[Las Vegas; Hoover Dam; Grand Canyon; Monument Valley; Mesa Verde; Durango, Black Canyon of the Gunnison; Grand Mesa; Arches National Park; Canyonlands National Park; Natural Bridges]; Capitol Reef National Park; Bryce Canyon National Park
The deserts of the southwest are truly unique in the United States, and just the views from the highways are often spectacular. Continuing on our way, go from Natural Bridges northwest on state route 95 to Utah 24 and Capitol Reef National Park.
Capitol Reef gets its name from rock domes resembling the dome of a capitol building. The “reef” comes from a nearly 100 mile-long fold in the earth’s crust which was elevated along with the rest of the Colorado plateau. The layers above the fold eroded away over the millenniua. The exposed layers to the west are 7000 feet higher than the layers to the east. This unusual geology created a natural barrier which explorers likened to a coral reef.
As is not on a main highway, Capitol Reef National Park is not as well known as many other parks. There are, however, canyons to hike, trails to drive and arches and wildlife to see. The area was used by prehistoric Americans and later by Mormon settlers. So there are both ancient petroglyphs and 19th and 20th century settlements to visit. The nearby town of Torrey is small but has several motels and restaurants.
Leaving Capitol Reef, cut south through the Dixie National Forest on Utah 12 and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and then continue west on 12 to the much better known Bryce Canyon National Park.
Even if you have never been close to Bryce, you are likely to recognize photographs of the red sandstone “hoodoos.” Other places have tall pillars of stone eroded by time, wind and water, but only Bryce has so many that photographs cannot do them justice; they tend to blend in against those behind them.
The “canyon” is actually a series of amphitheaters once settled by a man named Bryce. You can and should drive along the top of the rim stopping to look down at the formations. However if you are able, you should take the time to walk one of the trails that lead to the bottom of the hoodoos. You need to be healthy, but the walks are not nearly as strenuous as those down into the Grand Canyon. Go early in the morning or late in the day not only because the colors are brought out by the sun low in the sky, but also to enjoy some solitude.
From Bryce, we will continue west on 12 to US 89 which we will take south to Kanab. The full itinerary from Las Vegas and back takes from two to three weeks to complete, and even then you may find yourself wanting to come back to a particular place for a longer visit. If you are short on time, you may want to turn off 89 on Utah 9 to Zion National Park rather than continuing to Kanab.
Next: Pahreah/Paria; Glen Canyon Dam; Vermillion Cliffs National Monument; the North Rim of the Grand Canyon; Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park; Zion National Park;and Cedar Breaks National Monument