Unlike many other states that we’ve visited, Utah seems to be almost entirely covered in Public Land. You can pull of the highway almost anywhere and find a beautiful landscape in which to walk, drive around or camp, with few fences or gates to restrict movement. Even areas not nominally called National Forests, Parks or Monuments are usually owned by a public body such as the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service, and have free public access. It is extremely rare that we see a Private Property – No Trespassing sign in Utah, and so a few miles into the forested mountains flanking Utah 14, we pulled over went for a walk. We walked up a badly deteriorated dirt road through the pine forest, finding rivers and lakes along the way, and in our two hours in the wilderness the only other people we saw were a group of three guys out riding their dirt bikes together.
Back on the highway we continued east, until we reached the turnoff for the 148, a road which passes through the Cedar Breaks National Monument. At over 10,000 feet above sea level, Cedar Breaks is noticeably cooler than the surrounding area, and we stopped to take a walk along the rim of the magnificent red rock amphitheatre in the heart of the park.
Not feeling up to a steep hike below the rim, we continued on our way, eventually joining Utah 12, headed west towards Bryce Canyon National Park. By the time we arrived near Bryce it was late in the day, and not wishing to waste our money on a campground in the park, we drove into the adjacent Dixie National Forest on East Fork Road, looking for a place to spend the night. On our map, we found an unnamed forest road which branched off East Fork Road and appeared to lead directly into the National Park, near to Bryce Canyon Lodge.
East Fork Road is a wide, well graded and well maintained gravel road. The road which we came off onto, headed east towards Bryce, was significantly less convenient. It was narrower and rockier than we would normally choose to drive down, but the convenience of having a free, forested camping spot, just outside the park, was too appealing to resist. We found a place to park, sheltered amongst the trees and with a well-used fire pit nearby. In the morning we drove further down the four mile road towards Bryce; thankfully the road did not deteriorate, and we reached the park boundary safely and in good time. Unfortunately, what our map, and the sign posts failed to mention was that there was a locked gate at the end of the road. We could see the Bryce Canyon National Park Road from the gate which we were stopped at, but with no bolt croppers to hand, we turned around, and drove the 25 miles back to the park entrance, going the long way round.