Utah's Highway 12, from south of Panguitch to Torrey, is a very special 124-mile stretch of road. Not only is it one of Utah's State Scenic Byways, it's also one of 31 All-American Roads. According to the Federal Highway Administration, this designation is given to roads that have features that do not exist elsewhere and are scenic enough to be tourist destinations unto themselves.
We're parked just a mile off this very special road, so we spent part of our Independence Day seeing what there is to see. Paul loaded a few geocaches into the GPS, I charged up the camera and we were off.
Our first stop was the Mossy Creek Trail. This one-mile round-trip hike is actually inside the boundaries of Bryce Canyon National Park. The trail runs along Mossy Creek, which is a popular swimming spot on a warm day, and offers some striking scenery.
The payoff for this short hike is Mossy Falls. Gorgeous! At a fork in the trail you get to choose between Mossy Cave and Mossy Falls. One of us isn't exactly a cave person, so we headed up to get a closer look at the falls.
This point at Mossy Falls is a "virtual cache". In the geocaching world, that means there isn't a physical cache to find. Instead, you have to provide a photo and/or answer some questions about the spot. The National Park Service doesn't allow placement of physical caches in its facilities. So, if you want to geocache in a National Park, you have to go virtual. Paul posed with GPS in hand to verify this virtual find.
Our scenic geocaching adventure continued on down the road, where I soon found myself standing in the weeds....
...while Paul made our 700th find at a place called Birth Rock. According to local geocachers, this huge boulder got its name when it descended from the cliff across the road while a local woman was in labor. We didn't have to go to quite that much trouble to make this milestone cache.
I picked up a cache in a cattle guard at this stop and took an extra moment to capture the amazing view along the byway.
We ventured off-road a bit from Highway 12 in search of another cache. There goes Paul off to find the cache that's supposed to be somewhere in that canyon wall.
Meanwhile, I walked down the trail and found a much bigger crack! This scenic view inspired an idea for a portrait of one of our traveling companions.
It was getting late, and we had a holiday meal to prepare, so we got back on Highway 12 and headed back toward Bryce. We had just a taste of this very scenic byway. We look forward to seeing more of it sometime in the future.
On our return, we made a second attempt to find a virtual cache at the intersection of Highway 12 and the road to Bryce Canyon. The title of this cache was "Endangered Species". The task was to identify an animal that's protected in Utah. Earlier, we arrived at the cache coordinates to find nothing. But, on this trip we broadened our search and found the remains of this sign strewn some 20 feet away.
We're not sure which is more endangered: the Utah Prairie Dog or the signs designed to protect them?