Scenic Highway 12
Some of Utah’s most gorgeous high desert scenery unravels along this all-American highway. The entirety of the road starts near Bryce Canyon with her orange and red spires, then ends at the gray and white domes of Capitol Reef. For our driving tour, Hitch and I started at Panguitch, an old town with Mormon pioneer roots along SR-89 then turning left onto SR-12. About two miles from this junction is Red Canyon of Dixie National Forest, a fantastic place deserving a day or two of its own exploration. I read that outlaw Butch Cassidy and his gang would hide out among the ponderosa pine and hoodoos.
We pass the SR-63 turnoff toward Bryce Canyon, and on toward the towns of Tropic and Cannonville. About 13 miles past Tropic, I see these amazing salmon-colored cliffs of Powell point, named after that famed explorer Major John Wesley Powell — the one that Lake Powell is named after. We snake through portions of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and across the high pastures of Table Cliff Plateau.
We end our road trip in 44 miles, just outside of the town of Escalante, and Escalante Petrified Forest State Park.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
There are a two main trails within this park: Petrified Forest Trail and Sleeping Rainbows Trail. I grab an interpretive trail pamphlet from the visitor center, but before we hit the trail Hitch points out the glass case and the few dozen letters from people who “stole” petrified wood from the park. I examine them closely and each letter reads along the same lines, “I’m sorry I took this from your park. Please take it back. I have had bad luck ever since I took it.” There are a few saying that the stones are cursed or haunted by spirits. The ranger says that every year a few dozen people mail back the petrified wood in hopes to change their luck for the better. One letter writer states that he “thought the warnings were phony. Since that time, I have had three accidents” involving broken bones—plus a motor home fire and a dead car engine. I consider myself warned! Take no petrified wood from these parts!
We first start the hike on the Petrified Forest Trail, we climb about 200 feet along a mild switchback to the top of the mesa where we have a great view of Wide Hollow Reservoir. Hitch and I talked about fishing several times now. Apparently, Utah has some good fishing and in reservoirs like Wide Hollow, there is rainbow trout, largemouth bass, and bluegill.
The trail continues and we take the turnoff toward Sleeping Rainbow Trail. This is a loop extension at the most northern part of tame Petrified Forest Trail, but the terrain is steep, rocky and requires a bit of scrambling. The logs here are two feet or more in diameter and shimmer like rainbows in the ground. I guess that’s why the Navajo call it the Land of Sleeping Rainbows. The petrified wood comes from a tropical forest from over 200 million years ago and has some of the most vibrant colors I’ve ever seen of its like. I can understand why stone wood was prized by hobbyists before the park was established. Along with the petrified wood, there are suppose to be fossilized dinosaur bones over 150 million years old, but I’m untrained and can’t spot them.
Just before the loop turns back, the trail stops at a vista overlooking a small canyon. It’s a parochial kind of pretty, not as wonderous as Bryce, and we are easily distracted by the lizards scurrying on a nearby rock. We start up the second half of Sleeping Rainbows Trail and rejoin the Petrified Forest Trail. The hike back has a mild terrain and peaceful view of the reservoir. Misson complete! I have finally seen a petrified forest!