Scenic Byway 12
Looking toward Capitol Reef from Boulder Mountain on Scenic Byway 12
Scenic Byway 12 is a 124-mile route that follows Utah Highway 12 between Bryce Canyon Junction (where it meets with the Mt. Carmel Scenic Byway) and Torrey (where it meets with the Capitol Reef Country Scenic Byway). In between is wide open countryside eroded into incredible shapes and forms over the millenia. Some areas are high enough to be densely forested in pines, firs, spruces and aspens but most areas are open rock with a mix of sagebrush, chaparral, Utah juniper and pinyon pine growing where it can find a toehold. This is an isolated area of valleys, canyons and plateaus where elevations vary from 4,000' to about 9,000'.
Driving Scenic Byway 12 is to travel among some of Utah's finest scenery and several of Utah's famous national parks: Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Capitol Reef. You'll also find Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park and the Anasazi State Park Museum.
This countryside sits at the western edge of the Colorado Plateau, a large chunk of rock uplifted during the Laramide Orogeny about 65 million years ago. Wind and water have been eroding the rock since that time, cutting deeply into the sandstone, limestone, mudstone and siltstone to create the countryside we see today. Over the years, there have been added stresses and strains put on the landscape as the tectonic plates have shifted and pushed and pulled chunks of Utah up and down in fault blocks creating landforms like the Paunsaugunt and Markagunt Plateaus. The mountain ranges and cliffs that define Grand Staircase are vast exhibits detailing the geological history of the area... then there's Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park to the east...
Archaeological evidence points to this area being occupied as long ago as 10,000 years by the nomadic Basketweavers. Later came the Ancestral Puebloans who left pithouses and ancient pueblo ruins in some areas (stop at Anasazi State Park Museum to explore one of these and see some of their artifacts). Most of this area was on the boundary between the Ancestral Puebloans and the Fremont, another prehistoric people who mostly lived to the north and west. Artifacts found in some places point to a merger between the two ancient cultures of some architectural and pottery styles. Some artifacts also testify to this area being in the heart of a trade empire that extended for thousands of miles in all directions. More recently, this region was hunted and fished by the Paiutes, until the Mormons began to arrive in the 1850's.
Whatever your particular bent in terms of exploring the surface of Planet Earth, the area around Scenic Byway 12 should be at the top of your list of places to go.
Sandstone knobs in the Boynton Overlook area
Fantastical rock forms along Scenic Byway 12
Hoodoos rise above the highway
Powell Point in the Escalante Mountains
Scenic Byway 12 area map