To one explorer, it resembled “a mighty ruined colonnade.” To an early settler, Ebenezer Bryce, it was “a hell of a place to lose a cow.” But to the thousands of annual visitors to Bryce Canyon National Park and the surrounding area, it is quite simply unforgettable. State Route 12, an All American Road, and other nearby scenic byways take you deep into this city of stone and beyond, where time, water, and the elements have fashioned a soul-stirring landscape of fairy-tale castles and ramparts.
1. Red Canyon
Heading east across sagebrush flats, the drive quickly enters seven-mile-long Red Canyon, which offers all the dramatic splendors of Utah’s canyonland in miniature. The canyon was carved by the same erosive forces that created Bryce and boasts stunning scenery of its own. But one big difference prevails: this little jewel of a canyon is far less visited than its big brother, so its trails remain virtually pristine. A U.S. Forest Service visitor center at the west end of the canyon directs visitors to a separate trail network that caters to human-powered and motorized forms of recreation. Many of Red Canyon’s prettiest vistas can be seen along Rte. 12, which burrows through terra-cotta tunnels as it heads east. Slicing across Dixie National Forest, the drive passes glistening ponderosa pines and twisted stone formations tinted pink and scarlet by iron-rich minerals.
2. Dixie National Forest
In a region dominated by desert, water is a precious resource. That makes Dixie National Forest a valued neighbor. Were it not for the mountains and plateau tops of this forest, nearby cities and towns would never have been able to flourish. Throughout the winter, snow accumulates at high elevations, later melting into mountain streams that feed sparkling lakes.
State Rte. 22, one of several roads on which you can explore the forest, leads to the turnoff for Powell Point. Watch for Rte. 132 to Pine Lake Campground, but climb to the top of the plateau beyond the camp only if you have a high-clearance all-wheel-drive vehicle. Some 10,000 feet above sea level, this promontory looks out on the red-and-pink cliffs of the Claron Formation below and, beyond it, Arizona.
Animal lovers may opt to drive the East Fork of the Sevier River Scenic Byway, a must for wildlife viewing; look for Rte. 87, about 11 miles east of the Rte. 89 and State Rte. 12 junction. From its numerous pullouts, sightings of pronghorns, prairie dogs, and jackrabbits are more than likely, and in summer and autumn, perhaps an elk will saunter into view.