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Southern Utah

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Grandview Ranch, near Springdale Utah Ranch house near Rockville, Utah Picture of the Colorado River at Big Bend Picnic Area near Moab, Utah Picture of a farmstead in Springdale Utah Picture of the Sevier River near Clear Creek, Utah Photograph of a creek near Cedar City, Utah Picture of Red Canyon in Dixie National Forest, Utah Picture of Escalante Canyon, Utah

Southern Utah is a canvas that Nature has dramatically painted with geological brushes. It’s a land of reds, pinks, and ochers; of mountains, canyons, and rock formations; of ancient sediments sculpted by water, wind, and ice. It should be no surprise that this area contains five national parks and two national monuments.

Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks are well-known and receive plenty of visitors. They’re conveniently located in the southwest corner of Utah, which makes them easy trips from Las Vegas.

The other three parks are away from major cities and Interstate highways. They may be accordingly less crowded, but their splendor makes them worth the trip. Arches National Park, with “the greatest density of natural stone arches in the world,” is at the eastern edge of Utah, near the Colorado border. Capitol Reef National Park, with its deep gorges and rock formations that take on a preternatural glow at sunset, is splendidly isolated between Bryce Canyon and Arches, via the somewhat out-of-the-way but very scenic State Highway 12. (Utah’s tourism marketeers have named this road “A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway.”)

Canyonlands is southern Utah’s fifth national park. It’s a “second Grand Canyon” on the Colorado River near Arches. But most of it is reserved for backpackers and four-wheel-drive enthusiasts, as only one very small section of it is accessible by paved road.

Cedar Breaks National Monument, due west of Bryce Canyon near Cedar City, is a miniature version of Bryce Canyon. And Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the largest national monument in the country, only gained national monument status in 1996. Most of Grand Staircase-Escalante is inaccessible by car; but the scenic drive between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef on Highway 12 includes the northern edge of the monument.

You can easily visit all four of the major parks in a two-week itinerary. You’ll discover what the corporations that want to turn southern Utah into a giant strip mine don’t want you to know: The scenic beauty isn’t confined within the boundaries of national parks. Indeed, I took all the pictures accompanying this introduction outside the parks (except for one picture of Escalante Canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which wasn’t yet a national monument when I visited).

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Zion National Park: Stone temples

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Bryce Canyon National Park: A bowl of hoodoos

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Arches National Park: It’s more than arches

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Capitol Reef National Park: Isolated Splendor

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