Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other

Scenic wonders are visible in all directions from Scenic Byway 12, a 121-mile-long All American Road, as it winds and climbs.

Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled between two national parks—Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon—Scenic Byway 12 is located in one of the most beautiful places on earth

Mile for mile, few of America’s national scenic byways can compete with the diverse scenery and number of natural attractions along Highway 12 Scenic Byway. Recognized as one of the most beautiful drives in America, the byway showcases some of Utah’s uniquely scenic landscape.

Scenic Byway 12 takes visitors through memorable landscapes, ranging from the remains of ancient sea beds to one of the world’s highest alpine forests, and from astonishing pink and russet stone turrets to open sagebrush flats. The history and culture of the area blend together, making Scenic Byway 12 a journey like no other.

Scenic Byway 12 has two entry points. The southwestern gateway is from US 89, seven miles south of the city of Panguitch. The northeastern gateway is from Highway 24 in the town of Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park.

Other major attractions include Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Hell’s Backbone, Hole-in-the-Rock, Cottonwood Canyon, Burr Trail, and Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area.

Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, there are nine communities along Byway 12, each with a character all its own. Settled by Mormon families who established homes and ranches in the area, the towns proudly display their unique heritage and invite you to visit.

Winding south from Torrey, Scenic Byway 12 follows the edge of Boulder Mountain, reaching elevations of almost 9,400 feet, passing viewpoints that overlook Capitol Reef National Park. The highway then drops down into rugged Escalante Canyons, where it crosses deep chasms and climbs steep-sided plateaus. One section follows The Hogsback, a narrow ridge barely wider than the two-lane roadway, with cliffs falling away on either side.

The western approach is gentler—the roadway is not as sharp or narrow. The entire highway is paved, well maintained, and kept open year-round.

Settled in 1889, Boulder was America’s last town to receive mail by mule (until 1972). The town’s main attraction, the Anasazi State Park Museum, encompasses the ancient ruins of the Coombs archaelogical site. Excavated in 1959, the site’s ruins and exhibits provide an interesting  look into how the Anasazi or ancient ones lived almost a thousand years ago.

Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Boulder the road meanders southwest across the expansive Kaiparowits Plateau and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

About 20 miles south of Boulder, the Hole-in-the-Rock Scenic Byway dirt road cuts south into the Escalante Canyons where you’ll find dozens of arches, ancient Native Indian rock art, and the mind-boggling rock formations of Devils Garden.

Back on Highway 12, about two miles northwest of the town of Escalante is Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. A series of short hiking trails leads to groupings of petrified logs, thousand-year-old petroglyphs, and dinosaur bones dating from the Jurassic period. In the center of the park, the Wide Hollow Reservoir offers great canoeing and bass fishing.

Escalante is often called the “Heart of Scenic Byway 12” as it is nestled between the elevated meadows of the Aquarius and Kaiparowits Plateaus and the low desert country surrounding the Escalante Canyons in the middle of the byway.

Thirty miles west of Escalante, you’ll come to the small town of Cannonville and the Highway 400 turnoff to Kodachrome Basin State Park. The changing warm light on the park’s towering sandstone chimneys prompted the National Geographic Society to name the park Kodachrome in 1949.

Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The last stop along Highway 12 is one of America’s iconic attractions, Bryce Canyon National Park. Established in 1924, the park is world famous for its towering eroding-sandstone pillars called hoodoos. The breathtaking three-mile-wide amphitheater is especially colorful at sunrise and sunset from Bryce and Inspiration points.

Worth Pondering…
Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

—Rachel Carson

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Adventure in Albuquerque: Petroglyph National Monument

Standing amid a jumble of basalt boulders, I paused after pulling myself up a steep climb of coffee-colored rock.

Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’re hiking appropriately named Boca Negra Canyon of the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, and so far the rock art hasn’t exactly been jumping out at me. But as I pause to rest and finally consider the beauty of the canyon, petroglyphs begin to emerge before me.

Round faces, turtles and birds, brands and crosses, and lightning bolt-like patterns appear plain as day where I was looking on the fly just moments before. Sometimes you cover more ground and observe more beauty when standing still.

These images are inseparable from the greater cultural landscape, from the spirits of the people who created them, and from all who appreciate them today.

While it may be tempting to reach out your hand, don’t touch! Oils from your skin can permanently damage the petroglyphs.

Jointly managed by the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque, Petroglyph National Monument comprises 7,236 acres of a volcanic basalt escarpment created by ancient lava flows along 17 miles of Albuquerque’s west escarpment, known as the West Mesa. The monument protects a variety of cultural and natural resources, including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved into these dark rock outcroppings.

Visitors to this monument can travel 12 centuries into the past, turn around, and snap back into the present—because Albuquerque is right next door. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Visitors to this monument can travel 12 centuries into the past, turn around, and snap back into the present—because Albuquerque is right next door. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 150,000 year ago lava seeped from an enormous fissure here, covering the landscape like a prehistoric parking lot. Over time, cooling and erosion cracked the hardened lava. In many areas the ripples of once-hot lava can be seen in rock fragments.

By pecking the flat basalt, ancient artists found they could chisel away the dark desert varnish that had coated the rock and expose lighter rock beneath, creating a contrast that is still striking today. Basalt has a high iron content, and the rocks’ dark interior is basically rust. Creating a petroglyph was no small undertaking, as it took considerable time to etch the rock.

The National Park Service Las Imagenes Visitor Center and book store is located off Unser Boulevard at Western Trail. We began our visit here with a brief orientation to the monument and checked the schedule for ranger guided tours and special events before lacing up our hiking boots and hitting the trail at Boca Negra Canyon, a 70-acre section of the monument. Each trail offers a diverse view of the cultural and natural landscape within the monument.

Located two miles north of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs.

This volcanic basalt escarpment is home to a dense concentration of petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
This volcanic basalt escarpment is home to a dense concentration of petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is the most popular section of the monument, and is the only fully-developed area with restroom facilities, shade, and a drinking fountain. A nominal parking fee is charged by the City of Albuquerque.

Mostly, the national monument’s expanse of open space is undeveloped save for interpretative signs and facilities along the few developed trails at Boca Negra Canyon, Rinconada Canyon, and the volcano’s trails. Otherwise, silence and isolation are yours just minutes from New Mexico’s largest city.

Located one mile south of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Rinconada Canyon is one of the few places, where at the end of the trail you can be out of sight of the city.

A 2½-mile round-trip sandy trail follows the base of the escarpment where you can view more than 800 petroglyphs. This trail area has no water, so bring your own. You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.

The northernmost area of the monument, Piedras Marcadas Canyon, means “canyon of marked rocks”. Piedras Marcadas is home to the densest concentration of petroglyphs along the monument’s 17-mile escarpment, with an estimated 5,000 images. This area may be entered from a small parking lot west of Golf Course Road.

Ancient artists chipped away this colorful dark layer to expose the lighter rock underneath, leaving behind images of animals and people, brands, crosses, and handprints. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Ancient artists chipped away this colorful dark layer to expose the lighter rock underneath, leaving behind images of animals and people, brands, crosses, and handprints. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This trail area has no water, so bring your own. You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.

Worth Pondering…

Each of these rocks is alive, keeper of a message left by the ancestors…There are spirits, guardians; there is medicine…

—William F. Weahkee, Pueblo Elder

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RVing, National Parks & The “Wow” Factor

The United States maintains more than 6,000 federally-protected sites, spanning over 1 million square miles and totaling roughly 27 percent of America’s entire land area.

High deserts are known for causing dehydration, sunburn, sunstroke, and dry skin. Drink plenty of water and apply sunscreen. Pictured above Arches National Park.
High deserts are known for causing dehydration, sunburn, sunstroke, and dry skin. Drink plenty of water and apply sunscreen. Pictured above Arches National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America’s National Parks are the great outdoors, the wide open spaces, and the wild places where families escape to marvel at a wonderful playground of caverns and canyons, grasslands and badlands, geysers and waterfalls, mountains and glaciers, waterfalls and wild rivers, volcanoes and lava fields, and historic and archeological sites.

Attracting millions of visitors worldwide, the national park system contains many of America’s most treasured landscapes and offers visitors incredible variety from the lush Everglades, to windswept Death Valley, to the grandaddy of national parks, the Grand Canyon.

Stories of America’s diverse places and people are everywhere. They’re found across the landscapes of the nation in the National Parks and National Heritage Areas, along historic trails and waterways, and in every city and neighborhood.

National Parks preserve American history in all its diversity, from ancient archeological places to the homes of poets and Presidents to battlefields and industrial sites.

Why National Parks?

Pinnacles National Park: Rocks, Caves & Condors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Pinnacles National Park: Rocks, Caves & Condors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Park Service helps preserve the beautiful landscapes and historic sites in America. National parks are open to the public to give visitors the opportunity to enjoy these sights and understand why they’re essential to preserve for future generations. For RVers, this provides us with an unique opportunity to travel to the national parks of our choice and camp there, too.

National Parks Are Popular RV Destinations

While the majority of Americans never step foot in a national park, RVers continue to take advantage of everything they have to offer. From east to west and north to south, you’ll find national parks that provide facilities for RVers to camp and enjoy the beauty, history, and ecosystems they protect. This is why national parks should be a high priority to visit for RVers.

What Can You Do at National Parks?

Whether you delight in the challenge of a strenuous hike or prefer to sit quietly and enjoy a sunrise or sunset, national parks offer a great diversity of activities for you and your family to enjoy.

Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California's southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation.
Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California’s southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Depending on the national park chosen, you can do everything from camping, hiking, biking, boating, fishing, nature walks, and much more. Each national park has a variety of activities related to the unique features of the park that you can take part in by yourself or as a family.

With so many adventures to choose from, you’ll have some tough decisions to make.

RVing to National Parks

Many national parks provide visitor services for RVers including campgrounds that provide parking sites, flush toilets, and shower facilities. RVers can reserve camping sites and enjoy the park in a different way than day visitors.

Most national parks that offer camping facilities recommend you make reservations up to six months in advance.

As the peak summer season approaches and national parks become a more popular destination for RVers, it becomes increasingly more difficult to obtain a camping site without advance reservations. As an alternative, private campgrounds and RV parks are often located within easy driving distance of popular national parks. Again, reservations are recommended.

Choosing the Right National Park

Choosing the park that’s right for you is as simple as choosing how you want to play, for the parks offer a nearly endless range of activities to explore.

When selecting a national park for your next RV vacation, consider your family’s interests.

National Parks are perfect for kids. Most of the larger parks run Junior Ranger Programs, allowing kids to participate in fun activities while learning about the area’s natural habitat and historic significance. Other parks offer nature walks and wildlife talks specifically geared towards children, to demonstrate to them that nature has much to offer.

The Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands is a wide high plateau with commanding views across many miles of deep canyons in all directions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands is a wide high plateau with commanding views across many miles of deep canyons in all directions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upon entrance to a national park make your fist stop the Visitors Center. The friendly park rangers will recommend guided hikes, nature walks, other available family activities as well as provide the latest information about safety hazards, closures, weather, and wildlife notices.

Regardless of the park you choose, you’ll find numerous options and delights; keep your mind open to the possibilities and your soul open to the experiences.

Worth Pondering…

In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.

—Aristotle

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Links to the Past: Petroglyph National Monument, NM

Petroglyph National Monument contains over 7,000 acres of a volcanic basalt escarpment made from ancient lava flows, known as the West Mesa. The monument protects a variety of cultural and natural resources, including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved into these dark rock outcroppings.

Visitors to this monument can travel 12 centuries into the past, turn around, and snap back into the present—because Albuquerque is right next door. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In desert areas stones often are covered with desert varnish, a thin coating deposited on the rocks for hundreds or thousands of years. Artists chipped away this colorful dark layer to expose the lighter rock underneath, leaving behind images of animals and people, brands, crosses, and handprints; other petroglyphs are more complex and less easily understood.

These images are inseparable from the greater cultural landscape, from the spirits of the people who created them, and from all who appreciate them today.

The monument is cooperatively managed by the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque.

While it may be tempting to reach out your hand, don’t touch! Oils from your skin can permanently damage the petroglyphs.

Las Imagenes Visitor Center

Begin at the Las Imagenes Visitor Center with a brief orientation to the monument and to check the schedule for guided tours and special events; then, lace up your hiking boots and hit a trail.

Boca Negra Canyon

Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located two miles north of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs.

This is the most popular section of the monument, and is the only fully-developed area with restroom facilities, shade, and a drinking fountain. A nominal parking fee is charged by the City of Albuquerque.

Rinconada Canyon

Located one mile south of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Rinconada Canyon is one of the few places, where at the end of the trail you can be out of sight of the city.

A 2½-mile round-trip sandy trail follows the base of the escarpment where you can view more than 800 petroglyphs.

This trail area has no water, so bring your own.

You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.

Piedras Marcadas Canyon

The northernmost area of the monument, Piedras Marcadas Canyon, means “canyon of marked rocks”. Piedras Marcadas is home to the densest concentration of petroglyphs along the monument’s 17-mile escarpment, with an estimated 5,000 images.

This area may be entered from a small parking lot west of Golf Course Road.

This volcanic basalt escarpment is home to a dense concentration of petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This trail area has no water, so bring your own.

You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.

Petroglyph National Monument

Details

Operating Hours: Open year-round, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

Admission: No entry fee charged; Boca Negra Canyon parking fee $1/vehicle weekdays, $2 weekends charged by the City of Albuquerque

Pets: Dogs are not allowed at the Boca Negra Canyon area

Location: From I-40, Exit 154 (Unser Boulevard) north 3 miles to Western Trail; turn left or west onto Western Trail and follow road to the visitor center

Camping: No camping facilities

Address: 6001 Unser Blvd. NW, Albuquerque, NM 87120

Contact: (505) 899-0205

Web site: nps.gov/petr

Worth Pondering…

Each of these rocks is alive, keeper of a message left by the ancestors…There are spirits, guardians; there is medicine…

—William F. Weahkee, Pueblo Elder

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