Jan/Feb 2013 Issue
This Enhanced Editorial was paid for by a promotional fee from an advertiser.

Bryce Brings It
Defying the adage, “there’s no such thing as an absolute,” Bryce Canyon Country may be the most beautiful place in the world.

Bryce Canyon Country is one of those places that once discovered leaves visitors wondering why they have never visited before, or why they would ever visit anyplace else. That is because it possesses as impressive a roster of attractions as there is: Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park and Lake Powell – not to mention several outstanding state parks.

Quite simply, this is a place where nature shows off.

Bryce Canyon
HoodoosThis place doesn’t look like a canyon. It looks more like an artist’s rendering. It’s hard to imagine how eons of wind and water shaped the castle-like groups of spires like they did. The intricate carving created a system of mazes, including some that outlaws used as hideouts.  It is an Old West sort of place and, appropriately, horseback riding being is a primary activity.

Roads ride the rim of Bryce and provide access to hiking trails and overlooks. State Highway 12 runs by the park, too. It should come as no surprise that the highway is a national scenic byway. The 124-mile route – also an All-American Road – takes riders through an isolated landscape of canyons, plateaus and valleys that will be impossible to forget. It’s a trip that reveals archaeological, cultural, historical, natural, recreational and scenic wonders normally available only to the intrepid.

Highway 12 dovetails nicely with State Highway 143–it , too, a national scenic byway. The latter serves as the western path from the Great Basin to the awe-inspiring avenue across Utah’s high plateaus provided by Highway 12.  Historic pioneer towns bookend 143, which once was traversed by prehistoric American Indians to hunt and gather.

Starving early settlers once crossed the plateau in midwinter using quilts laid across the snow as the means to reach settlements to the west. The quilts are reminders of the patchwork of the byway's unparalleled natural beauty and human history.

The roads’ purpose also is practical, as they assure services are relatively close by.

TunnelCapitol Reef
Not to be outdone by its national-park siblings, Capitol Reef has a geological centerpiece on which to hang its hat. It is Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long monocline, which gives the park its name. It is a hodgepodge of various sandstones that mingle in a variety of formations.

Much of the appeal of Capitol Reef – in addition to the scenery and outdoor activities – are the history found in ancient American Indian rock art, orchards planted by pioneers and the presence of fewer visitors than its sister parks.

A developed campground lets guests hang out on site, but services are also available in adjacent communities.

Lake Powell
The second-largest manmade lake (only Lake Mead is bigger) in the United States was created by the Glen Canyon Dam. It was a controversial project blamed for forever flooding scenery, habitat and history. The counterbalance is that it helped rejuvenate the modern environmentalist movement, as well as create Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

The latter draws more than 2 million visitors every year and offers hundreds of miles of shoreline to explore. The NRA is a popular place for fishing, boating and hiking – all amid the soaring canyon walls that make the area so unique. No wonder renting a houseboat is one of the most sought after pastimes on the lake.

State Parks
Federal lands do not have a monopoly on the outdoors bonanza that is Bryce Canyon Country, as a trio of state parks adds exponentially to the enjoyment of the region.

Kodachrome Basin State Park is one of the three parks, getting its name from the chimney-shaped monoliths that glow colorfully at dawn and dusk. Mountain biking, hiking, camping and horseback riding each ranks high in a listing of the park’s best offerings. Ecsalante Petrified Forest State Park is another member of the threesome, and as its name suggests, large specimens of petrified wood can be seen inside the park. Hikes that lead visitors past the petrified remains also reveal dinosaur fossils left behind by prehistoric creatures that once roamed the area. In addition to the hiking excursions, Escalante has fishing, canoeing and camping opportunities.

History takes center stage at the final state park – Anasazi. The six-acre park is in the town of Boulder and contains the remains of one of the largest Anasazi settlements west of the Colorado River. Despite its significance, most of the settlement hasn’t been excavated – although many significant artifacts discovered at the site are displayed at the park’s Anasazi State Museum.

Thor's HammerA Reason to Return
Taking in the region is no mean feat – despite it all being so close together – given how much there is to do and experience. Travelers could get lost in one attraction and feel cheated because they did not see the others. Or they could attempt them all and lament that they could only scratch the parks’ respective surfaces.

There is only one real solution: Come back. Again. And again.

For more information about a Bryce Canyon Country adventure, visit www.brycecanyoncountry.com. For trip-planning assistance, visit AAA.com/travel.