Utah State Route 12 links Capitol Reef National Park to Bryce Canyon. In between the two parks is Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Reaching and crossing Grand Staircase-Escalante, SR-12 transits some of Utah’s most spectacular country. Here the line between the journey and the destination is as blurry as the bitter end of a gnarly bender. It is senseless to even try to distinguish the trip from the objective.
Utah State Route 12 has plenty of names. It is variously referred to as “Utah 12,” “Scenic Byway 12,” “A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway,” the “Million Dollar Road to Boulder,” “Boulder Mountain Highway,” and “Hell’s Backbone Road.” Beyond the plethora of names this route is also designated as an All-American road. The “All-American” tag is assigned to byways that have features that do not exist elsewhere in the United States and are scenic enough to be tourist destinations unto themselves. These criteria certainly fit SR-12.
Two portions of this Scenic Byway stand out. From Boulder the “Hogsback” section runs the spine of the ridge between two sandstone chasms before descending to Haymaker Bench. Driving a road with exposure on one side is not uncommon. Traversing a road with steep slickrock pitches on both sides of a narrow strip of tarmac is less ordinary. Pulling a trailer along the hogsback sparks the nerves and keeps the blood out of the knuckles.
Further on at the “Head of the Rocks” switchbacks ascend a slickrock ridge. At the top an overlook allows a view of the route and information placards detail of the road’s history. We learned that the Civilian Conservation Corp or CCC was the Million Dollar Road to Boulder’s prime builder. At the Head of the Rocks, towards the end of the Great Depression, the CCC dynamited the road into the solid sandstone hillside. It is an amazing feat of civil engineering.
Past Bryce Canyon National Park on SR-12 is Red Canyon, another spectacular section of the Scenic Byway. In the canyon the red rock is so intensely colored and the hoodoos so oddly shaped that this segment of road seems to have been lifted from a Western movie set or from Disneyland’s Frontierland.
Perhaps there’s a bit of false advertising for Utah 12, “A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway.” We didn’t feel like we traveled through time. No dinosaurs were identified; no cavemen were cornered. We had no sense that the fabric of time had shifted during our passage. Not that it mattered. This road, Scenic Byway 12 or whatever you chose to call it, is one of the most amazing stretches of tarmac anywhere. Utah 12 truly is an All-American road. The road is the destination.