Escalante, Utah and Scenic Byway 12

Escalante - Heart of Hwy 12

Utah Scenic Byway 12


Utah State Route 12 was first designated in 1914. Many changes have taken place over the past 100 years, but this amazing road is still the lifeline of the several communities it connects to the “outside” world.

Beginning with the various Indian tribes, native Americans resided in these vast and rough canyons since the 1600’s. Evidence of their existence remains today for everyone to see (but please don’t touch). In the summer the groups dispersed to springs and other perennial water sources capitalizing on the many foodstuffs available. In Autumn they organized into small family bands to harvest Pinyon nuts and hunt deer.

Numaga - So. Piute at Pyramid Lake

Numaga – So. Piute at Pyramid Lake

The three prominent groups of Numic people (Paiutes) were the Antarianunts who occupied the northeastern tip of the Henry Mountains. The Kaiparowits resided in the Escalante River to Upper Sevier River Valleys overlapping the Panguitch group. And the third was the Cedar City/Beaver Mountains Paiutes. The Paiutes had other names for these groups beginning with the Widtsoe area – Porcupine Sitting People; the Bryce Valley area – Semi-Circular Cliffs People; the Grass Valley and Johns Valley people – Water Cover Peoples; and the Barren Valley People – Escalante area people.

The first white men discovered the Barren Valley during an expedition in 1869. The first John Wesley Powell Expedition came across the valley to the Green River and ventured down the river to the confluence of the Colorado. 1866 brought Military men from St. George to Kanab who then ventured up the Pariah River to Henrieville Creek. Another group came up the Sevier River to Red Canyon and roughly followed the route of present-day SR 12. These men continued up to “The Blues” and Upper Valley Creek and on August 31, 1866, the battalion entered “Potato Valley” for the first time. Named for the many potatoes found growing in this valley, they felt it was good for cattle and noted the many attributes of the area.

The Escalante Basin extends Southeast to the Colorado River between the Straight Cliffs and the Kaiparowits Plateau to the south. The circle cliffs and Aquarlis plateau complete the “walls” to the north. The Aquarius Plateau and Boulder Mountain comprise the world’s highest forested plateau in the world. The straight cliffs began as sandy beaches on top of the tropic deposits. Receeding ocean levels millions of years ago carried debris and sediment that buried the Wahweap Sandstone and created the Kaiparowits plateau – thought to be Zane Grey’s Wild Horse Mesa.

These deposits call to geologists around the world to explore and learn.  Several new dinosaur skeletons have been found due to their efforts.  Those can be seen at the Utah Natural History Museum in Salt Lake City.

Next – the beginnings of Highway 12.


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