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Utah's backways invite you to linger.

Get away from it all on a loop drive with spectacular views

AN UNFAMILIAR backroad is a traveler's mystery--a drive on one can prove a delight or a dull, time-consuming detour.

A Utah program coordinates routes voted scenic by 10 state and federal agencies, to steer you to the state's prettiest roads. Signs indicate scenic byways (major roads, most paved and regularly traveled) and scenic backways (less-traveled backcountry routes, most passable by passenger car, with surfaces varying from pavement to gravel to dirt).

Two byways and two back-ways combine to make a loopdrive that bisects Zion National Park. The route begins in Springdale, a 45-minute drive off Interstate 15 northeast of St. George. It takes most of a day but pays off with spectacular scenery.

Head east from Springdale on State Highway 9 (Zion Park Scenic Byway), winding through the Virgin River Valley and into Zion National Park (entry $5). Past the Great Arch of Zion, you'll pass through two tunnels in canyon walls and drive by Checkerboard Mesa.

After about 20 miles, at Mount Carmel Junction, the road intersects U.S. 89 (Kanab Scenic Byway). Turn right onto U.S. 89; about 3 miles past the junction, turn onto Ponderosa/Coral Pink Sand Dunes Scenic Backway. It winds about 12 miles (paved) to the park kiosk (park day-use $3).

On weekends, the ocher sands are awash in dune buggies, so head for the quieter 5-acre dune preserve that protects fragile milkweed and Mormon tea; a boardwalk here offers a self-guided tour.

Ask rangers about road conditions before continuing on the route south of the park. The road is paved for 10 miles, then it's about 10 miles of graded dirt.

At road's end, you hit Arizona State 389 (it becomes Utah State 59); turn right, heading northwest 12 miles to Smithsonian Butte Road, a dirt road marked by the Scenic Backway sign. This 9-mile road winds past Smithsonian Butte; at the crest, you'll see Zion's craggy East and West Temples and North Guardian Angel formations. The road drops steeply into Rockville. Turn right on State 9 and go 3 miles back to Springdale.

A handy guide, Utah Scenic Byways and Backways ($4), details each of 27 scenic byways and 58 scenic backways with maps and photographs; it's available from the Utah Travel Council at (801) 538-1030. As with any backroad, it's wise to check conditions ahead. For highways call 964-6000; for backways, call the local sheriff's office or county visitor information. (For this drive, call Kane County Travel at 644-5033 or Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800/869-6635 or 801/634-5747.)
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Author:Finnegan, Lora J.
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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