Hell’s Backbone Scenic Drive in Utah
Built to join Boulder, the last frontier town in Utah that still relied on mules to deliver the mail, with Escalante, famous for Hole-In-The-Rock Expedition.
Hell’s Backbone may not the last road ever built, but surely it was the last one that seemed nearly impossible to build. Hell’s Backbone was another Civilian Conservation Corps engineering marvel that linked two of the most isolated communities in the country with that modern marvel– a road. Built to connect Boulder, the last frontier town in the state that still relied on mules to deliver the mail, with Escalante, made famous by its tortuous Hole-In-The-Rock Expedition.
The primitive road reaches into primal mountains that once were thought to be impassable. It lies like a serpent along the spine of the Aquarius Plateau, skirting the edge of The Box and Death Hollow and soars to over 9,000 feet. At one point it seems to flirt with the sky as it follows a narrow ridgeline that barely separates the sheer drop offs on either side. Hell’s Backbone Bridge is another heart stopping stretch that seems to perch precariously at the pinnacle of the mountain. From there the mountain views stretch for miles with nary a sign of human inhabitants. Posey Lake and its campground are as pretty as you will find. In the fall, extensive stands of aspen turn lemon yellow. Check for weather conditions before attempting this road, or you may have to overwinter.
Boulder may have been the last outpost to civilization in the 1930s, but today it offers a unique blend of isolation and sophistication. Hell’s Backbone Grill is Zagat-rated and worth the drive. Inspired by both Buddhist and Native American cultures and cuisine, it is part of the growing slow food movement. The Grille grows its own organic vegetables, raises its own bees for honey and chickens for eggs. They shop for Boulder-raised grass fed beef and lamb. They relocate pests and weed by hand. The Escalante River was the last region in the contiguous U.S. to be explored and mapped.
Getting there: Pull off of Utah Highway 12 about 5 miles south the town of Boulder and drive west on Hell’s Backbone Road (FR-153). The road runs halfway up Boulder Mountain to connect with the Posey Lake/Pine Creek Road. This road brings you back to Highway 12 near the town of Escalante. Map apps may not show this route during winter or bad weather closures. There is no cell phone coverage.