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Vermilion Cliffs Highway Scenic Drive

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Basics
Location:
St. George Utah to Kanab Utah along the Arizona - Utah Border
Surface:
Paved
Suitable Vehicle:
Any Vehicle
Length:
277 miles oneway
Time:
Multi-day
Season:
Drivable year round

Description

The Vermilion Cliffs Highways is a project involving a partnership of 40 public and private entities providing a combination of 21 interpretive sites or scenic overlooks along 277 miles of state highways in northern Arizona and southern Utah. These roads generally follow the winding ramparts of the lengthy and beautiful Vermilion Cliffs. This cliff line is traceable from the Gunlock Reservoir area of southwest Utah to the Tuba City area of north-central Arizona.

Scenic overlooks and historic and prehistoric sites along the highways convey various aspects of the overall theme of "exploration and survival". These sites are tied inextricably to past and present "exploration" of existing landforms and the use of natural resources for "survival".

The Vermilion Cliffs Highways traverse some of the most scenic landforms in the West. In addition, the various highways are, in many cases, historic transportation routes used for centuries by succeeding waves of humanity in the region.

Interstate 15, and Highway 9 - On the western end of the highways corridor is Interstate 15, and Highway 9. These segments breach what was once a formidable barrier to transportation created by the Beaver Dam and Virgin Mountains. These segments also graphically show the abrupt change from the more somber Basin and Range Physiographic Province in the west to the colorful, layer-cake geology of the Colorado Plateau Province to the east. The power of moving, folding land masses is evident everywhere, especially in the Virgin River Gorge where the Grand Wash Fault line plays a prominent role in the lay of the land.

The Highway 9 segment passes through the Virgin Anticline, a large, asymmetrical, descending anticline or "hump" in the earth. Both the St. George and Hurricane, Utah areas show evidence of past volcanic activity, primarily in the form of cinder cones, intrusive masses (Pine Valley Mountains west of Hurricane), and basalt flows. Evidence of pioneer history can be seen in the pioneer park in the center of Hurricane.

Highway 59 and Highway 389 - The central core of the highways begins with Highway 59 at Hurricane, Utah and proceeds east along Highway 59 and Highway 389 to Fredonia, Arizona. Highway 59 abruptly climbs through the next east-west barrier to transportation--the Hurricane Cliffs. It is said that these cliffs represent one of the longest exposed escarpments or line of cliffs in the world. The Hurricane Fault is the second (after the Grand Wash Fault) in what is a series of huge block faults segmenting the Arizona Strip from east to west. Once atop the Hurricane Cliffs a spectacular vista of 8 major geologic formations unfolds to the north in the Zion National Park and Kolob Terrace region. It is from here that one may see the thickest accumulation of the Navajo Sandstone formation--some 2,000 feet!

Highways 59 and 389 continue east across the rolling slopes of sand-covered Chinle and Moenkopi geologic formations. The imposing ramparts of Canaan Mountain rise above Colorado City, Arizona bringing the Vermilion Cliffs close to the highway where the intricate colors and textures of the various rock formations may be seen more readily. The cottonwood-lined banks of Short Creek, emerging from the Vermilion Cliffs at Colorado City show that good townsites require water; whether bustling, growing towns of today or Virgin Anasazi villages of the far past--both are present here.

Highways 59 and 389 parallel the slow curve of the Vermilion Cliffs until reaching the town of Fredonia, Arizona. A small town of less than one thousand residents, Fredonia possesses a rich history of "exploration and survival", from early explorations and accounts by Sharlot Hall, John Wesley Powell, and Clarence Dutton to a more modern day "survival" based on the use of timber, mineral, grazing, and tourist resources. ..Highway 89-A and Highway 89 - Fredonia is a western point of departure for the Highway 89-A and Highway 89 loop. This loop proceeds east on Highway 89-A from Fredonia through wide open landscapes of rolling sage plains that slowly rise to the approach of the Kaibab Plateau, or west Kaibab Monocline. To the north, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a scenic region of successive, multicolored cliffs that includes the Vermilion Cliffs, can readily be seen rising to elevations of over 11,000 feet above sea level. This land of impenetrable barriers to prehistoric and historic people is one of scenic attractions today. ..The sage-covered plains west of the Kaibab Plateau quickly give way to shrub, then juniper and pinyon woodlands, which finally give way to ponderosa pine forest, most evident in the Jacob Lake area. Jacob Lake is the gateway to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, only 45 miles to the south. It provides lodging, food, camping, picnicking and information about the region. Jacob Lake has been a point of departure for modern (and not so modern) explorations of the northern Grand Canyon region. ..Descending the Kaibab Plateau to the east, the east Kaibab Monocline is crossed as the highway drops to the floor of House Rock Valley. A small pullout currently provides a breathtaking view across the broad grassy plain of House Rock Valley, at the base of the Vermilion Cliffs, to the walls of Marble Canyon, the Kaibab Plateau, and the far off Echo Cliffs (the easternmost extension of the Vermilion Cliffs). Once again, all along this highway, the evidence of human use is scarce and generally blends with the "western" feel of the area. ..Continuing east, the Vermilion Cliffs dominate the northern view while the wide-open expanse of the Marble Platform spread out to the south and east. From House Rock Valley, the Kaibab Plateau to the west enhances the already colorful scene with dark shades of green and in winter, white, snowcapped plateau rims. ..The entire Highway 89-A/Highway 89 loop circles the massive Paria Plateau and northern Kaibab Plateau Uplift. Again, these routes show the desire for mobility and transportation of people and goods, as they penetrate what were thought to be impenetrable physical barriers such as the Kaibab Plateau, Marble Canyon, Glen Canyon, and the Cockscomb. Sites along the way such as the Dominguez-Escalante Interpretive Site, Navajo Bridge, Glen Canyon Dam, and the Pahreah Townsite all show various attempts, successes, and failures at exploration, settlement, and survival over time. .

Location:
St. George Utah to Kanab Utah along the Arizona - Utah Border
Surface:
Paved
Suitable Vehicle:
Any Vehicle
Length:
277 miles oneway
Time:
Multi-day
Main Roads:
US-89 Alt S and US-89 N
Season:
Drivable year round
Additional Details:
Interstate 15

1. Virgin River Canyon Recreation Area
.Take the Cedar Pockets Interchange and find yourself in the middle of a wilderness wonderland. The Virgin River Canyon Recreation Area is the only developed campground you will find on the Arizona Strip. Whether you are having a picnic, or spending the night, don''t neglect to hike the short trails leading to the Virgin River, and to a hilltop site where geology and history are explained. Keep a lookout for Bighorn Sheep who live on the rocky crags above the gorge.

2. Visitor Information Center
Units of the Forest Service, Arizona and Utah BLM, are centrally located for you to stop and ask for information about the public lands in the region. Displays interpret natural and cultural history. Find out here what the Arizona Strip and the surrounding region have to offer, and the suggested levels of preparedness.

Highway 9
3. Hurricane, Utah
In Hurricane, be sure to stop at the museum/information center in the heart of town. The historic Bradshaw Hotel within the community, depicts what life would have been like when pioneers first settled this town. Hurricane provides opportunities for visitors to stay overnight in the community with many new hotels.

Highway 59.4. Pullout viewing the Dixie Resource Area
Scenic vistas of the Zion National Park-Smithsonian Butte area explored by John Wesley Powell and Clarence Dutton in the late 1800s.

5. Hildale/Colorado City
A recent discovery of a Virgin Anasazi pueblo in downtown Colorado City led BLM and Southern Utah University to form a partnership to excavate the remains of this indian village. Colorado City and the BLM are working together tostabilize and interpret the site. Interpretation will eventually display local artifacts from the excavation and relate the history of both the past and present inhabitants of this community.

Highway 389

6. Pipe Springs National Monument
An historic Mormon settlement that is part of the National Park system. Living history here accurately depicts how an early Mormon settlement looked and worked in the 1800''s. Across the street is the Kaibab Paiute tribal headquarters.

7. Pullout viewing the Arizona Strip
A new pullout to be developed along the highway will provide opportunities to see and understand the diverse ecosystems of Arizona Strip, from the desert environments to the mountain forests.

Highway 89A.7. Fredonia
Sharlot Hall first spoke of the great potential for agricultural development of this area in 1911 and was instrumental in keeping the "Strip", (the geographic area north of the Colorado River in Arizona), in the State of Arizona, rather than being acquired by the State of Utah. The Arizona Department of Transportation, (ADOT) is also proposing construction of a welcome center in Fredonia. This city houses the North Kaibab Ranger District Office where visitors can obtain information.

8. LeFevre Overlook
The North Kaibab Ranger District has plans for a short interpretive walk and a picnic area, with rest room facilities at this beautiful overlook. It is from this overlook that the best view of the new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is obtained.

9. Jacob Lake
At the Forest Service''s, Kaibab Plateau Visitor Center, interpretive exhibits include; information on recreation opportunities, ecosystem management, geology, vegetation, fire, wildlife, and cultural history. The visitor center is open seasonally spring through fall.

10. House Rock Valley Overlook
This pullout provides an excellent view of House Rock Valley and a portion of the Vermilion Cliffs far in the distance. At this site, a short interpretive trail and interpretive plaques are planned for the near future.

11. Dominguez and Escalante Interpretive Site (San Bartolome Camp)
This Arizona Strip, Bureau of Land Management, interpretive site receives over 10,000 people per year. This site currently displays information about the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition of 1776, Arizona Strip Wilderness Areas, cultural history, and geology.

12. Navajo Bridge
This scenic drive passes onto Navajo Nation lands at Navajo Bridge, spanning the Colorado River 500 feet below. Completed in 1928, the narrow old bridge virtually ended the use of Lee''s Ferry as a river crossing. The new, wider companion bridge now spans Marble Canyon, itself ending the use of the old bridge for vehicle traffic. You can now walk the distance of the old bridge, marvel at the beautiful canyon depths, and soon stroll into a new visitor information center.

Highway 89.13. Antelope Pass Scenic Overlook
A sweeping view of the Marble Platform, Vermilion Cliffs and Kaibab Plateau await you at this highway pullout on the Navajo Reservation south of Page, Arizona.

14. Navajo Scenic Overlook
A short drive north along Highway 89 from Antelope Pass brings you to one of the more spectacular vistas in the southwest. From this pullout on the Navajo Reservation, you can try to take in the immense panorama of the Vermilion Cliffs, lower Paria Canyon, Echo Peaks, Lake Powell, Navajo Mountain, and much of the Kaiparowits Plateau within the new Grand Staircase-Escalante Canyons National Monument. Don''t pass up this gem!

15. Glen Canyon Dam
Many hundreds of thousands of visitors have stopped here to view this engineering marvel. An attractive visitor center is situated on the western end of the Glen Canyon Bridge. The center provides abundant information about Glen Canyon Dam, a take-your-breath-away view of the dam and Colorado River far below, and self guided or guided tours of the dam.

16. Paria Information Station
This easily accessible station is 30 miles west of Page, Arizona. Built primarily to provide hiking information about Paria Canyon/Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, this facility now provides travel, camping, and recreation information for much of the public lands of southern Utah and northern Arizona. Currently it is staffed seasonally from spring through fall.

17. Old Paria Movie Set/Scenic Backway
Many movies have used this site as a western outdoor set. The colorful landscape and old buildings evoke images of characters such as Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill, and Billy the Kid.

18. Shinarump Cliffs
.Just east of Johnson Canyon, this highway pullout offers beautiful panoramas of the Vermilion Cliffs to the north and portions of the Shinarump Cliffs to the south and west. In the distance, the Kaibab Plateau stretches beyond the southwestern horizon.

19. Kanab
Kanab was first built in 1864 as a fort to protect the settlers from Indian raids. Due to many raids, it was abandoned and later resettled by Jacob Hamblin.

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