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Utah: A Land Of Illusion

May 04, 1986|BETTY HUGHES | Assistant Travel Editor

If I had to find the perfect phrase to describe Utah as seen from our motor home during a tour of the southern portion of that state, it would be deja vu.

Throughout our trip we had an uncanny, back-of-the-mind feeling that we had been there before. We hadn't.

For both my husband, Bill, and me there was an eerie familiarity at seeing the delicate, Gothic-like spires of Bryce Canyon piercing the cloudy sky; an intimacy about having been previously awed by the towering white walls of Zion; the sensation of having followed the soaring red-rock spans of Arches National Park in some forgotten time.

Even after the closeness of 30-plus years of marriage, I hesitated mentioning the deja vu feeling. Ever since a modern-day Merlin told me that astrologically I was a witch in a previous life, Bill mercilessly teases me about my flying-broomstick prowess.

But he was the first to mention it.

On a clear, cold night, with the stars sprinkled in a midnight sky seemingly close enough to touch, we sat huddled under a blanket on the steps of our motor home, sipping spiked cups of hot tea.

"It feels like revisiting a wonderful vacation from your childhood, doesn't it?" he asked, sending puffs of pipe smoke into the night.

And then, down-to-earth logician that he is, he calmly reasoned why the landscapes of Utah seemed so familiar to both of us. It wasn't spooky at all. We'd simply seen them so often in the comfort of our living room, he pointed out.

Seeing poster and calendar art contributed to the familiarity. But we knew it more from films and TV. Of late, Dennis Weaver riding among the monoliths of Monument Valley in a commercial. And earlier movies that had Clint Eastwood and George Kennedy sitting atop one peak in "The Eiger Sanction." Or earlier still, John Wayne riding shotgun through a spectacular backdrop on a stagecoach, or maybe Charlton Heston roaming a devastated lunar-like Earth in "Planet of the Apes."

With such sensible observations, husband Bill put pf-f-t-t to my supposed psychic powers (again).

Many of the films shot here have also portrayed other states. With typical Hollywood switcherooie, Utah real estate has become sites in Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, the Rio Grande in Texas, Mexico, a dozen biblical locales, deserts such as the Sahara, Gobi and Arabian, to say nothing of assorted alien planets in dozens of science-fiction films and TV episodes. Small wonder it looked familiar.

All of this adds much to the adventuring and exploring of this southern portion of the state. For an added treat, you might tote along a good movie quiz book with your AAA and Mobil Travel guides, Woodall and Rand McNally camping guides.

For movie buffs particularly, trivia about which film was shot at what location in Utah is a pleasant sidelight although not an overriding reason for a trip here.

We had done our homework and knew what was in Utah and what we had come to see--any or all of the five national parks: Bryce, Zion, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches. But this spectacular southern portion of the state has a way of sidetracking its visitors.

Along our entire planned route we were booby-trapped by dozens of optional ways to further explore these individual sites of enormous beauty, whether by foot, horseback, mule, four-wheel-drive Jeep, raft, kayak, even aloft by helicopter.

You can prepare for these better than we did by asking for a brochure from the state on tours and tour operators. You'll also receive a good trail guide to each of the national parks so you can sensibly allot extra time to enjoy these in-depth explorations.

For us, these enticing booby-traps were unexpected pleasures.

One case in point: On a map an ordinary-looking little Utah 12 connects Bryce and Capitol Reef national parks. Be alerted: There is nothing ordinary about this road, particularly the last 32 miles between Boulder and Torrey. After 10 years of construction, this 32-mile section of road has finally just recently been opened to normal motor traffic. Before the opening it was a rough dirt road, impassable much of the time.

The name of the once remote plateau that the 32-mile drive crosses is Aquarius, and it climbs to 9,200 feet, majestically elevating the motorist and rewarding him with stupendous, sweeping vistas of Capitol Reef with its ever-changing buff, to orange, to red, to violet and purple shades, depending on the time of day.

Or to the east you'll see the brooding, mysterious area known as Robber's Roost, one-time hideaway of Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch. It's still one of the least-explored areas of the United States.

The new drive over the Aquarius Plateau is not difficult: no cliff-hugging, no scary drop-offs to contend with. There is a 30 m.p.h. speed limit and one or two 10% grades to handle, but we motored through in a rented 29-foot motor home without incident. The speed limit is posted primarily because mule deer and stray steers abound.

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