North of Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, consider getting off Interstate 15 at Parowan to take State Highway 143 south. You’ll pass by alpine meadows and lakes, breathtaking canyons and six different life zones rollercoastering over 4,500 feet of elevation change. If you drive over the summit by night, find a turnoff and kill your lights to experience nighttime skies that hearken back to a time before electricity. This undeveloped wilderness offers one of the darkest skies in the nation.
Called the Patchwork Parkway, it winds through Brian Head Ski Resort whose slopes rise to an elevation of 11,315-feet; touches the north side of Cedar Breaks National Monument and the Dixie National Forest and passes by highland wetlands and scenic Panguitch Lake. In June, wildflowers and wildlife fill the plateaus of Cedar Breaks National Monument. Take a break to hike a short trail or wander out to Alpine Pond.
Part of the Dixie National Forest, a 2-million acre preserve, you will see forests dominated by pine, spruce and fir interspersed with aspen. Currently a State Scenic Byway under nomination to become a national byway, the 51-mile drive soars over mountain and meadow landscapes that offer stunning autumn views when the aspen leaves turn the hills a bright yellow.
Anchored by two historic Mormon settlements, Parowan and Panguitch, take time for a quick cultural tour in either town to see homes and buildings from the 150-year old settlements still in use today. Panguitch Lake means “big fish” in Paiute and is still a favorite fishing hole. Stop in Panguitch, whose entire downtown is an historic monument. Note the number of brick homes.
Townspeople employed by the local brick factory were paid in brick, instead of currency. The Annual Quilt Walk Festival in June celebrates the “Panguitch Quilt Walk” by Mormon settlers during their first winter in Panguitch. When their crops failed due to freezing, a group of seven men “walked” the 40 miles to Parawan by laying quilts on top of the snow in order to get out to bring back food.
Butch Cassidy is a famous Panquitch resident. He is said that he and his mother last met at the Blue Pine Motel in Panguitch. The small log cabin where he grew up is located about 25 miles north on U.S. 89. An oral history of Cassidy was recorded by his friend Wallace Ott and can be heard at the Cannonville Visitor Center.
Turn south at Panguitch on Interstate 89 to connect with Hwy. 9 into Zion’s eastern entrance. Parowan Gap and Vermillion Cliffs offer glimpses into our ancient cultural history. Throughout the area, Fremont and Paiutes pictographs and petroglyphs still are visible carved into or painted onto the bright red canyon walls.