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Treasure chest: Utah is a cornucopia of exciting outdoor sites

Published: Wednesday, March 23 2011 6:30 p.m. MDT

In Daggett County: Located near the junction of Highways 44 and 191 is the Swett Ranch Historical Site, which represents historic Western homesteading at its best. The original cabins still exist, as do many of the old farming artifacts. Near Brown's Park is Jarvie Historical Ranch. Restored for visitors to this old ranch are several early building: a stone house, dugout, blacksmith shop and corrals.

One of the central figures to this area in the outlaw era was Jarvie, a Scottish immigrant. In the 1880s, he operated a ferry, was the postmaster, storekeeper, moonshine maker, livestock owner, blacksmith, prospector, musician, athlete and scholar. In 1909, Jarvie was shot in the back by two thieves who ransacked his store and shipped his body down the Green River.

In Iron County: Located between I-15 and Highway 30, a little west of Little Salt Lake, is Parowan Gap, which is a long, slender section of sedimentary rock sheared from the earth's crust along parallel fault lines dating back some 15 million years. Within the gap are the Parowan petroglyphs, which are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The importance of this rock art is that it is believed to be the work of several cultural groups.

In Tooele County: Out in the middle of nowhere is Blue Lake, located along the old Pony Express Trail and past the old ghost town of Gold Hills. It is a spring-fed pool of water that has become popular with swimmers and divers. There are fish and structures to explore, including old sunken boats. Fall and winter are great times to dive. The lake itself is an interesting stop on the way to Wendover any time of the year.

In Kane County: The newest of the country's protected areas — Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument — stand in splendor. There are 959 miles of open roads within the Grand Staircase, of which 565 are open for off-highway vehicles. This is an excellent place to explore. One tour is the 46-mile Cottonwood Canyon dirt road from Cannonville to U.S. highway 89, which links Lake Powell and Kanab. Notable points of interest include Kodachrome Basin State Park, Grosvenor Arch and the Cockscomb, one of the park's most startling geological features. Ten miles west of the junction with 89 is the Paria Road, which leads to an old movie set and to the abandoned town of Pahreah.

There are also two slot canyons in the area that are not on the map — Round Valley and Bull Valley. The easiest one to reach is Bull Valley. Access is about a mile off the main road. From a perfectly flat entrance, it drops down into a canyon several hundred feet deep in places and is narrow enough to touch both walls at the same time. These are but a few of the slot canyons to be discovered in the county.

In Emery County: Fifteen minutes from the heart of the town of Green River is Crystal Geyser, located on the eastern banks of the Green River. The geyser came to life in 1935 when a petroleum test well was dug. Instead of oil, what gushed from the ground was cold water. Carbon dioxide-powered, cold-water geysers are rare. Over the years, minerals from the geyser have created beautifully colored cascading steps down to the water's edge. When it erupts, which is about every 14 hours, give or take a few hours, it rises upward of 90 feet. The geyser is accessible both by water and roadway.

There is a number of very impressive walls of early American rock art within the county, most notably Black Dragon Canyon, located near the junction of I-70 and the Hanksville turnoff at milepost 147. A dirt road, which is not a traditional freeway exit, heads north toward the canyon.

Also accessible from the town of Green River, but in another county, are Tusher and Coal canyons, both of which hold excellent panels of rock art.

In San Juan County: Find the Valley of the Gods. While a lot of attention is paid to Monument Valley, the Valley of the Gods, a 12-mile section of dirt road down in the southeastern most corner of Utah, is no less spectacular, but far less known. The area is an erosional feature found along the San Juan River. Standing up like a few remaining figures in a well-played chess game are solid-rock buttes rising up from the valley floor.

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