All American Road: Scenic Byway 12



We woke up and ate breakfast in our hotel and stopped briefly in town to take a couple of photos from Kanab. Then we headed north along highway 89, continuing our exploration of the extravagant Colorado Plateau. Driving in the morning was an exquisite pleasure.  Driving I have decided, while looking at mountain creeks and forests is the perfect place for happy little clouds and happy little thoughts. It was clearly a place to do what DeWitt Jones says we should do: “celebrate what’s right with the world.” Here that was easy.  I thought of Azar Nafisi and her two wonderful books, Reading Lolita in Tehran and Republic of Imagination which I read. One last year; one this year. Brilliant and inspiring. I thought of Marilyn Robinson in her Gilead trilogy. Minsters in a small Iowa town bringing much-needed gentleness to religion. If I had read this series before I lost my faith who knows how different my life might have been. But above all I thought about what a beautiful day it was. A beautiful day in the neighbourhood as Mr. Rogers might say.


Highway 12 connects Highway 89 with Capitol Reef National Park about miles away. According to my guide book, “This road boast what may be the most spectacular and diverse array of landscapes found along any road in the country.” This, I found, was no exaggeration.

The road starts south of Panguitch where Highway 89 intersected with highway 12. Our first stop just a couple of miles into the journey was at Red Canyon State Park immediately beside the road. I have already posted photos from there.             Red Canyon State Park is cut into the fantastic red mountains of the Paunsaugunt Plateau sprinkled with dark green coniferous trees. It has weirdly carved erosional rock forms that form a stunning array of turrets, hoodoos, pinnacles, or spires. Such features are found at many places along this magical road, but perhaps most sensationally right at the beginning of the road (from the west) or near the end (from the east). I took many photographs of this amazing place. It was very difficult for me to tear myself away while there was still room left on my camera’s memory cards.

We also drove through Cannonvillea quaint Bryce Valley town. It was settled by Mormons in 1876 and named after one of those settlers George Q. Cannon. They have an annual Old Time Fiddlers and Bear Festival. Now that is a strange combination. Fiddlers and bears?


There are constants in this country: red stone, flawless silence, impossible blue skies, and beauty without end. It often looks lifeless. But if there is water, there is life.

Sadly, this is one of the National Monuments that Donald Trump wants to desecrate. He says it is too big. So he wants to cut it down to size. 20% is all that will be left. This is national disgrace, but that won’t stop Trump.

A short drive off of Scenic Byway 12 took us to another special place—Kodachrome Basin State Park. I hesitated about driving 9 miles out of the way from Cannonville past the sign at a forsaken gas station that read, “Too Pooped to Pump”. How foolish that would have been not to take that diversion. I would have missed the splendour of this astonishing park. One of the little gems of Utah, often missed by those in pursuit of the “Big 5.”  Just like tourists in Africa often miss out on Africa in pursuit of their Big 5.

Not only that, but once we arrived we considered not going into the park since we had to pay the park fee even though we would be here just a short time. I think it cost us $15 or something like that. We were about to drive back when Chris, ever the wise one, said “lets pay”. It would have been criminally negligent to have gone. It was astoundingly beautiful, like so much in Utah on the Colorado Plateau.

Kodachrome was named in the 1940s after a revolutionary slide film prepared by Kodak. Some people think it is stupid to name a park after a film. As a photographer who loved to shoot Kodachrome for years, until its supremacy was dethroned by Velvia produced by Fuji. What is wrong with naming a park after a brilliant film? Maybe nothing.


Visitors to the park are drawn to it by it unusual geological forms such as a series of upright cylindrical forms. There is a series of them called sand pipes. They vary in height from 6 to 170 feet.  More than 60 of them have been identified in the park and we had a picnic very near to one of them.

Geologists are not in agreement about how the pipes were created. One theory goes sort of like this: What is certain is the pipes provided a unique landscape that we enjoyed immensely, especially as we had a lovely picnic. A stellar jay came to visit us, expecting we might be willing to hand out food to a poor supplicant. Sadly, when it perched on a branch right beside our table, like an incompetent photographer, I scared it away when I went to get my camera from the car, much to Chris’s disappointment. She had her camera ready, but it was gone. A competent photographer, like Chris, would have had the camera at the ready. Nonetheless we had a wonderful picnic and Chris did not maim me for my ignorant stumbling away from grace.


The story of the park is the story of geology which is the story of the earth. The one thing that is constant with the earth is change. That sounds paradoxical but it is not. Nothing stays the same; even massive rock. Everything changes and over time reveals the secrets of its history to observant seekers. Each layer of rock is like a new chapter of a book. Some layers tell a story of when the land was covered by a large inland sea. Other layers speak of raging rivers long since becalmed. Some layers speak of the unspeakable—immensely violent forces of nature that often seem so benign. Each layer tells the story of relentless forces of erosion—wind and water that can carve the hardest surface. All they need is time and gravity and then nothing can stand in their way. And this story never ends. New pages are added literally every day. We just have to learn to read those fascinating pages.

The towering chimneys of Kodachrome Basin change in color with the day’s changing moods. Against a clear blue sky like today, they look tinged with red, like so much of the American southwest. This contrast led the National Geographic Society to get the permission of Kodak to name the park after their film.

The stone sand pipes protrude from the surrounding sandstone out of which they have been carved like one  of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures that we saw in Florence. They seem to stand like guards over the park. It was indeed a great day in the neighbourhood.


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