2010: Bryce Canyon

Scenic Byway 12


Cannonville, the location of our RV park, is on a Utah state road known as Scenic Byway 12. The road runs from Bryce Canyon National Park in the west to Capitol Reef National Park to the north, and borders on the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument, a two-million-acre wilderness area. We decided to spend a day driving the road and seeing its sights. According to what I'd read, it should be an easy and short day of driving and sight-seeing.

Our first stop was just outside the town of Cannonville at Kodachrome Basin State Park. I could hear Paul Simon in my head as we took the back road that leads there. We took a short hike called Angel's Palace Trail. As with the rest of southern Utah, the claim-to-fame of this park is -- duh -- more red rocks. And a short climb also gives you a nice view of the surrounding country.

As we drove out of the park back toward highway 12, I admired the riotous color of a patch of wildflowers bravely displaying beside the road. It mystifies me how they are able to milk enough moisture out of this parched soil to live.

Back on the main highway, we found some real live cowboys herding real live cows.

I was jonesing for a Coke, but there was a real dearth of fast-food joints -- or any kind of joints -- on this remote road. Finally we found a small roadside restaurant in the tiny town of Escalante, which according to our maps was about halfway on our drive. The lady in the restaurant was very nice and got us some drinks-to-go.

So far I was pretty underwhelmed with the "scenic drive", but this lady assured me that in only a few miles, we'd be seeing some impressive sights. And she was right; just a short way up the road, the landscape changed from dull scrub brush and gentle hills to another dramatic riot of red rocks and cliffs. Inexplicably, the first scenic viewpoint was completely wrecked by power poles and lines. Photoshop, here I come.

The next ten miles or so was similar territory. We stopped to admire the chasm created by Calf Creek. Calf Creek Falls Trail is a place I'd hoped to go hiking, but we weren't prepared to do it on this day; and as things turned out, we wouldn't get back to this area again before heading home. At least we took lots of pictures from above.

We decided to keep going until we reached the end of highway 12, at Capitol Reef National Park. Even though I'd never heard of it before, I'd read some good internet buzz and thought it might be worth seeing. What we didn't know was that we'd have to climb, climb, climb to get over the mountain in between. In the space of fifteen miles, we moved ever upward from arid rocky desert into pine forest and finally into high-elevation aspen trees. When we FINALLY reached the summit, we were shocked at the elevation! Even more shocking had been the handful of bicycle riders we passed, laboring doggedly toward the top.

The trip to Capitol Reef had taken more than half the day; we were already tired and still had a long drive back home, so we limited our time there to a brief scenic drive. While the park had some nice scenery, it really couldn't stack up against what we'd already seen at Zion and Bryce.

We made a brief stop in the nearby town of Torrey; as we U-turned to start our trip back, I was amazed to see one of those bikers we saw two hours earlier! Well, obviously he managed to pedal over the top. We barely made it in the truck! And of course, now we had to do it all over again. We arrived back at camp late in the afternoon after our not-so-easy day of about six hours driving. Who knows how long it took that intrepid biker to go just one way.