At the cleaned-up cemetery, I found a historic marker and artificial flowers on the hard earth graves of Mormon pioneers. They settled here around 1860 just down the Virgin River from the magnificent red rock cathedrals of Zion Canyon, but floods, disease and hostile Indians made the colony unsustainable. By 1910, most of them had moved on, leaving Grafton to Hollywood location scouts who found backdrops in southern Utah for a passel of westerns, including "The Deadwood Coach," with Tom Mix (1924), "My Friend Flicka" (1943) and John Ford's "Rio Grande" (1950).
Down the hill, the same historic preservationists who rehabbed the cemetery have fixed up an old Grafton homestead and the schoolhouse that Butch and Etta passed on their bicycle. Cattle still graze in nearby pastures and, of course, the Navajo sandstone cliffs behind the ghost town never needed restoration.
After that, I drove east through the red-and-white slick-rock country along Utah 9, then turned north on U.S. 89, another showstopper of a road that runs through the hamlet of Orderville, where shops sell porcelain dolls and custom-made coffins. In the late afternoon, the lowering sun highlights the edges of the nearby Markagunt and Paunsaugunt plateaus with colors you would never find in a paintbox and searches into side canyons for bad guys on the lam.
I turned east on Utah 12, headed for Ruby's Inn, on the threshold of amazing Bryce Canyon, whittled from limestone into a gallery of pinnacles and spires known as hoodoos. Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce, who gave his name to the landmark that is now a national park, once said, "It's a helluva place to lose a horse."
It would be just as hard to find a horse -- or, for that matter, a fugitive from justice -- in Red Canyon, an overture to Bryce a few miles west of the national park turnoff. Its Cassidy Trail fingers north into a network of gulches, lined by tangled cedars, scree, hoodoos and vermilion-colored cliffs, where locals say a posse tracked a teenage Butch when he took up rustling.
Bryce Canyon Pines, a nearby motel, offers daylong trail rides to the remains of one of the stone cabins where he is thought to have stashed fresh horses for the Pony Express-style relay escapes he perfected. But with snow on the ground when I was there, all I could do was clamber up the side of Cassidy Draw to ascertain that Butch knew a good hide-out when he saw one.
The next day, I drove west to the ranching town of Panguitch, with a main street made wide enough for a wagon to turn around. Its block-long business district has old-fashioned, Western storefronts occupied by cafes and shops, including Cowboy Collectibles, where I found reproductions of Wild Bunch wanted posters.
Panguitch is where Butch's youngest sister, Lula Parker Betenson, spent her last years after writing "Butch Cassidy, My Brother," published in 1975. The book confounded Western scholars with its assertion that Butch arrived at the Parker home in nearby Circleville in 1925 driving a new black Ford, unscathed by the bullets of federales who supposedly had killed him and Sundance.
Lula was just a toddler when her big brother left home, but in the 1930s she believed widely publicized claims that William T. Phillips of Spokane, Wash., was Butch. Later, she changed her mind, saying she knew where the real Butch was buried but planned to take the secret to her grave. She died in 1980.
Fame, Hollywood style
Ranches, barns and pastures line the 20-mile stretch of U.S. 89 north of Panguitch. West of the road just before Circleville, I spotted the lonesome old Parker homestead beside an alfalfa field and a poplar windbreak. It is privately owned, but there was no one to stop me from inspecting the wood cabin with a loft where Butch likely slept as a boy.
I stopped at Butch Cassidy's Hideout restaurant and motel in Circleville for Butch's Special Cheeseburger plate, then visited 84-year-old Alfred Fullmer. Sitting on the couch in his sunny living room, Fullmer remembered that he raced horses with some of the Parker boys.
Like some locals, he believed Lula's story about Butch's 1925 homecoming, though he said no one talked much about the bandit before the movie. "Afterward, everybody claimed they'd seen him. I don't know, maybe I did," Fullmer said with a rueful smile.
The next morning, I headed east on Utah 12, to my mind one of the finest scenic roads in the U.S. It makes a 120-mile loop through the minuscule ranching communities of Tropic, Cannonville and Henrieville at the threshold of 1.9-million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, then rounds the east side of 10,188-foot Powell Point. I drove with one hand on the wheel and the other on my camera all the way to the high desert town of Escalante, where I picked up my friend Bill Wolverton, a resource management ranger for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which abuts Grand Staircase-Escalante. He knows the region well and offered to take me for a hike.