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Southern Utah’s high country offers fantastic views of autumn foliage

Few areas within easy reach of Southern Nevadans offer better displays of autumn’s colored foliage than Southern Utah’s high plateaus forested with dark fir, spruce and pine. Accessible within a half-day’s drive, these tablelands in the fall feature wide amber meadows starred with late summer wildflowers that vie for admiration with stands of white-trunked aspens wearing foliage of gold and orange. Head for the high country soon to take in this natural extravaganza, for by mid-October the best of the high country color will be gone with the falling leaves and frost-blackened flower stalks.

Several high country highways offer superlative autumn views. The network of scenic byways accessing the Markagunt Plateau above Zion National Park provides plenty of options for visitors. Head north from Las Vegas on Interstate 15 toward Cedar City or Parowan to climb onto the 10,000-foot plateau.

Use Highway 14 from Cedar City through Cedar City Canyon to reach Cedar Breaks National Monument, Navajo Lake and Duck Creek. From Highway 14, pause at roadside turnouts to enjoy the scenery sweeping down toward the cliff tops marking Zion Canyon. This highway accesses an area with creeks, lakes, campgrounds, trails and viewpoints appealing to all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts. Follow it east to Long Valley Junction to reach scenic Highway 89.

From Parowan, follow Highway 143 upward through Brian Head Village and ski area to reach Cedar Breaks Mammoth Creek, Panguitch Lake or another U.S. 89 junction in Panguitch. A spur road links this route with Highway 14 near Cedar Breaks. Drive the short road from Highway 143 to the promontory called Brian Head. A 360-degree view over hundreds of miles in three states awaits those who walk the alpine trail to the roofed viewing platform. No wonder they call this part of Utah "Color Country."

Utah’s Highway 12 through Red Canyon takes travelers from U.S. 89 to the highway into Bryce Canyon National Park. Highway 12 runs through brilliant rock formations rivaled in the fall by the vividly colored foliage. The national park lies on the eroded edge of the high Paunsaugunt Plateau. The park road runs south from Ruby’s Inn to the park visitor center, nearby historic hotel and campgrounds. As it runs for miles near the rim to a final 9,100-foot viewpoint, the road skirts forests shot through with flaming autumn color on one hand and numerous scenic rim viewpoints on the other. This high country access route closes seasonally when snows arrive.

Approached by highways through Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park presents gorgeous autumn color. The canyon cuts through the forested Kaibab Plateau, but forests at the higher North Rim include more kinds of trees that color up seasonally.

Access the North Rim from U.S. 89 by following Alternate U.S. 89 south from Kanab, Utah, through Fredonia, Ariz., to Jacob Lake, where you turn on Highway 67 to the park. Southern Nevadans also approach the North Rim more directly by taking Highway 9 from I-15 to Hurricane, Utah, where they follow Highway 59/389 to Alternate U.S. 89 at Fredonia.

Beyond the complex of national park facilities and the grand old hotel at the North Rim, several park roads extend to distant rim overlooks. These routes offer not only marvelous viewpoints, but also wonderful autumn calendar scenes along the way. Unlike the South Rim that stays open all year, the North Rim closes to visitation in November because of snow.

The high Pine Valley Mountains lie west of I-15 opposite Zion National Park and the Markagunt Plateau. Reached from St. George by way of scenic Highway 18 and the Pine Valley Highway from Central, Pine Valley remains a favorite place to enjoy fall color. The area includes lush forest and many varieties of trees and shrubs that take on autumnal brilliance. Drive through the village of Pine Valley to the Dixie National Forest campgrounds at the head of the canyon. Several trails into the high country begin there. Snows close some facilities in this high mountain recreation area soon after the fall color fades.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears Sundays.

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