Capitol Dome

Scenic Byway 24 - Utah State Highway 24

Utah Scenic Byway 24 is 160 miles long, from US89 in Salina to I-70 near Green River.  Scenic Byway 24 heads south from Salina, crosses under I-70 at mile marker 48 and continues into Kings Meadow Canyon.  Scenic Byway 24 begins its climb uphill to Parker Mountain Pass at elevation 8,385' (2,556 m), passing U25 to Fish Lake (at elevation 8,848', 2,697 m), one of the best trout fisheries in Utah, 2-3 miles before crossing Parker Mountain pass.

Scenic Byway 24 turns east at the summit, and stays pretty much above 7,000' (2,134 m) into a scenic drive alongside Fremont River through the Fremont River Canyon (Capitol Reef Scenic Byway) in Capitol Reef National Park where it cuts through the Waterpocket Fold monocline.  Scenic Byway 24 slopes gently downhill to Hanksville at elevation 4,125' (1,257 m), turns northeast in open desert alongside San Rafael Reef with distant views of the La Sal and Henry Mountains, passing Goblin Valley State Park on its way to I-70 at milemarker 147, thirteen miles west of Green River.

Capitol Reef National Park was created to protect Waterpocket Fold, a warp in the earth's crust that is 65 million years old.  It is the largest exposed monocline in North America.  Newer and older layers of earth are folded over each other in an S-shape.  This warp, probably caused by the same colliding continental plates that created the Rocky Mountains, has weathered and eroded over millennia to expose layers of rock and fossils.  The park is filled with brilliantly colored sandstone cliffs, gleaming white domes, and contrasting layers of stone and earth.

The 152 miles between Scenic Byway 24's east and west junctions with I-70 is significantly longer than the equally scenic 99 miles as I-70 climbs Salina Canyon to the highest freeway elevation in Utah (7,980' at Emigrant Pass on the Wasatch Plateau).  I-70 climbs onto and crosses San Rafael Swell, dropping down 8-mile hill across San Rafael Reef to once again meet Scenic Byway 24 at mile marker 147.  If I counted correctly, there are seven pullovers/viewpoints with some awesome scenic vistas on I-70 as it crosses the Swell.

A rancher, referring to the crack in San Rafael Reef where I-70 passes through it (photo), said that before the blasting opened it up for the highway he could stand in that slot canyon and touch both walls by extending my arms.  I-70 through San Rafael Swell is unique in several ways.  It charted new territory, going where no roads existed; it is the largest segment of interstate opened at once; and the 110 mile segment between Salina and Green River is the longest stretch of interstate with no services.

Other Scenic Color Country sites along Scenic Byway 24 include Capitol Reef National Park, Waterpocket Fold, San Rafael Swell, Scenic Byway 12, and Scenic Byway 95.