The last time I counted, there were 49 National Heritage Areas in the U.S., places designated by Congress where natural, cultural, historic and scenic ingredients combine to form a nationally important landscape.
Intended to encourage historic preservation, the NHAs are scattered across the country, and each one tells a unique story about the nation.
In mid-spring, I managed to take an auto tour of a portion of the Utah Mormon Pioneer NHA, which extends all the way from the Arizona border in the South 250 miles north just beyond the town of Fairview.
At Boulder, along Route 12 on a southern section of the NHA, I stopped for a look around Anasazi State Park Museum. One of the largest Ancestral Pueblan settlements west of the Colorado and occupied between 1160 and 1235 AD, the site was excavated in the 20th Century by archaeologists who unearthed 97 rooms and 10 pit structures as well as more than 162,000 artifacts.
Many of the recovered relics are on display at the park’s interactive museum, but the favorite part of my stopover was the walk around the archaeological digs out back. While I followed paths that weaved through semi-desert landscape, interpretive signs explained Ancient Pueblo life and outlines delineated unexcavated dwellings. At one spot, visitors can enter a reconstructed life-size, six room replica of a section of a settlement.
Later, the mountainous road north on Route 12 gave me a good look down on a portion of the Water Pocket Fold, a 100-mile long wrinkle in the earth’s crust that acts as a cliff-like barrier to travelers. After spending the night in Teasdale at Red River Ranch, a rustic, upscale Western-style lodge with a spectacular view of nearby red bluffs and a three-story Great Room with open beams and huge stone fireplace, I headed east along Route 24 to the small town of Fruita, a 300-acre desert oasis once famous for its orchards of fruit trees.