any list that comes up you’ll likely find “All-American Road,” also known as “Scenic Byway 12,” which ushers lucky motorists through stunning orange and red canyons, silt cliffs, and plateaus covered with forests of pine, fir and spruce, with a national park at either end, and historic pioneer communities along the way.
One of these communities is the “unspoiled and untamed” town of Boulder (though tame enough to offer the passing sojourner a cheeseburger and fries).
Then more of Highway 12, until I began to think I could not possibly absorb any more grandeur. Turns out, however, that I could—and did.
Having passed the point of no return on this particular route, we determined to complete a scenic loop known as the “Patchwork Parkway” (named after a group of pioneers who, trying to get to Parowan from Panguitch in order to get supplies to save the town during its first winter after a failed crop from the summer before, were able to traverse deep mountain snows only by placing quilts under their feet so they could walk without sinking into the snow).
At Cedar Breaks National Monument we reached the lofty elevation of 10,567 feet, making it one of the highest paved roads in the state.