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.
The town was abandoned in 1955 when the National Park Service bought it for inclusion in the massive Capital Reef National Park. Few buildings remain except for the 1896 one-room schoolhouse, although the park service maintains about 2,500 fruit trees as a "historic landscape." Nearby, ancient rock art called petroglyphs carved into the walls of a towering cliff by the Freemont Indians can be easily accessed by walking along raised boardwalks.
Backtracking toward Teasdale, I headed northwest along Route 24 where the next 53 miles gave me another look at some spectacular scenery. Passing through Loa, (at 7,045 feet about sea level, it’s one of Utah’s highest county seats), Bicknell and Koosharem, I arrived in Richfield, where I had lunch in the Bank and Vault Bistro, housed in the town’s restored 1899 bank.
One of the reasons for traveling a NHA is to sample not only the historic sites and scenic treasures but also to get a look at local crafts and art galleries and a taste of the indigenous foods.
In the old cowboy town of Salina, I stopped at Mom’s Café, a homey, unpretentious eatery that’s been around for more than 80 years and is famous for its pie. Not that the down-home service and atmosphere isn’t a draw, it’s just that pies, especially the mouth-watering blueberry sour cream, have made Mom’s famous in these parts.
Further north in Gunnison, I took a tour of the 1912 Casino Star Theatre, renovated to its original glory four years ago to serve as an entertainment mecca for the surrounding communities. In Manti, home of one of Utah’s earliest (and most beautiful) Mormon temples, I got to watch as Joseph Bennion fired up his large outdoor kiln to demonstrate how he makes scores of clay artifacts for his Horseshoe Mountain Pottery enterprise.
Utah’s Cowboy past (and present) came alive in Mt. Pleasant at the ConToy Arena, where I saw modern day ranch hands rope cattle and do fancy equestrian maneuvers, then ended the day with a walk through the Fairview Museum of History and Art, where the replica of a nearly fully intact mammoth unearthed at the nearby Wasatch Plateau in 1988 vies for patrons’ attention with the works of Avard Fairbanks, the artist responsible for many of the sculptures on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
If You’re Going
For more information on Utah and the Mormon Pioneer NHA, phone 800-200-1160 or visit websites www.utah.travel or mormonpioneerheritge.org.
For a place to stay, the historic Manti House B & B, 401 N. Main St., one block from the impressive Manti Mormon Temple, has seven beautifully furnished guest rooms and serves a delicious breakfast each morning. Phone 800-835-7512.
Dave Zuchowski is a travel writer for CNHI News Service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.