Who says Provo Canyon and the Wasatch Front provide the prettiest mountain scenery ever seen? Who considers the Utah County area a cross between Italy and Wisconsin? And who views Utah County as an underpromoted area for out-of-state tourists?

A half-dozen California and Nevada newspaper writers who visited the area last weekend at the invitation of the Utah County Travel Council say so.Chances are these writers will share those impressions when they return and write travel and tourism articles for their newspapers, which range from the giant Los Angeles Times to small Southern California community dailies.

They were part of the group of two-dozen Travel Council guests - including a dozen-plus writers from Utah newspapers - making a whirlwind visit in and around Utah County.

In fact, the jam-packed itinerary included stops at the Utah Pageant of the Arts, the Springville Art Museum, the McCurdy Doll Museum, Brigham Young University, the Alpine Loop, Cascade Springs, Midway's Homestead Resort, the Heber Creeper, the Bridal Veil Falls tram, Sundance Resort and the Sundance Summer Theatre - all in less than 48 hours.

Rich Gubbe, a feature editor for the Las Vegas Sun, was making his inaugural visit not only to the Utah County area but to the state itself. Although having heard of the nothing-to-see-and-do syndrome, he admitted to making the trip with an open mind.

As he rode the Heber Creeper along Deer Creek Reservoir and down into Provo Canyon, Gubbe likened the area to a composite of Italy and, yes, Wisconsin. He said the mountains reminded him of Italy, and the weather, the trees, the people and the friendly attitudes had him recalling Wisconsin.

Lucille Thomas of the Oceanside (Calif.) Blade-Tribune, also a first-time visitor to Utah, echoed the sentiments about the mountains and the local residents. "A very pretty state with very friendly people - some of the prettiest mountains I've ever seen," she said as she took in the view from the top station of the Bridal Veil Falls tram. "The people here are definitely friendlier than those in California."

During intermission of the Sundance Summer Theatre production of "Robber Bridegroom," Bill Hughes of the Los Angeles Times confided that his pre-trip thoughts included "that there was not that much to do" in Utah County and that local lodging would be "Motel 6-type accommodations."

However, Hughes found his introduction to Utah County - he said he has passed through Provo several times before en route to other destinations - quite favorable. "It's underpromoted so far in our area, in California."

Hughes writes a "Mature Traveler" column for the 50-and-older reader, as well as travel options for that age group. His readership boasts "more discretionary time and more discretionary money," he said, adding that in the Los Angeles area alone, more than 300,000 senior-citizen groups and organizations average at least a trip a month.

The veteran writer is no stranger to Utah, having helped the Utah Travel Council several years ago in producing a brochure on southern Utah geared toward the "mature" angle. He also assisted in a video-cassette project on the same area, with some of his segments later being extracted as a television commercial.

Hughes said he sees Utah County as a convenient stopover for tourists headed for Utah, with Provo and the surrounding areas offering welcomed sites and services for those destined to Salt Lake City or southern Utah's national parks. The canyon could also become an equal - but much closer - alternative to West Coast travelers seeking the autumn beauty of Virginia, Kentucky and the New England area, he added.

The weekend entourage is not the only out-of-state media group to be entertained recently by the Utah County Travel Council. A few days earlier, magazine writers with a recreational emphasis - including representatives from the National Geographic and Field & Stream - were in town. Later this summer, another group of newspaper writers - this time originating from Colorado - will make the tour.

Exposure generated by media visits to the area is invaluable, said James Young, council director. For a typical travel story published in a newspaper, "it would cost us $15,000 to get that kind of writing," he said.

While the travel council is funded in part by Utah County and the Mountainlands Association of Governments, such media trips don't become the budget burden that some taxpayers might imagine, Young added. Many of the fees for sites and services, along with the flight arrangements, rental cars and lodging accommodations, are donated.