Sights Along U.S. 89
Johnson Canyon Road
Eight miles east of Kanab, Johnson Canyon Road heads north along the western border of the monument before joining Skutumpah Road and Glendale Bench Road.
This road system links up with several more remote backcountry roads in the monument, and eventually leads to Cannonville along Highway 12. From U.S. 89, Johnson Canyon Road is paved for its initial miles.
The road passes an abandoned movie set, where the TV series Gunsmoke was sometimes filmed. The road then climbs up through the scenic Vermilion and then White Cliffs of the Grand Staircase. The road eventually passes over Skutumpah Terrace, a rather featureless plateau covered with scrub.
Pariah Townsite Road
This road has several names, including Paria Valley Road. It turns north off U.S. 89 at Milepost 31. The five-mile dirt road is passable to cars when dry. It passes some towering and colorful canyons and mesas, among which the remains of a 1930s Western movie set are slowly decaying.
From the parking area, walking trails lead to the abandoned bleached wood buildings, which make for great photo opportunities against the rugged backdrop. Farther along the road, as it approaches the Paria River, are the remains of Pareah, although there’s not much left of this ghost town.
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
and Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon—a set of magnificent slot canyons that drain from Utah down through northern Arizona to the Grand Canyon—is the focus of popular multi-day canyoneering expeditions. Paria Canyon and 293,000 acres of surrounding desert grasslands are now protected as Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.
Although the monument spreads south from the Utah–Arizona border, access to the monument’s most famous sites is through back roads in Utah. In addition to the long Paria Canyon backpacking route, some shorter but strenuous day hikes explore this area.
For more information, contact the Kanab Visitor Center (745 E. U.S. 89, Kanab, 435/644-4680, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily) or stop at the Paria Contact Station, near Milepost 21 on U.S. 89.
Cottonwood Canyon Road
A few miles east of the Paria Ranger Station, Cottonwood Canyon Road leads north. The unpaved road’s lower portions, usually passable with a car in dry weather, pass through scenic landscapes as the road pushes north.
The route climbs up across a barren plateau before dropping down onto the Paria River. Several good hikes lead from roadside trailheads into steep side canyons. The route continues north along the Cockscomb, a long wrinkle of rock ridges that run north and south across the desert.
Big Water and Smoky Mountain Road
At the little crossroads of Big Water, Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument has built a new visitor center (100 Upper Revolution Way, Big Water, 435/675-3200, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily mid-Mar.–mid-Nov.) to serve the needs of travelers to the monument and to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (NRA), which is immediately adjacent to this area.
The visitor center is definitely worth a stop—it houses bones from a 75-million-year-old, 30-foot-long duck-billed dinosaur. Especially impressive are the backbone bearing toothmarks from a tyrannosaur and the 13-foot-long dino tail.
Joining Highway 89 at Big Water is Smoky Mountain Road. This long and rugged road links Big Water to Highway 12 at Escalante, 78 miles north. The southern portions of the route pass through Glen Canyon NRA, and side roads lead to remote beaches and flooded canyons. The original Planet of the Apes was shot here, before the area was inundated by Lake Powell.
From Big Water, it’s 19 miles to Page, Arizona, on U.S. 89.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition