A reflection of one of our New Year’s adventures, starting with our trek through Utah, complete with a TON of pictures. 

The tour kicked back up just after the New Year in the bright city of Las Vegas. The drive via interstate is beautiful in its own right, typically taking approximately 11 hours from Denver. We went back and forth regarding where to be when the clock struck midnight, finally deciding that we would spend it quietly in the desert of Utah, halfway between Denver and Sin City, with the purpose of being removed from everything. We wanted solitude, peace, and a feeling of harmony with nature, her majestic qualities reminding us of the longevity of the Earth. Additionally, Central and Southern Utah is just too beautiful to speed through. It houses 8 scenic byways that wind their way through 5 national parks, 7 national monuments, 6 national forests, 31 national wilderness areas, 2 national recreation areas, and over 20 recreational trails. And then there is all of the land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Whew. We can’t see it all in one trip (or even multiple trips), but we vowed to grab a two-lane highway, a camera, and our hiking boots, and set aside four days to make what is typically a one-day drive.

Heading out of Colorado and into Utah, we dropped off the interstate onto Utah Hwy 24 and wound our way through the rock formations known as the water pocket fold into Capitol Reef National Park. This place is in the middle of nowhere, and it’s off-season, so there are very few people. With light pollution being minuscule, the stars were plentiful and bright, and we loved bundling up to sit next to the gas fire pit in the cabin area, staring into the openness of a clear, never ending night sky. It seems to have a voice that only you can hear, communicating secretly with your soul, performing harmony with your dreams. And if you stare at it long enough, those stars start becoming dots that you can clearly connect, realizing solutions to problems or ways to build on new ideas. The winter evening ushers in a quietness that is accented by the crispness in the air, punctuating words said with crystalized breath. We added to the moment with opening a bottle of wine that we brought with us and chatted like we were still dating, smiling across the fire. The cold woke us up from our daily, mundane tasks, the bonfire warmed our souls, and the wine and conversation brought joyful thoughts.

After spending the next day hiking (more on the park itself in a future post) and the evening soaking in the hot tub to soothe sore muscles, we felt rested and renewed. It was time to head South to Nevada.

The Route:
We loaded up the car and continued down Hwy. 24 to US Scenic Byway 12, which takes you over snowy Boulder Mountain, then drops you back down thousands of feet in elevation to high desert rock formations, finishing with a stretch of highway through ridges and valleys in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. One of the craziest parts was when the road was literally paved atop a narrow ridge, with at least a 500-foot drop off on both sides, and no guardrails. It was spectacular.

We had to drive by some great trailheads, taking notes for future trips. We arrived at Bryce Canyon National Park, now back up to 9,000 feet in elevation. The snow was deeper, the wind was sharper, and we were colder. But a bucket list item of mine was to see the hoodoos with snow, and it took my breath away. Getting to the rim is easy, and the rim trail can still be walked with just snow boots. A popular spot for many winter activities, it was no surprise when we saw a group hiking down into the canyon on snow packed trails with snowshoes.

After an evening in a lodge by Bryce Canyon, we continued south on Utah 89, turning right onto Utah 9 towards Zion National Park. It was a rainy, sleeting, slushy Monday, and this place was still packed. Backcountry hikers coming off of trails reluctantly mixed with tourists as the groups came and went from parking lots, the cold wind cutting through the smooth canyon walls. Hwy 9 goes through the park and connects you with an internal scenic drive that leads you to the famous Narrows trailhead. Winter at it’s finest, the clouds looked as though they threatened snow, and we needed to keep moving, but that didn’t take away from the wondrous impression that a wintery mix Zion made on us. We will be back to do some backcountry hiking, and we will do everything we can to not battle those crazy big crowds.

We left Zion, grabbing food in the little town of Springdale, just outside of the main gate. It was time to get to Las Vegas for work. Hwy 9 easily finds I-15, and runs through Virgin River Gorge as it enters the Mojave Desert. Joshua trees begin to line the interstate. I pulled off the fleece and turned on the air conditioning as we drove down to 2,000 feet above sea level.

Once in Las Vegas, the lights were blinding. It was such a stark difference to the scenery of the last four days. We walked through the smoked-filled casino to get to the hotel tower elevators, listening to the sounds of the slot machines and noticing the gaudiness more than normal. We weren’t just back to reality; we felt like we had suddenly been transplanted into another dimension. We just had to laugh about it and embrace our new surroundings. But I can’t wait to go back to the Utah desert; it’s skies and trails are calling my hiking boots with a full yodel.

Our directions, condensed:
Our roads were I-70 from Denver through the Rockies into Utah. Turn South on Utah 24, stopping in Capitol Reef National Park. From there it was Scenic Byway 12 through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, ending at Bryce Canyon. Next take Utah 89 to Utah 9 through Zion National Park. And lastly, we jumped back out to I-15 through the Virgin River Gorge to sing through the Joshua trees into Vegas.

Happy meandering everyone, and consider adding a day or two to your next road trip so that you can take the scenic byway. It’s so very worth it.

2 thoughts on “A Utah Scenic Byway

  1. Gorgeous winter photos of Bryce Canyon! While I’ve only ever visited during the summer, Bryce seems just as lovely and possibly even more enchanting when dressed in snow. I so relate to your post-Zion/Vegas culture shock; we felt much the same way after spending a few weeks exploring UT’s parks!

    Liked by 2 people

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