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117 miles of twists, turns, red-rock splendor; it's Highway 12 in south central Utah.

Time, wind, and water have carved the earth in south central Utah into canyons, arches, and minarets so intricate and graceful that they look like sculpture. It is a landscape so fantastic that author Wallace Stegner once called this the "land of the stunned imagination." State Highway 12 twists through this country, and now that a last section of it has been paved, you can conveniently drive east of Bryce Canyon National Park to Kodachrome Basin, Escalante Canyons, and beyond. Along the 117-mile route-just named a scenic highway you can fish in remote lakes, ride horseback into deep gorges, or hike to a rocky canyon or cold waterfall. Parcels of this area are key to three wilderness proposals for Bureau of Land Management lands. We've outlined a State 12 trip leading east from U.S. 89 (just west of Bryce Canyon) to State 24 near Capitol Reef, the starting point is a 4 1/2-hour drive from Las Vegas, a day from L.A. Cover the route in a few days or a week. Or add it to a vacation exploring Zion and Capitol Reef national parks and Lake Powell. Country with character This area's altitude-over 8,000 feet at Bryce-has an influence on your energy (take it slow) as well as on the climate. Wind, ice, rain, and frost rule here furrowing, cracking, and carving the native sandstone. In places, iron oxides paint the rock red, limestone washes it white, ash from ancient volcanoes tinges it gray. The ancient Anasazi Indians lived here, and more recently the Paiutes. Mormon settlers arrived in the 1860s. In the 1950s, uranium exploration brought roads and people, but the towns of the region are still small, and struggling. Don't expect food and services to match the grand scenery. In these sleepy towns, you'll find cowpoke cafes and 50s-style motels (we note a few exceptions), with time-travel prices (our lodging costs averaged $45 a night). All telephone numbers are area code 801. The gaudy confections of Bryce Canyon Not a canyon but an amphitheater, Bryce Canyon National Park flaunts its delights like a waiter displaying a trayful of pastries. Multihued rock of varied hardness erodes at different rates, creating Bryce's unique layering and sculpturing. Hard limestone caps top and protect the softer sandstone spires. Most visitors stop just at the 10 overlooks including Yovimpa Point, where the view can extend 200 miles (a plan for a coal strip mine, which would have impaired visibility, has been canceled). But real treats await those who hike. Many trails are rated strenuous because of altitude and steepness. Go early and slowly; bring water, warm clothes, sun screen. Two day-hikes offer spectacular views. From Sunset Point, take Navajo Trail down past Thor's Hammer and join the Queen's Garden Trail (see Queen Victoria in sandstone). You climb to Sunrise Point, then return to Sunset on the quite level Rim Trail total: 3 miles). Tougher but less crowded is the Fairyland Loop (8 miles, 5 hours). From Fairyland Point, you drop down into the canyon, come slowly back up to Sunrise Point, then return via the Rim Trail; you'll see the Chinese Wall and Boat Mesa (afternoon light is best). The aerial-view hiking map (sold at the visitor center) is helpful. A horseback tour gets you into the canyon without the bike, but be prepared for big groups and steep, narrow trails. Two-hour rides ($15) leave at 9 and 2, half-day rides ($25) at 8 and 1. Minimum age is 5 years; to reserve, call 834-5219. Outside the park, Ruby's Inn offers gentler rides ($9 an hour), but not into the canyon. For these or the B Bar D chuckwagon barbecue and hoedown (at 6 Pm. daily except Sundays; $25 for adults, $15 for ages 3 through 12), call 834-5202. Bryce is popular, so reserve lodging now or stake out a campsite as soon as you arrive (North Campground is often less crowded). Ruby's and a small store in the park sell camp supplies and food. Bryce Canyon Lodge has completed a $2.4million restoration; rooms are $60 to $70. Colorful Kodachrome, rugged Escalante After visiting Bryce, you can detour northeast on Widstoe Road to scenic Pine Lake for good camping and trout fishing. Or head east on State 12 and drop down a few thousand feet to tiny Tropic (elevation 6,300 feet, population 420), where weather is warmer. It has two stores, a gas station, several eateries, a picnic area, and a new motel-the Friendship Bryce Valley Inn (679-881 1 ). At Cannonville is the turnoff for Kodachrome Basin State Park, with its baroque sandstone pillars. Less famous but as colorful as Bryce, it's best seen on foot or horseback. Six trails range from 1/2 mile to 21/2 miles; hike or ride the Grand Parade Trail (I mile) to see red sandstone fins marching up the basin. Horseback tours run by experienced packer Bob Ott start near the campground; ranging in price from $8 to $20, tours are offered 8 to 5 daily. The town of Escalante (elevation 5,820 feet, population 800) makes a good base for exploring the rugged Escalante Canyons, Escalante State Park, and BLM lands. Of four motels, the Circle D is the biggest, and its cafe has reliable fare. The BLM office in town (open 8 to 4 weekdays; 826-4291) has maps and advice on road conditions. We recommend registering here before driving on unpaved roads or hiking in the canyons, Box-Death Hollow, Coyote Gulch, or other backpacking areas. Gear up beforehand-the town has no camping supplier. An easy hike from a paved road is Calf Creek Falls Recreation Area, a BLM camping ($4 per night) and picnic area. A level (but hot) 51/2-mile round-trip hike rewards you with spectacular 126-foot, year-round falls and a deep pool (bring swimsuit and towel). About 5 miles beyond Escalante, you can drive southeast about 12 miles on graveled Hole-in-the-Rock Road (call the BLM to check conditions) to Devils Garden BLM picnic area to see unusual rock sandwiches" of red and white sandstone. Near Boulder elevation 6,700 feet, population 125), Anasazi State Park marks the largest Anasazi settlement west of the Colorado River; you'll see an excavated village (circa A.D. 1200), replica buildings, and a small museum open 8 to 6 daily; park entry is $3 per car. Boulder has a cafe and gas station. A recently paved 12-mile stretch over Boulder Mountain's 9,200-foot summit offers a relief-map overlook of the Water pocket Fold formation. Several gravel roads branch off to fishing lakes (try Browns Reservoir); above 8,500 feet, three high-elevation campgrounds ($4 per night) are set in aspen and pine. State 12 ends at State 24. You can drive east 5 miles to Capitol Reef, go west to loop back, or just backtrack. When is the best time to go? In June, snow may still spot the higher trails at Bryce, while spring has arrived at Escalante. Summer's heat (up to the 80s at Bryce, high 90s in Escalante) and afternoon showers (mostly in July and August) make it a good idea to pitch your tent and hike before noon, leaving museum visits and auto touring for afternoons. Hikers should be alert to possible flash floods in washes, and drivers should check conditions of unpaved roads. Nearest airport with jet service is in Las Vegas. Commuter planes fly into Cedar City, where car rentals are available. The future of these remarkable lands? Today's concern is to achieve wilderness status for as many as 5 million acres of BLM lands statewide. Pending wilderness legislation may affect lands near Escalante; the BLM proposes 1.9 million acres; two other bills range from 1.4 million acres to 5.1 million. The largest proposal has good support statewide; locally, the BLM's is seen as less threatening to industry and jobs. There's no timetable on the decision.
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Date:Jun 1, 1990
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