Thursday, August 23, 2018

Spectacular side trips along Utah's Scenic Byway 12

Grosvenor's Arch
The guidebook said Grosvenor’s Arch was only 11 miles off Utah’sHighway 12.  It didn’t mention that Cottonwood Canyon Road, the way to get there, was just a primitive gravel road with sharp turns, steep edges, and deep drop-offs. It didn’t mention that the white-knuckle drive (for me, at least) would take more than half an hour.
But just as I wondered why in the world we thought taking this detour was a good idea, magnificent Grosvenor Arch came into view. This back road destination actually features two sandstone arches jutting out of a soaring cliff in an Instagram perfect setting.  After exploring and photographing the stunning rock formations, we had the perfect backdrop for enjoying our picnic lunch.
A short trail leads to the arches.

Even better, at Grosvenor’s Arch we encountered a couple who convinced us to stop at Kodachrome Basin State Park as we returned to Hwy 12.  If not for their suggestion, we probably would have passed it by as just another local park. But it was definitely worth another detour.
While there, we hiked Panorama Point Trail, a three-and-a half-mile loop that concluded at an elevated observation point overlooking multicolored rock formations throughout the area. Along the trail we enjoyed a wonderful spectacle of 67 red-tinged monolithic pillars jutting up from the canyon floor against a clear blue sky.
One of the many spires in Kodachrome Basin State Park
While on a road trip to visit different national parks in southern Utah, my husband and I discovered beauty in unexpected spots.

Follow Scenic Byway 12—but take a few detours.

Wildflowers decorate rock formations
in Kodachrome Basin State Park.
Recently designated an All America Highway, Scenic Byway 12 (between Capital Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks) features several lesser known, but equally worthy, attractions like Grosvenor’s Arch, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and Red Canyon.
If you’re planning a road trip to see national parks in Utah such as Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, and Arches, add in extra time to visit other attractions along scenic Byway 12.
Hoodoos in Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah.
Cedar Breaks is a fairyland of painted cliffs and colorful rock spires.  Arriving on a blustery day, we felt the cool September temperatures typical of its10,000-foot elevation. 
We hiked Spectra Point Trail along the canyon rim and got our first glimpses of hoodoos, breathtaking formations that are the hallmark of Bryce Canyon National Park. As we looked down into a half-mile deep geologic amphitheater, we were surrounded by the richness of the subalpine forest of bristlecone pines.
Pines and the deep amphitheater in Cedar Breaks National Monument
The turn-off for Bryce Canyon passes through Red Canyon, a destination popular with mountain bikers because it’s open to biking and ATV riding.  If you are a bike rider then this is a place you do not want to miss. Unique vermilion-colored rock formation and stands of Ponderosa pines make the canyon exceptionally scenic.
Paths to walk or bike in Red Canyon

There are also several short hiking paths that are maintained by the U.S. Forest Service.  We walked the one-mile Pink Ledges Trail that loops past intriguing and brilliantly colored geological formations. It’s a great trail for getting close enough to explore and examine the rocks. Rather than viewing giant spires from a distance, you can walk up and touch them—and feel dwarfed against their bulk. The 3-mile Losee Canyon Trail provides a more rugged look at some of the Red Canyon area "crown jewels.”
Stunning formations just off Utah's Scenic Byway 12.
Southern Utah is a wonderland of stratified rock formations, sandstone cliffs, and towering spires.  If you’re willing to stray a bit off the main path there are plenty of naturally beautiful landscapes waiting to be discovered. The region is especially striking during the fall when maples, oaks, and aspens are ablaze in vibrant reds and golds. 

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


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