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Ray Boren, Deseret Morning News
A buck stands along Skyline Drive. Some of the state's largest elk and deer herds are found in the nearby Manti-La Sal National Forest.

The take on Sanpete County, located in the very heart of the state, is that it's a mystery. And the mystery is not about just some things, but all things.

"I'd say the whole county is something that's a hidden secret," said Kevin Christensen, with Sanpete County Travel. "But, we think people are slowly discovering what it is we have to offer in the way of recreation."

What you know:

There are some things in the county that are fairly well-known, whether or not they are identified with Sanpete County.

Skyline Drive, for example, which runs along the eastern border, is one of the state's more beautiful scenic drives.

It rises up from the rest area in Spanish Fork Canyon and runs, following it to its end, to I-70, with a slight jaunt near the top of Fairview Canyon.

The drive is 87 miles long, with most of it within the county. It is a relatively flat section of road, mostly dirt, but the fact that most of it is located above the 10,000-foot elevations means it offers some spectacular views — east into the depths of the Manti-La Sal National Forest and west into agricultural communities such as Fairview, Mt. Pleasant, Spring City, Ephraim and Manti.

The fact that the road up Fairview Canyon is maintained over the winter means it opens up a huge list of recreational opportunities, ranging from fishing to snowmobiling to camping to mountain biking.

Fairview Canyon is by itself a pretty well-known landmark. The canyon, with the steep mountain slopes projecting up on both sides, is a popular drive and an access point for The Energy Loop: Huntington and Eccles Canyons Scenic Byway.

The road, which splits off to either Scofield or Huntington, is one of the most beautiful in the country — duly noted now in the national ledgers of the country's most scenic byways. To make the prestigious list, the drives must have archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities.

The Manti-La Sal National Forest holds some of the state's largest elk and deer herds. Officials estimate there are more than 15,000 elk. And, about the same time the leaves begin to turn, the bull elk begin to bugle, signaling the start of the fall mating ritual.

Near Huntington Reservoir, back in 1988, excavators discovered the skeleton of a prehistoric Colombian mammoth. Later they discovered the jaw of a short-faced bear, said to be half the size of today's grizzly bear, along with a few primitive stone tools.

The museum in Fairview shows a full-size replica of the Huntington mammoth, along with a number of other historic artifacts.

Another well-known feature of the county is the Mormon Miracle Pageant held in Manti in late June each year. Thousands make the drive to the small community, home of Snow College, each year to view the choreographed production on the lawn of the Manti Temple.

What you don't know:

Because Skyline Drive sits on the Wasatch Plateau, at the very top of the mountain, and gets an abundance of snow, it is slowly being recognized as one of the state's best snowmobiling areas.

As Christensen pointed out, "The area does not have the steep mountains that they have to the north, which means we have hundreds of miles of relatively flat terrain and good snow."

The Division of Parks and Recreation grooms about 80 miles of access trails to the plateau out of Ephraim and Manti.

This is also a great area for cross country skiing.

What makes this all so convenient for the snowmobilers or cross country skiers is the access to nearby towns — Fairview, Mt. Pleasant, Moroni, Spring City, Ephraim and Manti.

People are able to stay and dine in towns, then load up and be on the mountain riding or sliding in minutes.

One of the newest activities is snowboarding. From the top of Fairview Canyon, riders team up and while one shuttles, others ride the slopes back down to the pickup point, then change jobs and return to the top.

In the summer the mountains remain, but the snow is gone so backcountry roads are open to vehicles, ATVs and bike riders.

The county Web site lists a number of possible rides, including the 28-mile Josephite Point Loop/Pete's Hole ride over improved and unimproved roads and single track. This, it notes, "is a five star ride through some of the country's most challenging and beautiful areas."

The Twelve Mile Flat Loop is 11 miles and it rated ideal for novice to intermediate bikers. This trail passes through the highest area of the plateau and offers some spectacular views of surrounding areas.

Again, because the area sits on a plateau, the slopes are more gentle, making for easy riding. There is also an extensive road system running off Skyline Drive and down around Huntington Reservoir and further south around Ferron Reservoir.

And who would ever believe that near the center of the county is an area of steep, rugged cliffs that is drawing rock climbers from all over the country.

Maple Canyon, located west of Moroni, offers climbers more than 80 established routes.

Within the canyon are miles of near-continuous vertical cliffs located near the main road. The cliffs are a conglomerate rock, which resembles a cobblestone surface, which offers lots of hand and foot holds to make climbing challenging and fun. In more recent years, the canyon has become popular with ice climbers.

Besides being a great area for wildlife viewing, the lakes to the east of Skyline Drive offer some excellent fishing, not only in lakes like Huntington and Ferron, but also several smaller lakes.

In the summer there are some great camping areas within the Manti-La Sal Forest, which make this area even more convenient for bikers, ATV riders, anglers and those who simply want to enjoy the out-of-doors.

Horseback riding is another activity gaining favor with visitors. One of the more popular riding areas is Canal Canyon, which is southeast of Spring City.

Sanpete County may not be as well known as some of its neighbors for its recreational opportunity, there's little doubt that it's slowly being found out.

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