As a young child I recall my mom saying she remembered when I-15 didn't go all the way from Salt Lake to St. George; you had to take two lane roads like Highway 89 to get through Utah. She talked about the good ol' days, when people weren't in such a hurry to get to their destination, but they took time and enjoyed the journey. I never really understood what she meant until I took this trip.
As we began our journey down Highway 89 we weren't quite sure what to expect. We didn't know what we were going to do or where we would end up; all we knew was we wanted to see parts of Utah that are often missed.
We arose early and watched as the sun peeked over the mountains. Our journey was beginning. As we turned onto 89 from Spanish Fork Canyon, we stopped and got out of the car as a freight train rumbled past on its way across the Rockies. After the train passed we gazed down towards the lush valley below bathed in the quiet morning light. No big buildings, no freeway, just a two lane road and a few cars.
A little ways down the road we were stopped by a farmer moving his sheep from one pasture to another. I've never been stopped like this before and found it mesmerizing. We slowly passed the sheep walking along the road in a straight line. We waved to the farmer as we passed and he nodded with a tilt of his straw cowboy hat. I really felt like I had taken a step back in time.
We continued onward passing a few other small towns, hopping out of the car to take pictures of ornate old buildings. We were amazed at the detail and craftsmanship that went into every building. Built by simple and humble pioneers who valued quality, their work has withstood the ravages of time.
Our first stop was at the Big Rock Candy Mountain. When I was younger, my mom and I made a quick stop there on our way back east. I remember she let me try some rock candy while she played the song "The Big Rock Candy Mountain". It was such a wonderful memory of my childhood, I was sad it took this long to return. We spoke with a worker at the gift shop who told us how we could raft the Sevier River near by. We decided that sounded like fun. Shortly, we were on the river and our guide was telling us about the local history of Marysvale and the secret story about Butch Cassidy.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are famous characters in this part of the country. This duo was known for robbing banks, giving the money to people and then robbing the bank again. Legend has it,they were chased by the Pinkerton gang all the way to Boliva, where many people believe the two men died. However, according to his family and locals around the area, Butch Cassidy conned two people to stand in their place, and the legendary duo returned to Marysvale where they lived out the rest of their lives. Our guide said he could even take us to Butch's real grave if we had time after the river trip.
We also learned that Marysvale was once a booming mining town and one of the few places in Utah not originally settled by Mormon Pioneers. The city had as many as 900 residents before a Chinese company bought the mine, putting harsh restrictions and giving the workers severe pay cuts. Within a short time, all the miners left and the mine and area became a ghost town.
Lost in history, we looked at the time and realized it was only 3 PM and we still had plenty of time to explore. We saw a sign for Bryce Canyon National Park and decided it sounded like a great interim destination on our journey. How could we not take in the history and beauty of those towers and canyons?
As we drove off of Highway 89 towards Bryce, we drove through Red Canyon. This small section of Dixie National Forest hosts a few miles of peculiar and unique red hoodoos. (odd shaped pillars of rock left standing from the forces of erosion) The red hoodoos in contrast with the clear blue sky are like nothing many people have seen before, meandering in careful balance, even if a little tipsy toward a contrasting blue sky clarifying both to extreme. We hopped out, took some pictures so people would believe us, and then headed on to Bryce.
Arriving at Bryce we first visited Bryce Point. From this viewpoint you can see and endless array of narrow, but strong, sandstone hoodoos seemingly raising the canyon levels to the evergreen landscape beyond. It is breathtaking. The best part is you contrast that viewpoint by going down inside and walking the canyon floor with the hoodoos soaring above you. We headed back towards the visitors center to another viewpoint. The Navajo Trail is a very simple 1.3 mile R/T hike that takes you to the amphitheater below. Hiking this trail gets you up close and personal with some of nature's most unusual landscape. I listened to many people not native to Utah who were enamored with Utah's beautiful and unusual landscape. We all agreed it was as if we had landed on Mars.
After hitting Bryce Canyon, we needed to figure out where we wanted to spend the night. We knew that we could probably find a great place to camp near the Coral Pink Sand Dunes in Kanab. Along the road, we saw signs for Little Hollywood in Kanab, which intrigued us so we decided to give it a shot.
Little Hollywood in Kanab did not let us down. They had collected old sets from movies filmed in the area. Back in the day, Southern Utah was the prime spot for westerns. The dramatic scenery provided a backdrop that to most could only be imagined. They had film props and we took on our actor-alter-egos to reenact or create our own western. Yeah, we were pretty goofy, but any family or group of friends could laugh their way through such an adventure.
On our way home we stopped at Mystic Hot Springs for a unique experience. Imagine sitting in claw-foot bathtubs fed by a natural hot spring overlooking the valley below. If you are in a group they do have a couple of big pools you can sit in as well. We also learned they have a campground where you can stay in old buses for the night.
Before this trip I had no idea about some of these singular areas of Utah. Taking our time and not blowing by these small towns, and off the way "hot" spots taught me a lot about Utah and its stories. When you need a non-traditional road trip this would definitely be "the place". When the journey is the trip and not the destination, you slow down and make wonderful discoveries.
Author Bio: Michael Sproul currently lives in Utah. He is an avid traveler and outdoor enthusiast. He loves sharing his experiences with others. He currently writes for The Carefree Traveler and My Life Outdoors. Connect with him on Google Plus or Twitter.