Last summer we spent a couple of weeks checking off items on our bucket list in the National Parks of Utah. We rented a car in Salt Lake City, toured the parks and dropped off the car in Los Vegas.
After leaving Capital Reef National Park one afternoon we were headed for our next hotel in the town of Panguitch near Bryce Canyon National Park to the southwest. We came out of Capital Reef on Route 24 and soon hit an intersection with Route 12. At the intersection Rt. 24 headed to the north, which is the way we had been told to go but Rt. 12 went south. Just looking at the map it seemed like 12 was a much shorter route to take.
At this point I need to confess that the older I get the more nervous I am about heights. Already on this trip I had driven a couple of roads that had given me reason to pause. I’m not sure where this fear of heights has come from but when I was much younger I was fearless. lately I find it hard to believe that decades ago that young man that hung one handed off high catwalks and jumped out of helicopters was actually me. At this point I am much more nervous than my wife.
Anyway at that junction we made a snap decision and headed south on Utah Route 12. Some distance along this two lane road, near Boulder Mountain we came across the Anasazi State Park and archaeological site. This was a lucky find and well worth the stop. It was built around the excavation of an ancient Anasazi village and included a nice museum.
Back on the road we headed southwest again and soon came up on one of the scariest bit of road I can remember. Its called the Hogsback (or Hog Back) and it’s a narrow two lane road with, at times, barley any shoulder on either side. It rides along a ridge for about four miles with often sheer drops of over a hundred feet on one side or the other and sometimes both sides at once. Few guard rails and almost no room to pull off. The speed limit was between 25 and 35 mph and with my fear kicking in that seemed way too fast.
The good news was there was almost no traffic and the one car ahead of us seemed really terrified. He crept along at 15 to 20 mph and that was just fine with me. Not only did I feel safer but he gave me an excuse when eventually another car caught up to us.
Watch this YouTube video of a drive along the Hogsback.
Red Rock Inn Located in Springdale, Utah at the southern entrance to Zion National Park
I’m guilty of just neglecting to get back and write about this and there is no excuse since this is the most delightful B&B Inn we have stayed in over the last five years.
Because the town of Springdale sits in a narrow canyon as you leave Zion National Park there really is only Zion Park Blvd. for a couple of miles thru town. This is partly a blessing as every where you look are the stunning red rock walls towering above you. Unfortunately this also creates major traffic tie-ups as cars enter and exit the park down this two-lane street (TRAFFIC INFORMATION HERE). In season afternoon traffic trying to enter the park virtually comes to a standstill.
On our visit we had driven into Zion thru the northeast entrance and after a day in the park we exited at the south end and stayed at the Red Rock Inn. From there we just walked around the town which is very convenient from the inn. The town is nice to stroll through with great shops, cafes and restaurants. After that the Zion NPS shuttle is the easiest way to get back to the park and explore the southern trails with no wasted time trying to find a parking space. The Inn is located only about a mile from the park entrance if you are inclined to hike.
The Red Rock Inn sits in a beautiful setting with tastefully decorated, spotless rooms. The Inn is operated by Trevor and Sharon and you couldn’t ask for more attentive hosts who can offer great tips on what to see in the park or where to eat nearby. Your stay also includes a great full breakfast at Oscars Cafe only a short walk up the boulevard.
998 Zion Park Blvd.
Springdale, Ut 84767
If you are looking for a getaway weekend or are planning a grand tour of the Utah parks you really can’t do any better than a stay at The Red Rock Inn.
After spending a week on an organized land tour in early June (Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, etc.), we picked up a rental car in Salt Lake City. With accommodations booked in Moab, Panguitch, Springdale and Los Vegas, Nevada we headed out taking US15 south from Salt Lake City and then picked up Route 6 toward Moab.
Nine Mile Canyon
On our way we took a side trip to Nine Mile Canyon (additional information). We had been told about the canyon and had also read an article about the locations of petroglyph sites in the area. The canyon is actually forty-eight miles long with the first petroglyph site about twenty-seven miles in. Unfortunately we seemed to have misplaced the article, which listed the location of each site and, once into this isolated area, we realized what a mistake that was. The two-lane road had virtually no traffic (except some free roaming cattle) and there was very little in the way of signage. We passed the first marker twice without seeing it – a green sign on a post about six inches tall and ten inches long that simply said “First Site” and an arrow. If you have the time, a visit to a few of these thousand year old sites is really interesting.
Getting into Moab late in the afternoon we checked into the motel and got something to eat with a plan to start in Arches National Park early the next morning.
In August the Interior Dept. raised the cost of a senior pass from $10 to $80. While no longer a bargain (actually it was a steal) it is still worth considering. The lifetime pass for U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over is now $80.00 and may be obtained in person at a federal recreation site or for an extra $10 processing fee it can be ordered on-line or by mail.
Arches National Park
We visited Arches National Park early in the morning and realized that no photograph or description can begin to express the massive size of its’ formations or the scale of the arches and balancing rock structures. This place just has to be experienced in person. The sandstone formations are massive and the colors are fantastic. If you are a hiker, there is a large number of very walkable trails in the park, temperature permitting, along with a number of scenic drives. On the subject of weather it is very important that you carry water in your car and with you if hiking. The high temperatures and dry conditions can be punishing.
Canyonlands National Park
Only about twenty-five miles from Arches is the northern entrance to Canyonlands National Park and it is a wholly different experience as you enter on high bluffs and look down into the canyons. The landscape is similar to the Grand Canyon in character and color as you stand on the rim. In the western area of the park are the best hiking trails where an extinct volcano caldera formed an interesting bowl-like valley. Between Canyonlands and Arches is a state park named Dead Horse Canyon which is worth a visit as well. There is also an entrance to Canyonlands about sixty miles south of Moab that features the Needles District with a strikingly different look, featuring backbone formations of rows of sandstone spires.
Scenic Route 128
Just south of Arches National Park is scenic Route 128 North that runs up another canyon beside the Colorado River. As you drive the road along the river, you are surrounded by 500 to 1,000 foot sandstone cliffs with many completely vertical. On the river you see numerous rafting groups and as you drive deeper into the canyon the land opens up to dozens of spires and buttes.
In the canyon is a small town named Castle Valley and near the river is the Red Cliffs Lodge and the Castle Creek Winery. The winery offers tastings and features some good wines that are popular in the region’s restaurants. On the map you may notice a ghost town named Cisco and might be tempted to go take a look. Do not bother – the town is a junkyard of abandoned trailer homes and RV’s laced with obscene graffiti. Our suggestion is when you reach Dewey Bridge, turn around and drive back unless you are going on to US 70. While we didn’t visit, we were told that there is an interesting movie museum near the Castle Creek Winery and there are numerous raft operators on this stretch of the Colorado River.
Capital Reef National Park
Leaving Moab the next morning we headed north on 191 to US70 west. We exited 70 onto Route 24 south and headed to Capital Reef National Park. Capital Reef is home to another collection of petroglyphs and these are well marked with easy access from the road. This is also the location of Fruita which was established by Mormons as an agricultural area in 1880. A few structures from the original settlement still remain as do the orchards.
Route 24 travels right thru Capital Reef with one scenic side road inside the park featuring a number of good hiking trails. After exiting Capital Reef on 24 west we picked up Route 12 heading south towards Bryce Canyon National Park.
Utah Route 12 is a scenic and interesting trip from Capital Reef to Bryce Canyon. It crosses some spectacular country with ridges, canyons and mountains at every turn. One stretch navigated a ridge with only two narrow lanes and steep drops on both sides. Along the way we stopped at the Anasazi State Park where we viewed a interesting museum and Indian village excavations.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is a must visit. The park sits atop high country, looking down into the canyons which are packed with geological features called hoodoos. (Interconnected spires of colorful sandstone creating mazes and rising from the canyon floor.) While hoodoos are scattered throughout the parks in Utah, nowhere in the world are they as abundant as in the northern section of Bryce Canyon. Many of the hiking trails go down the canyon face and are steep and descend an average of 700 feet but there are a few walkways for those seeking less of a challenge.
There is a hotel with a restaurant inside the park but there are also a number of accommodations just a short drive away starting at Bryce Canyon City. The Park Service, in an effort to reduce traffic, operates free busses with pick-up stops in the “City”. The drive through the park is about nineteen miles to the end at Rainbow Point with an altitude of over nine-thousand feet. At the point, the morning we were there, the temperature dropped over twenty degrees from the Visitors Center and winds were howling.
Red Canyon is between Bryce Canyon and Panguitch where our motel was located. The canyon road goes thru two short tunnels cut thru the sandstone and there are a couple of parking areas for the hiking trails. Our motel had a colony of prairie dogs right outside our door and they liked to come out and socialize around dusk. The second night we were visited by a pronghorn antelope. One cautionary note here is that Panguitch is mostly closed on Sundays and it became a challenge finding a place to eat.
Zion National Park
After two nights near Bryce Canyon in Panguitch we headed off early for Zion. We had read that Zion has a traffic problem and that by late morning parking is almost impossible to find. Like Bryce Canyon, Zion also has a free shuttle bus that picks up at stops in Springdale, the town just outside the southern entrance to the park. In season Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only open to the parks buses, which can be picked up at the Visitors Center near the south entrance. Of the parks we visited, Zion had the largest number of hiking trails ranging from wheel chair accessible to strenuous. One of the park’s more popular hikes goes thru “the narrows” which is a narrow width passage with a stream running through it . Unfortunately this trail and a few others require a permit and there is usually a several days wait to get one.
Driving down from Panguitch we entered Zion around 9:00 am at the east entrance. There were maybe three or four cars ahead of us and we traveled down canyon walls thru numerous switchbacks and two tunnels. One tunnel was two lanes and almost a mile long with no lights, so be sure and test your headlights before entering. We got to the visitors center around 10:00 and had to search for parking. We took a couple of hikes on trails near the Visitors’ Center and by noon the line for the tour busses wound thru the complex and out into the parking lot. A few hours later when we exited to Springdale the line of cars to get in was backed up over a mile through town.
We spent the night at The Red Rock Inn and it was the highlight of the trip. Located in town and a couple of miles from the park it was comfortable, beautifully decorated and clean. The owners were helpful and friendly and the room came with a voucher for breakfast at Oscars a block away. Oscars was also great, offering a full breakfast and plenty of coffee. The whole town is nestled in a canyon with towering red sandstone cliffs above it and unbelievable traffic “in season.”
The next morning we headed for Los Vegas with a couple of nights on the strip and our flight home. During the trip we saw snow (Panguitch averages six inches in June), windy conditions and virtually no rain. In summary, it was the trip of a lifetime offering spectacular scenery and temperatures ranging from freezing to over one hundred.