A Journey of Incredible Beauty: Trail of the Ancients

Take your time and savor the sights—and along much of the route…the silence

Far too often we consider the roads that we travel purely as a means to get from point A to point B. Most spend far more hours in their cars commuting and running errands than truly enjoying what lies beyond the edge of the asphalt or concrete. But once you hit the road in your recreational vehicle, why not get off the roads most traveled and take in the breath-taking splendor of America’s system of scenic byways?

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trail of the Ancients, a federally designated National Scenic Byway circles through the ancient Puebloan (Anasazi) Country of southeastern Utah, providing opportunity to view scenic landscapes, archaeological, cultural, and historic sites, as well as Natural Bridges and Hovenweep (also in Colorado) national monuments, Monument Valley, Edge of the Cedars State Park, and Manti La Sal National Forest. It’s a land filled with 250-million-year-old rock formations, mysterious Anasazi ruins, and remnants of long-ago Mormon pioneer families, all but undiscovered by crowds of tourists. An extension of this route continues into Colorado to Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, and Ute Mountain Tribal Park.

Take your time and savor the sights—and along much of the route…the silence. Attempt this 482-mile drive (366 miles in Utah; 116 miles in Colorado) in a single day or two and you’ll miss the point. This landscape took thousands of years to create; you’ll never appreciate it at 65 miles per hour. Instead, take a week or more, stopping to walk through the numerous parks, preserves, monuments, and unnamed places whose beauty defies categorization. Start at any point along the route.

Utah Highway 261 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway enters Utah east of Monticello on U.S. Highway 491 and continues to the junction in Monticello with U.S. Highway 191. Turn south onto U.S. 191 and travel to Blanding where you’ll find Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum, a good stop for an introduction to the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) pre-history of the area. Visitors can walk the paths through the ruins and climb into the kiva via a ladder, just as the original residents did. Exceptionally rare and well-preserved artifacts are at the heart of the museum exhibits.

Utah Highway 261 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Blanding the route follows U.S. Highway 191 south to the junction with Utah Highway 95 and continues west on Highway 95 to Utah Highway 261 passing Butler Wash Ruin, Mule Canyon Ruin, and Natural Bridges National Monument. Butler Wash Ruins, about 10.5 miles west of Blanding, has cliff-type dwellings located under rocky overhangs in a lush green valley along the river. An easy half-mile hike allows closer views. Eight miles further west along Highway 95 brings you to Mule Canyon Indian Ruins at milepost 101. Adjacent to the road, the site contains dwelling units, a reconstructed open kiva, and round tower—all made of stone.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just a few more miles and you’re at Natural Bridges National Monument about 35 miles west of Blanding. Located atop a 5,500- to 6,500-foot mesa a nine-mile, one-way, paved loop road winds through the park, revealing spectacular views of deep pinyon-filled canyons with scattered ancient cliff dwellings and three of the world’s largest natural stone bridges. Bridges differ from arches in that they are created primarily by stream action; whereas arches are created primarily by rain and wind.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bridges in this monument are all easily viewed from overlook areas along Bridge View Drive, or you can hike down into the canyon and walk under them. Interpretive signing is present at each overlook. Horsecollar Ruin Overlook Trail is mostly level and leads over the mesa to the edge of White Canyon. The small cliff dwelling is unique in that it is still plastered. The doorways to the two granaries are shaped like the horsecollars used in harness equipment. A small campground is limited to RVs less than 26 feet but an overflow area on the edge of the park has plenty of room.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Natural Bridges National Monument, the Trail of the Ancient Scenic Byway turns south at the junction with Highways 95 and 261. Along this route you’ll find access to Grand Gulch Primitive Area and hiking trails on the mesa top. Prior to dropping off the Moki Dugway is County Road 274, a 5-mile remote dirt road leading to Muley Point which has been listed by National Geographic as one of the most outstanding views in America. From its magnificent overlook you’ll peer deep into the San Juan River Canyon and onto Monument Valley 25 miles or so in the distance.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The infamous Moki Dugway is a 3-mile stretch of unpaved road that descends 1,000 feet down tight switchbacks from the edge of Cedar Mesa into the Valley of the Gods. The dugway itself is a historic part of the trail, built during the uranium boom to accommodate ore trucks that traveled from the mines on Cedar Mesa to the mill near the Navajo community of Halchita across the San Juan River from Mexican Hat. Never planned for public use, Moki Dugway is not recommended for RV travel.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the bottom of the Dugway our journey continues past the entrance to the little-known Valley of the Gods and onto the junction with Utah Highway 316 which leads to Goosenecks State Park. Although Valley of the Gods is not listed as a site on the Trail, it is worth visiting. The 17-mile loop drive on a native surface road leads among sandstone monoliths which have been given fanciful names such as Seven Sailors, Southern Lady, Rooster Butte, and Battleship Butte.  The valley allows a close-up look at towers and mesas of multicolored sandstone and other sedimentary rocks in subtle shades of pink, red, gold, orange, and purple. The sandstone monoliths here are reminiscent of Monument Valley. This route puts travelers on Highway 163, between Bluff and Mexican Hat.

Goosenecks State Park is another adventure in geology revealing the skeleton of the earth in the layers formed by the San Juan River 1,000 feet below. The Goosenecks of the San Juan River is one of the most striking examples of an “entrenched river meander” in North America. Like a snake the river twists and turns and coils back on itself for a distance of over six miles while advancing only 1.5 miles west as it flows toward Lake Powell. Over 300 million years of geologic activity is revealed from Goosenecks State Park. Located at the end of Highway 316, Gooseneck is a wilderness park encompassing 10 acres.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Highway 261 continues to the junction with U.S. Highway 163 and the town of Mexican Hat. Founded in the early part of the 20th century during an oil boom, Mexican Hat has a population of less than 100 and functions mostly as a stopover point for visitors on their way to Monument Valley or as a base for river expeditions.

At the junction turn right to enter Mexican Hat and on to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park where sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires rise majestically from the desert floor. Monument Valley offers the quintessential Western backdrop made famous in countless Western movies directed by John Ford. An unpaved, and at times rough, road loops through the park. Several overlooks offer spectacular views of the wonders of Monument Valley.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley’s towers, which range in height from 400 to 1,000 feet, are made of de Chelly sandstone, which is 215 million years old, with a base of organ rock shale. The towers are the remnants of mesas, or flat-topped mountains. Mesas erode first into buttes like the Elephant, which typically are as high as they are wide, then into slender spires like the Three Sisters.

After exploring the wonders of Monument Valley retrace your route for 21 miles to Mexican Hat on U.S. Highway 163 and continue east to the pioneer-era town of Bluff on the edge of the Navajo Nation. Snuggled up against the San Juan River, the town was settled by the famous “Hole-In-The-Rock” expedition of Mormon pioneers in the 1880s. Continue past Bluff and travel east on Utah Highway 262 towards the town of Aneth and follow the signs to Hovenweep National Monument.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known for its square, oval, circular, and D-shaped towers, Hovenweep National Monument protects six prehistoric clusters of Native American ruins. Established in 1923, the villages date from the Pueblo period of the mid 13th century. They are spread over a 20-mile area along the Utah-Colorado state line. Unlike the large ruins at Mesa Verde, these are approachable and the visitor can wander among the fallen walls and consider the people who built them.

From Hovenweep return to Aneth and drive southeast on Utah Highway 162 and Colorado Highway 41 to the Four Corners and northeast on U.S. Highway 160 to Ute Mountain Tribal Park. Part of the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation, the Ute Mountain Tribal Park has been set aside to preserve remnants of the Ancestral Puebloan and Ute cultures. The Park encompasses approximately 125,000 acres around a 25 mile stretch of the Mancos River. Within the park are hundreds of surface sites and cliff dwellings, Ancestral Puebloan petroglyphs, and historic Ute wall paintings and petroglyphs.

Mesa Verde National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Ute Mountain, drive north on U.S. Highway to Cortez and Mesa Verde National Park. Fourteen centuries of history are displayed at Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde offers an excellent opportunity to see and experience the life of the Ancestral Puebloans. Spectacular cliff dwellings and mesa-top villages were built between A.D. 450 and 1300, when the Ancestral Puebloans migrated from the area. 

The park is split into a series of sub-mesas all bearing different names. There are thousands of archaeological sites across the park and excellent interpretive loops and scenic pullouts. Hiking and climbing ladders in and out of cliff dwellings is one option, or walks through less rigorous self-guided routes are also available. 

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On this note we end our fascinating discovery of an ancient land of incredible beauty.

Worth Pondering…

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.

—Marcel Proust, French novelist

Life is a Byway: The Roads Less Traveled

Experience the cultural, historical, recreational, and scenic qualities of these roads less traveled

These routes are perfect for spontaneous Sunday drives or pit stops along a greater cross-country journey.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several designations used to honor these routes. The most common type of designation is the National Scenic Byway though there are also state scenic byways, National Forest Byways, and Back Country Byways. Another type of scenic byway is a National Parkway, which is a type of protected roadway within federal park lands that is managed by the National Park Service for recreational use.

Sometimes a road can have multiple honorary designations. If a particular parkway or scenic byway is especially outstanding, it may sometimes be bestowed with the additional title of “All-American Road.”

Not sure where to start planning your next road trip? We’ve listed a few of our favorites below.

Sky Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Sky Island Scenic Byway

National Scenic Byway

Length: 27.2 miles

Plan for three to six hours to drive, including backtracking.

Sky Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your journey among giant saguaro cacti of the Sonoran desert and climb to shady conifer forests at nearly 9,000 feet, passing biological diversity equivalent to a drive from Mexico to Canada in just 27 miles. Enjoy spectacular views and recreational opportunities from hiking and camping to picnicking and skiing.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Scenic Byway 12

All-American Road

Length: 124 miles

Allow three hours to drive or three days to experience the byway.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12 takes you to the heart of the American West. This exceptional 124 mile route negotiates an isolated landscape of canyons, plateaus, and valleys ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level. You’ll encounter archaeological, cultural, historical, natural, recreational, and scenic qualities while driving this exhilarating byway.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina and Tennessee: Cherohala Skyway

National Scenic Byway

Length: 44 miles

Two hours to drive the byway

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Skyway offers the cultural heritage of the Cherokee tribe and early settlers in a grand forest environment in the Appalachian Mountains. Enjoy mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage, as well as great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests. It is a 2-laned road with wide shoulders and 15 scenic overlooks.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Creole Nature Trail

All-American Road

Length: 180 miles

Depending on route, allow four or five hours to drive or two days to visit the byway.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail meanders through marshes, prairies, and along the Gulf of Mexico. As you loop through Calcasieu and Cameron parishes in Southwest Louisiana, view alligators and birds up close and in the wild, along with colorful wildflowers and rare cheniers shaped by salty winds

Russell- Brasstown Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia: Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway

National Scenic Byway

Length: 40 miles

Three hours to enjoy the byway

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorado and Utah: Trail of the Ancients

National Scenic Byway

Length: 480 miles

Nine hours to drive (including backtracking) or six days to enjoy the byway

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the long and intriguing occupation of the Four Corners region by Native American peoples. Travel through the archaeological heartland of America while crossing the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Colorado Plateau. World-renowned Mesa Verde National Park, Monument Valley Tribal Park, and Four Corners Monument are highlights on the trail.

Worth Pondering…

There is adventure in any trip; it’s up to us to seek it out.

—Jamie Francis

Introducing New Scenic Byways and All-American Roads

National Scenic Byways are exceptional roads that offer regionally distinct cultural, historic, natural, or recreational qualities

The National Scenic Byways Program has announced 34 new National Scenic Byways and 15 All-American Roads bringing the total to 184 byways in 48 states. The new designees traverse 28 states and are the first additions to the program since 2009.

Bayou Teche at St. Martinville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established in 1991, the National Scenic Byways Program recognizes roadways with notable scenic, historic, cultural, natural, recreational, and archaeological qualities. The new designees—ranging from Utah’s Zion Scenic Byway to New Mexico’s Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway—traverses 28 states, bringing the total of America’s Byways to 184 in 48 states.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The United States Congress included $16 million in funding for the program which has resonance in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. With people looking for safe ways to travel, road trips and visits to parks and natural places has widespread appeal. The National Scenic Byways Program brings new jobs, tourism, and other benefits to communities along these scenic roads which are often located in parts of the country where such resources are desperately needed and harder to come by.

In 2019 alone, travel and tourism generated $2.9 trillion in economic impact according to the U.S. Travel Association. Scenic byways contribute strongly to those figures. For example, the Blue Ridge Parkway generated $1.4 billion in economic output and supported 16,300 jobs in North Carolina and Virginia in 2019 according to the National Park Service. During the same year, the Natchez Trace Scenic Parkway brought $13.1 million in economic output to Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi, supporting 161 jobs.

The National Scenic Byways Program is administered by the Federal Highway Administration. Newly designated National Scenic Byways include:

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California Historic Route 66 Needles to Barstow Scenic Byway, California

River of Lakes Heritage Corridor, Florida

Scenic Highway 30A, Florida

Boom or Bust Byway, Louisiana

Scenic Highway of Legends, Colorado

Silver Thread Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway, Colorado

Bayou Texhe at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bayou Teche Scenic Byway, Louisiana

Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway, Iowa

Whitewater Canal Scenic Byway, Indiana

Old Frankfort Pike Historic and Scenic Byway, Kentucky

Zion Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion Scenic Byway, Utah

Delaware Bayshore Byway, Delaware

Mohawk Trail Scenic Byway, Massachusetts

Old King’s Highway (Route 6A, Massachusetts

Katahdin Woods and Waters Scenic Byway, Maine

St. John Valley Cultural Byway/Fish River Scenic Byway, Maine

Bold Coast Scenic Byway, Maine

Aztec Ruins National Monument along the Trail of the Ancients © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway, New Mexico

Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway, Nebraska

Lincoln Highway Scenic and Historic Byway, Nebraska

Western Highlands Scenic Byway, New Jersey

Bayshore Heritage Byway, New Jersey

Palisades Scenic Byway, New Jersey, New York

Pine Barrens Byway, New Jersey

Hocking Hills Scenic Byway, Ohio

Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway, Pennsylvania

Fort Adams State Park, Rhode Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Revolutionary Heritage Byway, Rhode Island

Sequatchie Valley Scenic Byway, Tennessee

Cumberland Historic Byway, Tennessee

Museum of Appalachia along Norris Freeway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Norris Freeway, Tennessee

Cascade Loop, Washington

Door County Coastal Byway, Wisconsin

Wisconsin Lake Superior Scenic Byway, Wisconsin

Flaming Gorge – Green River Basin Scenic Byway, Wyoming

Newly designated All-American Roads include:

Great River Road National Scenic Byway, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Tennessee Wisconsin

A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway, Florida

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newfound Gap Road Byway, North Carolina, Tennessee

The Battle Road Scenic Byway, Massachusetts

Chesapeake Country, Maryland

Historic Route 66, Missouri

Worth Pondering…

Life’s an open road.

—Bryan Adams, Open Road

Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive

Located in Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive is one of the most scenic drives in the world

The historic 105-mile Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway, traverses Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful, historic national treasure. The mountain top highway winds its way north-south through Shenandoah’s nearly 200,000 acres along the spine of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. There are 75 scenic overlooks that offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling piedmont to the east. While you are gazing out at the views, keep a close eye on the road too, as deer, black bear, wild turkey, and a host of other woodland animals call Shenandoah home and regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you travel along Skyline Drive you will notice mileposts on the west side (right side if you are traveling south) of the road. These posts help you find your way through the park and help you locate areas of interest. The mileposts begin with 0.0 at Front Royal and continue to 105 at the southern end of the park. The speed limit is 35 mph. It takes about three hours to travel the entire length of the park on a clear day. Clearance for Marys Rock Tunnel (just south of Thornton Gap entrance from Route 211) is 12 feet 8 inches.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall is the most popular time to travel along Skyline Drive with its colorful foliage from late September to mid-November. But spring offers the most colorful wildflowers along the drive, as well as blooming azaleas and mountain laurel.

The Park has three districts, each with its own characteristics—North, Central, and South. Explore each district. Try new places and discover new wonders!

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Front Royal to Thornton Gap

Driving Distance: 31.5 miles

This most northerly section, winding through the park’s North District rises from the town of Front Royal. Climb to historic Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (MP 4.6), once a dining hall with a stellar view. After orienting, consider walking the Fox Hollow Interpretive Trail. Next, stop at Hogback Overlook (MP 20.8), the longest overlook in the park. Views stretch wide to match the overlook. Walk to Piney River Falls from Milepost 22.1.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overnight at Mathews Arm Campground (MP 22.2) and enjoy numerous hikes directly from your campsite. Grab some ice cream during the warm season from Elkwallow Wayside (MP 24) or enjoy your own meal at the adjacent picnic area. Don’t miss the view from Thornton Hollow Overlook (MP 27.6) before rolling into Thornton Gap.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap

Driving distance: 34 miles

The Central District from Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap is the land of superlatives—highest park elevation, highest point on Skyline Drive, most land mass, two lodges, two campgrounds, historic cabins, trails galore, and two visitor centers. Some would argue the best views, too. Start your view-fest from both road and trail by hiking to Mary’s Rock from Meadow Spring parking area (MP 33.5).  Mary’s Rock has 360-degree vistas from an outcrop and is a favorite lookout in the park. Pinnacles Overlook (MP 35.1) presents auto-accessible views and a nearby picnic area.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consider an overnight at Skyland Lodge (MP 41.7) and combining it with a hike to Stony Man, highest spot on the Appalachian Trail in the park. Speaking of high points, it is a ritual to head to Hawksbill, the park’s highest peak, from milepost 46.7. At the peak you will find an embedded directional indicator, pointing out all the sights you will see from this lofty height.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The next must-stop is Big Meadows (MP 51) where deer are often spotted. Big Meadows includes a lodge, campground, visitor center, dining, and picnicking facilities. Explore the displays here; this visitor center is a great place to stop and learn about the park. Big Meadows Campground is the park’s highest at 3,500 feet. Load up with goodies at the camp store or hit the lodge dining hall. Nearby waterfall walks include Dark Hollow Falls, Rose River Falls, and Lewis Spring Falls.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the site of the first presidential retreat from Milam Gap (MP 52.8), Rapidan Camp where Herbert Hoover trout fished and entertained world leaders. Agile teens and adults will have fun navigating the boulders of the Bearfence Mountain Rock Scramble (MP 56.4). Enjoy great views, too. Consider renting a cabin or pitching your tent at smallish Lewis Mountain Campground (MP 57.5). It offers a more serene experience than does Big Meadows Campground. Finally, visit 83-foot South River Falls from the South River Picnic Area (MP 62.8).

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swift Run Gap to Rockfish Gap

Driving Distance 40 miles

The South District holds claim to the longest and most quiet section of Skyline Drive. It is also long on wilderness and less on developed facilities. Known for its extensive rock formations, talus slopes, and outcrops, the South District reveals the most untamed side of the park highlighted by the trails of the Big Run area. Interestingly, despite being very rocky the area also has the park’s biggest stream in Big Run, plus other aquatic destinations such as Doyles River and Moormans River. The primary developed area is at Loft Mountain with a camp store and the largest campground in the park. Dundo Picnic Area and group camp is the only other developed facility in the South District.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overlooks are plentiful from this segment of Skyline Drive. Heading south from Swift Run Gap you can see the geologically revealing peaks from the Rocky Mount Overlook (MP 71.2) where boulder fields, known as talus slopes, are exposed. Another geological show is revealed at Rockytop Overlook (MP 78.1). At the Loft Mountain area (MP 79.5) you can obtain supplies, books, and souvenirs at the camp store. A side road takes you to Loft Mountain Campground that also offers showers. 

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy three major waterfalls on one loop hike from Browns Gap (MP 83.0)—two on Doyles River and one on Jones Run. Browns Gap is also a jumping off point for exploring the wilds of Big Run with cool clear pools for a summertime dip. The park narrows heading south, limiting opportunities. However, a short walk to Chimney Rock from Riprap parking area (MP 90.0) will put an exclamation point on your Skyline Drive experience. 

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park, or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.

—Bill Bryson

Shenandoah National Park: Daughter of the Stars

Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park presents the majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley, and the heart of the Appalachian Trail

Stretching more than a hundred miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia, Shenandoah National Park offers a patchwork quilt of wilderness and pastoral landscapes underpinned by stories from more than 300 years of history. Located between the Shenandoah Valley in the west and the Piedmont region in the east, the park is an expanse of wooden hollows and breezy summits, waterfalls and mountain streams, more than 500 miles of hiking trails, and nearly 80,000 acres of designated wilderness.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name “Shenandoah” is an American Indian word meaning “Daughter of the Stars.” Natives used the area for hunting and shelter. Miners and loggers used it to harvest valuable resources. Soldiers used it as a fighting ground. Shenandoah is the name of a river, mountain, valley, county, and much more, so, the origin of the National Park name is unclear. Daughter of the Stars! That’s beautiful!

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Five hundred miles of trails consisting of 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, lead visitors to waterfalls, panoramic views, protected wilderness, and preserved human history in the Shenandoah Valley. A park full of recreational opportunities for the entire family, Shenandoah is worth repeat visits.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes Shenandoah so special? First, consider panoramic views from overlooks scattered on lofty Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway that runs 105 miles down the length of the 300-square-mile sanctuary. Additionally, beyond Skyline Drive lies another Shenandoah where bears roam the hollows and brook trout ply the tumbling streams. Trail side flowers color the woods. Quartz, granite, and greenstone outcrops jut above the diverse forest allowing far-flung views of the Blue Ridge and surrounding Shenandoah Valley. It is this beauty near and far that create the unforgettable Shenandoah experience.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Scenic Byway rides along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and through the heart of Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive draws over 1.2 million visitors every year and is famous for bursting into a landscape of rainbow-colored foliage every autumn.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall is the most popular time to travel along Skyline Drive with its colorful foliage from late September to mid-November. But spring offers the most colorful wildflowers along the drive, as well as blooming azaleas and mountain laurel.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are four entrances to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, located at:

  1. Front Royal, accessible via I-66 and U.S. 340
  2. Thornton Gap, accessible via U.S. 211
  3. Swift Run Gap, accessible via U.S. 33
  4. Rockfish Gap, accessible via I-64 and U.S. 250
Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the 105-mile stretch which climbs to 3,680 feet above sea level, you’ll have the opportunity to pull off the road at 75 scenic overlooks and take part in an array of recreational activities—from hiking, horseback riding, and rock climbing.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stops along the way bring you to trailheads where you can explore the forests, waterfalls, rocky areas, and hopefully have a wildlife sighting. It’s a pretty amazing place in terms of wildlife—there are black bears, deer, woodpeckers, owls, raccoons, skunk, fox, coyotes and wild turkeys, just to name a few of the types of animals you might run into out there. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A climb to the top of Old Rag Mountain is Shenandoah’s most popular and most dangerous hike. It certainly isn’t for everyone. But those who are ready to take on the challenge will find themselves in the clouds. Be sure that you are physically able to complete this hike. The circuit hike is about 9 miles. There is a significant elevation change (2,415 feet) and a strenuous rock scramble that requires good upper body strength. Allow 7-8 hours and sometimes longer depending on how many people are out there—a line up to pass through scrambles is par for the course. The best time to enjoy Old Rag is during the week when there are significantly fewer people. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park has an entrance fee of $30, payable at one of the four major entrance stations. The fee is good for 7 consecutive days, even if you leave the park.

Worth Pondering…

If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park, or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.

—Bill Bryson

Red Rock Scenic Byway: All-American Road

Red Rock Scenic Byway winds through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, often called a “museum without walls”

The fifteen-mile stretch of State Route 179 from Interstate 17 (Exit 298) is the primary route that millions of tourists use to visit Sedona, a premier world tourist destination. Visitors winding their way along this route are treated to one of the more incredible scenic drives in America. 

The Red Rock Scenic Byway is a tourist attraction onto itself. Many will claim that the natural beauty along this winding road is unparalleled anywhere else in the nation.

Forest Service Red Rock Ranger Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Forest/Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center

Your first must-stop is the beautiful Forest Service Red Rock Ranger Visitor Center, located just south of the Village of Oak Creek on SR 179. Get maps and tons of Red Rock Country “fun things to do” information, as well as your Red Rock Pass for trailhead parking. Learn all the stories and history of this amazing area, like how the rocks and mesas were formed and named.

Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Crossing on Oak Creek

As you leave the Visitors Center driveway, turn north (left) on SR 179 and you’ll see a major intersection with a stoplight. Turn west (left) onto Verde Valley School Road and drive 4.7 miles where the road dead-ends at the Red Rock Crossing parking lot. Do not park anywhere but the parking lot. This road travels through residential areas so be aware of the 30-35 mph speed limit; also, for the last 1.2 miles, the road is unpaved as well as curvy, hilly, and subject to flooding after excessive rains.

Oak Creek near Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the parking lot, it is a very short walk to the pathway that will lead you down to the unique red rock banks of Oak Creek. Don’t forget your camera, because you’re at one of the most photographed sites in the country as well as one of the most naturally beautiful settings in Sedona.

Cathedral Rock near Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If it’s a Saturday, chances are there’s a small wedding taking place at the north end of the crossing. Most days there will be artists painting or photographers setting up their shots or people just soaking up the inspiring view.

If the creek water’s low enough, step across the red rock stepping stones which is the crossing to Crescent Moon Ranch State Park situated on the other side.

Bell Rock Vista © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock Vista and Pathway Southern Trailhead

Turn east (right) out of the Red Rock Crossing parking lot and take Verde Valley School Road 4.7 miles back to its stoplight intersection with SR 179, where you will turn north (left).

Bell Rock Vista © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Proceed through the Village of Oak Creek and just past the next stoplight on your right hand side will be the entrance to the Bell Rock Vista and Pathway parking lot. Here’s where you’ll discover the size and power of the red rocks; this is a travelers up close experience with mystical Bell Rock and mammoth Courthouse Butte. Feel the red rock energy and enjoy the views.

There are many pathways to choose from all going to or near Bell Rock that can be done in a half hour or as long as you feel like walking.

Hiking along the Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Little Horse Trail and Bell Rock Pathway Northern Trailhead

Turn north (or right) out of the parking lot onto SR 179; proceed straight and be on the lookout for signs that say “Little Horse Trail” and “Bell Rock Pathway”; entrance to this stop’s parking lot will come up fairly quickly, on your right.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover a little serenity among the glorious hiking and biking trails that meander to hidden washes and breathtaking red rock panoramas. Little Horse Trail is a local favorite, rated moderate, and 6.5 miles if you do the full round trip. Remember the rules of the trail, and have fun!

Also at this stop, view the “Three Nuns” with the renowned Chapel of the Holy Cross perched below.

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Officially, the scenic road ends just beyond this point so after your hike, and before resuming your drive, take a moment to look west and gaze upon famous Cathedral Rock, a huge rock formation with multiple red rock spires. Whether it is silhouetted against a glowing sunset or shining in the midday sun, it is considered one of the most beautiful of all the red rock formations in the Sedona area, and surely a fitting way to end your day of Red Rock Splendor.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

The 8 Best Scenic Road Trips in America

With over 4 million miles of roads weaving their way throughout the US, there is no end of opportunities to explore

Few things having to do with travel will be unchanged in the post-coronavirus world but of all the ways we travel the road trip might be least affected—at least from a regulatory standpoint. No one will tell you to wear a mask or take your temperature, or demand blood work before you hit the road this summer.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Utah’s red rock country to Louisiana’s peaceful national wildlife preserves, these road trips deserve a spot on your bucket list. Whether you’re looking to experience a stunning mountain view, charming local towns, or rich American history, plan your next getaway with one of these scenic road trips.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Utah Road Trip: Scenic Byway 12

The road trip: One of the most beautiful stretches of road in the US, Scenic Byway 12 spans 124 miles in Utah’s red-rock country. The history and culture of the area blend together, making Scenic Byway 12 a journey like no other.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Scenic Byway 12 has two entry points. The southwestern gateway is from U.S. Highway 89, seven miles south of the city of Panguitch, not far from Bryce Canyon National Park. The northeastern gateway is from Highway 24 in the town of Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best South Dakota Road Trip: Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

The road trip: Allow four hours to drive this 68-mile byway or one day to fully experience it. This byway will lead you on a delightful adventure as it winds its way around spiraling “pig-tail” shaped bridges, through six rock tunnels, among towering granite pinnacles and over pristine, pine-clad mountains.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Highlights include Mount Rushmore, Harney Peak, Sylvan Lake, the Needle’s Eye, and Cathedral Spires rock formations.

Colonial Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Virginia Road Trip: Colonial Parkway

The road trip: The Colonial Parkway not only illustrates the English colonial experience in America, but is also an outstanding example of American parkway design. Retaining its original scenic and historic integrity to a remarkable degree, the 23-mile roadway stretches from the York River at Yorktown to the James River at Jamestown.

Colonial Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: This All-American road connects Virginia’s historic triangle: Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona Road Trip: Red Rock Scenic Byway

The road trip: The Red Rock Scenic Byway is your gateway to the world-famous Red Rock Country of Sedona. Take 20 minutes to drive this byway, but allow several days to include all activities along the byway.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Arguably the best way to experience the beauty of the Red Rock Country is to go into the wilderness and soak it in and that’s exactly what you’ll be doing by hiking any of over 80 trails interspersed throughout the area.

Smokian Resort on Soap Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Washington Road Trip: Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway

The road trip: Take a ride on the Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway, an amazing 150-mile road trip revealing the story of the Ice Age floods when vast reservoirs of water flooded and receded from this valley hundreds of times.

Smokian Resort on Soap Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Between three state parks, a national wildlife refuge, visits to the Grand Coulee Dam and Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, or Othello’s Sand Hill Crane festival (23rd annual, March 20-22, 2020), you’ll find something for the whole family.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best North Dakota Road Trip: Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit

The road trip: This 36-mile scenic road trip offers about two hours of breathtaking overlooks and trailheads. As you weave through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, keep your eyes open for wildlife, such as bison, deer, antelopes, and prairie dogs.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Walk through Ridgeline Nature Trail, go on a guided hike with a ranger, or spend the night at Cottonwood Campground.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Louisiana Road Trip: Creole Nature Trail

The road trip: The Creole Nature Trail, one of only 43 All-American Roads in the U.S., runs 180 miles through three National Wildlife Refuges.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: The main route is U-shaped with spur roads along the Gulf shoreline and angling into other reserves like Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge and the Peveto Woods Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary. This is the Louisiana Outback.

Best Texas Road Trip: Gateway to Big Bend

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road trip: On this 80-mile drive from Marathon to Big Bend National Park, get comfortable and take in the dry, desert landscape of Texas. You’ll enjoy views of the Chisos Mountains, various species of cacti, and maybe even catch a glimpse of a coyote.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Big Bend National Park is the end destination, as well as the highlight of this scenic road trip with its mountains, canyons, wildlife, and more.

Worth Pondering…

There is adventure in any trip; it’s up to us to seek it out.

—Jamie Francis

Creole Nature Trail: Bayous, Beaches & Birds

Experience the Louisiana Outback along the Creole Nature Trail

Water—seemingly everywhere—is a big part of the Creole Nature Trail experience. Part of America’s Byway’s system, this All-American Road is known for its distinct waters, pristine blue skies, and plenty of wildlife and bird watching.

A+ Motel & RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We used A+ Motel & RV Park on Highway 27 in Sulphur, Louisiana, as our home base while driving the Creole Nature Trail and exploring the area. Conveniently located on the trail, A+ Motel & RV Park earns its name with 134 full-hookup sites, neatly trimmed grounds with a stocked fishing pond, two laundry/shower houses, and two pools, including an adults-only pool with a covered patio and a 75-inch flat-screen TV. New in 2008, A+ is big rig friendly with pull-through and back-in sites and conveniently located 30/50-amp electric service, water, and sewer connections, and cable TV.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are two exits onto the trail from I-10; one near our home base at Sulphur, and, to the east, near Lake Charles. While both towns boast the usual stores, fuel stations, and cultural attractions like museums, casino gaming, and restaurants serving Cajun cuisine, we quickly drove into wild Louisiana wetlands. This is the Louisiana Outback.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Creole Nature Trail, one of only 43 All-American Roads in the U.S., runs 180 miles through three National Wildlife Refuges. The main route is U-shaped with spur roads along the Gulf shoreline and angling into other reserves like Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge and the Peveto Woods Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We head south, passing through small towns, then farms, and, just past Hackberry, the landscape becomes meandering waterways with islands of grass as far as the eye can see. The road courses along the west side of brackish Calcasieu Lake. At 8 miles wide and 18 miles long, the lake earns its “Big Lake” nickname. Along the roadway, brilliant orange, daisylike flowers flutter in the breeze.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our first stop is Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, at 125,000 acres, the largest along the trail. We pull into an area marked “Recreation” where a dozen locals are fishing.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just a hop down the road, we stop at the Blue Goose Trail and wildlife overlook, a paved 1-mile walking trail and raised wildlife viewing platform. Atop the tower, the breeze through the grasses and bird tweets, cheeps, and squawks are the only sounds.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Creole Nature Trail is filled with prairie grasslands and miles of freshwater, brackish, and saltwater wetlands rich in marsh grasses, crustaceans, and small fish, making it a key stopover for birds passing through the Central and Mississippi flyways. In fact, this area boasts more than 5 million migratory waterfowl and 400 species of birds, making it one of the top birding spots in the country.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While visitors will see birds and the occasional alligator along the road, the best way to explore the Creole Nature Trail is to hike refuge trails and walkways. We walked the Wetland Walkway, a raised, 1.5-mile-long boardwalk that wends through 6-foot-tall grasses to a two-story observation tower with a sweeping view.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sun, now fully emerged from the clouds, makes me glad I brought along my Tilley, a broad-brimmed hat. We spot roseate spoonbills, great white egrets, great blue herons, tricolored herons, white ibis, and red-winged blackbirds, and, while there are Alligator Alley warning signs, no gators.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another stop is Holly Beach, a community of beachfront homes leveled in 2005 by Hurricane Rita. Like a phoenix, the colorful stilted beach cabins have been rebuilt, and this “Cajun Riviera” is once again popular for sunbathing, swimming, and shelling.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located at Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, the Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center features exhibits about Sabine, Cameron Prairie, Lacassine, and Shell Keys National Wildlife Refuges, and their coastal habitats and inhabitants. Exhibits include a diorama theater with Cajun animatronic characters, a scale model of a water control structure for hands-on learning about marsh management, natural habitat dioramas, impressive alligator displays, an interactive computer, and a fiber-optic migration exhibit.

On your next adventure out, consider a scenic drive on the Creole Nature Trail; you never know what may be lurking ’round the next bend.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

It’s not just a drive.

It’s an experience.

5 Utah Scenic Byways for Leaf Peeping

Explore the best scenic drives in Utah for fall foliage paired with unexpected adventure

The lure of fall foliage is no secret. Bursts of saturated yellow and fiery red demand your eye and call you to the open road. With forecasting apps and digital foliage maps, terms like peaking and peeping are common language among RVers with a craving for visual fall flavor.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But when it comes to Utah’s fall foliage, travelers pursue the leaf peeping road-less-traveled. Often overlooked for New England or the Smoky Mountains, Utah’s wide array of forests and state and national parks—each located at different elevations and receiving varying amounts of rainfall—make for a diverse foliage spectacle.

Patchway Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah’s geography creates a multitude of peak viewing times throughout the state, so you can come early or late in the season and still spot breathtaking colors courtesy of the canyon maples, quaking aspens, scrub oaks, Douglas hawthorns, serviceberries, and more.

Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A good gauge is to assume that the colors begin in the highest elevations in mid-September and wrap in mid-October across most of the state. The season beckons for weekend drives on Utah’s scenic byways and taking in views as you make your way to the trailhead. Find something pumpkin flavored, fill your apple cider canteen, button up your flannels, and hit the open road for some awe inspiring leaf peeping.

Pair with the World’s Heaviest Organism: Fish Lake Scenic Byway (SR-25) and Beaver Canyon Scenic Byway (SR-153)

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These two scenic byways bookend Fishlake National Forest, an often-missed oasis that features three mountain ranges broken up by desert canyons.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approaching from the east on Fish Lake Scenic Byway, you’ll pass the forest’s prize jewel, Fish Lake, which is known for its recreational bliss and yellow-blazen aspen forests. Seize the opportunity for a scenic drive in Utah to see the leaves change on an aspen clone known as Pando, which is believed to be the heaviest organism ever found at nearly 13 million pounds. Pando is located about 1 mile southwest of Fish Lake on State Route 25. If you want to pair your drive with mountain biking, hiking, camping, or fishing for eager-to-bite mackinaw and rainbow trout, make sure to add this spot your autumn itineraries bucket list.

Fish Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the western side of the forest, the Beaver Canyon Scenic Byway climbs from the town of Beaver to a high point at Eagle Point Ski Resort. If you’re feeling adventurous and your clearance allows, continue the route on the unpaved Kimberly/Big John Scenic Backway over volcanic remnants that are now the 12,000-foot Tushar Mountains and down into the Sevier River Valley corridor.

Pair with a Miraculously Resilient Landscape: Utah’s Patchwork Parkway National Scenic Byway (SR-143), Markagunt High Plateau Scenic Byway (SR-14), and Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway (SR-148)

Patchway Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This high-elevation and densely forested area of Southern Utah offers a particularly unique leaf peeping experience this fall. During June and July, a fire consumed 70,000 acres near the area of Brian Head, though the town and resort were fortunately saved. In many ways, the patches of charred backdrop make the contrast of the multitude of spared trees even more dramatic.

Patchway Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yes, you will see fire damage along Utah’s Patchwork Parkway National Scenic Byway, but you will also see maples and aspens, golden and fiery red along your journey up to a 10,000-foot plateau. Remarkably, this area connects three scenic byways and features the outstanding Cedar Breaks National Monument—the topmost rise of the geological Grand Staircase.

Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as Southern Utah’s Fall Color Loop, begin your loop in Parowan at the start of Utah’s Patchwork Parkway National Scenic Byway (S.R. 143), weaving through a patchwork of historic towns, geological formations, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities. The pink cliffs of the Paunsaugunt Plateau glitter in the distance as an ancient lava field sprinkled with aspen trees line the road.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue as long as you like, but at some point turn (or make your way back to) the junction of S.R. 143 and S.R. 148, which becomes the Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway as you head south. Along this journey you will encounter the large, natural amphitheater of Cedar Breaks, which creates a supreme backdrop for fall leaves. To finish the loop, turn west back towards Cedar City at the junction of S.R. 14. You’re now on your third scenic byway: the Markagunt High Plateau Scenic Byway.

Worth Pondering…

Autumn . . . the year’s last loveliest smile.

—William Cullen Bryant

Scenic Byway 12: An All American Road

Located in southwestern Utah, Scenic Byway 12 is nestled between two national parks—Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon

A 121-mile-long All-American Road, Scenic Byway 12 winds and climbs and twists and turns and descends as it snakes its way through memorable landscapes, ranging from the remains of ancient sea beds to one of the world’s highest alpine forests, and from astonishing pink and russet stone turrets to open sagebrush flats.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The history and culture of the area blend together, making Scenic Byway 12 a journey like no other.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12 has two entry points. The southwestern gateway is from U.S. Highway 89, seven miles south of the city of Panguitch. The northeastern gateway is from Highway 24 in the town of Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shortly after entering the southwestern terminus at Highway 89, the scenic byway passes through U.S. Forest Service’s Red Canyon and two short tunnels in bright red rock masses.

Established in 1924, Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for its towering eroding-sandstone pillars called hoodoos. The breathtaking three-mile-wide amphitheater is especially colorful at sunrise and sunset from Bryce and Inspiration points.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other major attractions include Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Hell’s Backbone, Hole-in-the-Rock, Cottonwood Canyon, Burr Trail, Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area, and The Hogsback, a narrow ridge barely wider than the two-lane roadway with cliffs falling away on either side.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, there are nine communities along Scenic Byway 12, each with a character all its own. Settled by Mormon families who established homes and ranches in the area, the towns proudly display their unique heritage and invite you to visit.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Settled in 1889, Boulder was America’s last town to receive mail by mule (until 1972). The town’s main attraction, the Anasazi State Park Museum, encompasses the ancient ruins of the Coombs archaelogical site. Excavated in 1959, the site’s ruins and exhibits provide an interesting  look into how the Anasazi or ancient ones lived almost a thousand years ago.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 20 miles south of Boulder, the Hole-in-the-Rock Scenic Byway dirt road cuts south into the Escalante Canyons where you’ll find dozens of arches, ancient Native Indian rock art, and the mind-boggling rock formations of Devils Garden.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante is often called the “Heart of Scenic Byway 12” as it is nestled between the elevated meadows of the Aquarius and Kaiparowits Plateaus and the low desert country surrounding the Escalante Canyons in the middle of the byway.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About two miles northwest of town is Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. A series of short hiking trails leads to groupings of petrified logs, thousand-year-old petroglyphs, and dinosaur bones dating from the Jurassic period. In the center of the park, the Wide Hollow Reservoir offers great canoeing and bass fishing. Camping is available.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thirty miles west of Escalante, you’ll come to the small town of Cannonville and the Highway 400 turnoff to Kodachrome Basin State Park. The changing warm light on the park’s towering sandstone chimneys prompted the National Geographic Society to name the park Kodachrome in 1949.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes Scenic Byway 12 a journey like no other?

The way that nature strings together the best that the Southwest has to offer in high density of scenery, iconic national parks, state parks, museums, and scenic backways.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mile for mile, few of America’s national scenic byways can compete with the diverse scenery and number of natural attractions along Scenic Byway 12. Recognized as one of the most beautiful drives in America, the byway showcases some of Utah’s uniquely scenic landscape.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When lighted by the morning sun the gorgeous chasm is an immense bowl of lace and filigree work in stone, colored with the white of frost and the pinks of glowing embers. To those who have not forgotten the story books of childhood it suggests a playground for fairies. In another aspect it seems a smoldering inferno where goblins and demons might dwell among flames and embers.

The Union Pacific System, 1929