America’s Highway

Want to escape the tether of your smartphone for a day or two? Take a drive down Utah’s Highway 12, where cellular service is spotty and Wi-Fi access is nearly nonexistent. Dubbed an “All-American Road” in 2002, this 124-mile ribbon of asphalt links Bryce Canyon with Capitol Reef National Park and provides plenty of backcountry access to Dixie National Forest, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Kodachrome Basin State Park. Amazingly, despite its proximity to the national-park circuit, the road remains largely unused by visitors, especially after passing the turnoff to Bryce Canyon. And the miles of graceful curves and hairpin turns will appeal to your inner Grand Prix driver—you can almost picture a BMW commercial being filmed here.

Rather than shifting into overdrive, though, ease your foot off the gas and take in the scenery. The magic of central Utah’s “Color Country” lies in the diversity of landscape. Here, swatches of red and gold sandstone mingle with miles of endless juniper that decorate the high desert. From the higher elevations, look down and you’ll encounter a parfait of color: blue sky, green forest, golden desert and red rock formations. This desolate and rugged countryside provides a sharp visual contrast to the homesteads, farmlands and communities that dot this little highway. It’s here we see how nature and man have formed the Western tapestry. It’s also here where you’re reminded that nature is still in charge.

After a long day enjoying the great outdoors in all its glory—or simply road-testing your ride—reward yourself with a sunset dinner at the acclaimed Hell’s Backbone Grille at Boulder Mountain Lodge. In addition to being a respite from hectic city life, the lodge makes for a good jumping-off point for another day of Color Country exploration.

Then again, you may find yourself zooming back to the land of reliable cell service and abundant Wi-Fi access.

The Trip: Our preferred route begins in Springdale, Utah, at the entrance of Zion National Park, then off to Boulder, Utah, and back to Springdale.

The Way: Springdale is about two and half hours from Las Vegas via Interstate 15 to Utah Highway 9. From Springdale continue east on Utah 9 through Zion National Park (there is a $25 entrance fee). After 25 miles, turn left (north) on U.S. 89 and drive 43 miles to Utah Highway 12 east and turn right. Boulder is 88 miles from this point.

The Wheels: 2010 Subaru Outback Sport. With its all-wheel drive, this car is great for escaping the paved roads and exploring most of Color Country’s graded dirt paths. The car also has plenty of cargo space and a roof rack for hauling camping gear and bicycles.

Pit Stops: Check out the Bit & Spur (1212 Zion Park Blvd.) in Springdale for dinner, and in the morning grab a giant breakfast burrito at Oscar’s Café (948 Zion Park Blvd.). At mile marker 73.86 between Escalante and Boulder, stop at the Kiva Koffeehouse for an espresso or light snack. Dinner or breakfast at Hell’s Backbone Grille in Boulder is a must (reservations required: 435-335-7464).

While You’re at It: Stay the night at Boulder Mountain Lodge (20 N. Highway 12, 435 335-7460), or if your day ends in Springdale, we like the Desert Pearl Inn (707 Zion Park Blvd., 435 772-8888).

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The first beer Russell Gardner ever had was a Newcastle. He was 15, he admits with a little hesitation. His brother had surprised him, saying, “Come on. We’re going out tonight.” They headed to the Crown & Anchor Pub and Double Down Saloon. Gardner blended in with the gang of his brother’s regular drinking buddies and wasn’t carded. “I ordered a Newcastle because that’s what my brother was drinking,” Gardner says. “I really don’t remember what I thought about it. I was just excited to be there with him, watching bands.”