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BLM > Arizona > What We Do > Recreation > Autotouring & Pleasure Driving > Vermilion Cliffs Highways Scenic Drive
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Vermilion Cliffs Highways Scenic Drive
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"Saga of Exploration and Survival"

Amazing sights await you, as you drive the only paved roads in the Arizona Strip region.

Location

Embarking from the spectacular Virgin River Gorge, south of St. George, Utah, you can follow 277 miles of all-weather roads winding, through small rural communities to the Navajo Indian Reservation on the east.  The Vermilion Cliffs Highways encompass parts of Interstate 15, and State Highways 9, 59, 389, 89 and 89-A.

Description

The Vermilion Cliffs Highways is a project involving a partnership of 40 public and private entities providing a combination of 21 interpretive sites or scenic overlooks along 277 miles of state highways in northern Arizona and southern Utah. These roads generally follow the winding ramparts of the lengthy and beautiful Vermilion Cliffs. This cliff line is traceable from the Gunlock Reservoir area of southwest Utah to the Tuba City area of north-central Arizona.

Scenic overlooks and historic and prehistoric sites along the highways convey various aspects of the overall theme of "exploration and survival". These sites are tied inextricably to past and present "exploration" of existing landforms and the use of natural resources for "survival".

The Vermilion Cliffs Highways traverse some of the most scenic landforms in the West. In addition, the various highways are, in many cases, historic transportation routes used for centuries by succeeding waves of humanity in the region.

Best Season

May - October. Roads may not be passable in winter months. It is advised that you contact BLM's Arizona Strip Field Office or the National Weather Service for current road conditions and weather forecasts.

NEARBY RECREATION SITES AND AREAS

Along the Way

Interstate 15, and Highway 9 - The western end of the Vermilion Cliffs Highways corridor. These segments breach what was once a formidable barrier to transportation created by the Beaver Dam and Virgin Mountains. These segments also graphically show the abrupt change from the more somber Basin and Range Physiographic Province in the west to the colorful, layer-cake geology of the Colorado Plateau Province to the east. The power of moving, folding land masses is evident everywhere, especially in the Virgin River Gorge where the Grand Wash Fault line plays a prominent role in the lay of the land.

The Highway 9 segment passes through the Virgin Anticline, a large, asymmetrical, descending anticline or "hump" in the earth. Both the St. George and Hurricane, Utah areas show evidence of past volcanic activity, primarily in the form of cinder cones, intrusive masses (Pine Valley Mountains west of Hurricane), and basalt flows. Evidence of pioneer history can be seen in the pioneer park in the center of Hurricane. The historic Bradshaw Hotel depicts what life would have been like when pioneers first settled this town. Hurricane provides opportunities for visitors to stay overnight in the community with many new hotels.

Highway 59 and Highway 389 - The central core of the Vermilion Cliffs Highways begins with Highway 59 at Hurricane, Utah and proceeds east along Highway 59 and Highway 389 to Fredonia, Arizona. Highway 59 abruptly climbs through the next east-west barrier to transportation--the Hurricane Cliffs. It is said that these cliffs represent one of the longest exposed escarpments or line of cliffs in the world. The Hurricane Fault is the second (after the Grand Wash Fault) in what is a series of huge block faults segmenting the Arizona Strip from east to west. Once atop the Hurricane Cliffs a spectacular vista of 8 major geologic formations unfolds to the north in the Zion National Park and Kolob Terrace region. It is from here that one may see the thickest accumulation of the Navajo Sandstone formation--some 2,000 feet!

Highways 59 and 389 continue east across the rolling slopes of sand-covered Chinle and Moenkopi geologic formations. The imposing ramparts of Canaan Mountain rise above Colorado City, Arizona bringing the Vermilion Cliffs close to the highway where the intricate colors and textures of the various rock formations may be seen more readily. The cottonwood-lined banks of Short Creek, emerging from the Vermilion Cliffs at Colorado City show that good townsites require water; whether bustling, growing towns of today or Virgin Anasazi villages of the far past--both are present here.

A recent discovery of a Virgin Anasazi pueblo in downtown Colorado City led BLM and Southern Utah University to form a partnership to excavate the remains of this indian village. Colorado City and the BLM are working together tostabilize and interpret the site. Interpretation will eventually display local artifacts from the excavation and relate the history of both the past and present inhabitants of this community.

Pipe Springs National Monument is an historic Mormon settlement that is part of the National Park system. Living history here accurately depicts how an early Mormon settlement looked and worked in the 1800's. Across the street is the Kaibab Paiute tribal headquarters.

Highways 59 and 389 parallel the slow curve of the Vermilion Cliffs until reaching the town of Fredonia, Arizona. A small town of less than one thousand residents, Fredonia possesses a rich history of "exploration and survival", from early explorations and accounts by Sharlot Hall, John Wesley Powell, and Clarence Dutton to a more modern day "survival" based on the use of timber, mineral, grazing, and tourist resources.

Highway 89-A and Highway 89 - Fredonia is a western point of departure for the Highway 89-A and Highway 89 loop. This loop proceeds east on Highway 89-A from Fredonia through wide open landscapes of rolling sage plains that slowly rise to the approach of the Kaibab Plateau, or west Kaibab Monocline. To the north, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a scenic region of successive, multi-colored cliffs that includes the Vermilion Cliffs, can readily be seen rising to elevations of over 11,000 feet above sea level. This land of impenetrable barriers to prehistoric and historic people is one of scenic attractions today.

Fredonia houses the North Kaibab Ranger District Office where visitors can obtain information. Sharlot Hall first spoke of the great potential for agricultural development of this area in 1911 and was instrumental in keeping the "Strip", (the geographic area north of the Colorado River in Arizona), in the State of Arizona, rather than being acquired by the State of Utah. The Arizona Department of Transportation, (ADOT) is also proposing construction of a welcome center in Fredonia.

The sage-covered plains west of the Kaibab Plateau quickly give way to shrub, then juniper and pinyon woodlands, which finally give way to ponderosa pine forest, most evident in the Jacob Lake area. Jacob Lake is the gateway to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, only 45 miles to the south. It provides lodging, food, camping, picnicking and information about the region.

Jacob Lake has been a point of departure for modern (and not so modern) explorations of the northern Grand Canyon region. At the Forest Service's Kaibab Plateau Visitor Center, interpretive exhibits include information on recreation opportunities, ecosystem management, geology, vegetation, fire, wildlife, and cultural history. The visitor center is open seasonally spring through fall.

Descending the Kaibab Plateau to the east, the east Kaibab Monocline is crossed as the highway drops to the floor of House Rock Valley. A small pullout currently provides a breathtaking view across the broad grassy plain of House Rock Valley, at the base of the Vermilion Cliffs, to the walls of Marble Canyon, the Kaibab Plateau, and the far off Echo Cliffs (the easternmost extension of the Vermilion Cliffs). Once again, all along this highway, the evidence of human use is scarce and generally blends with the "western" feel of the area.

Continuing east, the Vermilion Cliffs dominate the northern viewshed while the wide-open expanse of the Marble Platform spread out to the south and east. From House Rock Valley, the Kaibab Plateau to the west enhances the already colorful scene with dark shades of green and in winter, white, snow-capped plateau rims.

The entire Highway 89-A/Highway 89 loop circles the massive Paria Plateau and northern Kaibab Plateau Uplift. Again, these routes show the desire for mobility and transportation of people and goods, as they penetrate what were thought to be impenetrable physical barriers such as the Kaibab Plateau, Marble Canyon, Glen Canyon, and the Cockscomb. Sites along the way such as the Dominguez-Escalante Interpretive Site, Navajo Bridge, Glen Canyon Dam, and the Pahreah Townsite all show various attempts, successes, and failures at exploration, settlement, and survival over time.

Scenic Overlooks

Highway 59

Pullout viewing the Dixie Resource Area:
Scenic vistas of the Zion National Park-Smithsonian Butte area explored by John Wesley Powell and Clarence Dutton in the late 1800s.

Highway 389

Pullout viewing the Arizona Strip:
A new pullout to be developed along the highway will provide opportunities to see and understand the diverse ecosystems of Arizona Strip, from the desert environments to the mountain forests.

Highway 89A

LeFevre Overlook:
The North Kaibab Ranger District has plans for a short interpretive walk and a picnic area, with rest room facilities at this beautiful overlook. It is from this overlook that the best view of the new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is obtained.

House Rock Valley Overlook:
This pullout provides an excellent view of House Rock Valley and a portion of the Vermilion Cliffs far in the distance.

Highway 89

Antelope Pass Scenic Overlook:
A sweeping view of the Marble Platform, Vermilion Cliffs and Kaibab Plateau await you at this highway pullout on the Navajo Reservation south of Page, Arizona.

Navajo Scenic Overlook:
From this pullout on the Navajo Reservation, you can try to take in the immense panorama of the Vermilion Cliffs, Lake Powell, Navajo Mountain, and much of the Kaiparowits Plateau within the new Grand Staircase-Escalante Canyons National Monument.

Shinarump Cliffs
Just east of Johnson Canyon, this highway pullout offers beautiful panoramas of the Vermilion Cliffs to the north and portions of the Shinarump Cliffs to the south and west. In the distance, the Kaibab Plateau stretches beyond the southwestern horizon. 

EMERGENCY SERVICES

In case you encounter unexpected trouble:

  • Nearest Hospital: Kane County Hospital, Kanab, UT
  • Nearest Law Enforcement: Mohave County Sheriff
  • Nearest BLM Office:  St. George, Utah

FOR MORE INFORMATION


  Arizona Strip Field Office 
345 East Riverside Drive
St. George, UT 84790-6714
Phone: (435) 688-3200
Fax: (435) 688-3258
Field Manager:  Lorraine Christian 
Hours: 7:45 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday-Friday
10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Saturday