As Richard packed up the car on the morning of September 21, Nancy found a quiet bench outside our hotel to have a coaching call. As she wrapped it up she noticed a middle-aged couple packing their copper Harley Davidson touring bike - talk about traveling light. “Would it be weird to say that’s the most beautiful motorcycle I’ve ever seen?” Nancy asked the wife. “Not at all! That’s why I bought it for his last birthday!” A lively conversation - safely distanced - followed and, before it was over, our planned route from Arches to Zion would avoid the interstate and instead follow Utah’s State Routes 24 and 12 - arguably two of the most picturesque roads in the country.
The portion of Route 24 that we travelled is officially called the "Capital Reef Scenic Byway" - named for the Capital Reef National Park that it runs right through. Again, we were surprised to come upon another National Park that we hadn't planned to visit - or hadn't even heard of for that matter. Our visit was just a drive by, with brief stops to take in some of the majesty of the rock formations and enjoy the indescribably sweet scent of the ponderosa pines and other flora. Route 24 was truly amazing - we imagined it was even more thrilling on that sleek Harley.
Capital Reef is home to many ancient "petroglyphs" - drawings etched into the rock walls by ancestral Pueblo people between 600-1300 AD. A boardwalk along a rushing stream took us to a deck that provided a good vantage point for some of the more vivid engravings. Could one be suggesting that there was a visit from aliens?
Once past Capital Reef, we turned left onto Utah State Route 12 - known as "Highway 12 — A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway". We cruised along the treetops where birch leaves were beginning to turn a vivid yellow. Free-range cattle roamed on either side of the road grazing in bright green pastures. The road twisted and turned along the edge of the mountains, with one breathtaking view after another - we stopped for photos at the Larb Hollow Overlook.
As we drove through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument it started to rain just as we came to "Hell's Backbone" - a 2-lane highway with no guardrails that zig-zags along a ridge that drops off steeply on both sides. We heeded the warning signs for "Steep Grades - Sharp Curves" and cruised along white-knuckled at a careful 20 MPH.
Scenic Byway 12 took us right past the road leading to Bryce Canyon National Park - but it was too late in the day for us to make a visit. We will have to plan a return trip through this beautiful part of Utah. We passed by Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest just before reaching our planned destination - Zion National Park - but that's a story for another day.
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Nancy McCabe &