There are several places in southeast Utah that offer an opportunity to get away from the big crowds. Bears Ears National Monument has been in the news the last few years and the exposure has increased visitation. Even so, this is a very desolate region and there is plenty more room to roam. Very few mainstream tourists take the time to venture into Fry Canyon, White Canyon or the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which cover a lot of ground in southeast Utah. In fact, the Canyonlands National Park Needles District must also be thrown into the mix, because the majority of tourists that have time constraints are not willing to do the long trek from the Island In The Sky District. There are also two National Recreation Areas in this end of Utah that most people have never heard of. One of these is the Indian Creek Recreation Area, which is definitely a lesser known gem!
Monticello is the nearby gateway community and this town is located on U.S. Highway 191, which is the main tourism corridor through this region. Utah State Road 211 is about 14 miles north and this paved road goes to the Newspaper Rock State Historic Site, Indian Creek Recreation Area and Canyonlands National Park Needles District. A good landmark to look for near the intersection of SR 211 and Highway 191 is Church Rock, which definitely presents a great picture taking opportunity.
From Highway 191, Utah State Road 211 goes 41 miles to the Canyonlands Needles District Visitors Center. It is easy to imagine that State Road 211 must one of the most splendid scenic drives in the entire west and this notion is definitely true! From the start of the drive, the distant mountains in Bears Ears rise up from the open range ranches on the desert valley floor. All along the first dozen miles on SR 211 there are hiking trails that go to unexpected panoramic viewpoints. The vantage point of the road lends a deceptively plain view of the landscape, but a short hike in nearly any direction will lead to an endless maze of canyons that have been explored by relatively few people. Looking at an aerial view photo or a topographic map will reveal many hidden gems along SR 211. There are a few ATV trails too, but some of the dirt roads are private ranch access roads or Southern Ute tribal routes, so it is best to respect them as such.
After passing Newspaper Rock, this is where the Indian Creek Recreation Area begins. The landmark rock formations become plentiful as the landscape changes to towering red rock buttes on either side of the narrow valley. As the road winds through Indian Creek Canyon, the eroded red sandstone mesas turn into sheer vertical walls that touch the sky. This section of the Indian Creek Recreation Area is the home of world class rock climbing! Climbing enthusiasts from around the globe look forward to tackling the Supercrack Buttress, which is located here. Experienced rock climbers will get the thrill of a lifetime when accomplishing the demanding vertical climbs at Indian Creek and the views from the top are nothing less than breathtaking!
The wildlife does run thick in the Indian Creek Recreation Area, because this wilderness provides a reliable water resource. The lush vegetation in the creek bed attracts plenty of small animals and this is a great place to do some bird watching. One particular bird that most folks associate with pilgrims back east is plentiful in this canyon. As can be seen in the photos, wild turkeys can be spotted in the tall grass along the road. Oddly enough, wild turkeys were domesticated by the local natives here in ancient times. One of the ancient pueblo sites in Bears Ears National Monument has remnants of turkey pens. Evidence shows that the ancient natives primarily farmed their domesticated turkeys for the eggs and feathers, because only a few cooked bones have been unearthed in this area.
There are a few good campsites that are worth checking out when planning an extended Indian Creek Recreation Area venture. The campgrounds at Indian Creek are currently maintained by the BLM and NPS agencies, so doing an overnighter is an option. Discounted campsite fees are offered to annual National Parks Pass holders both at the Indian Creek campgrounds and the Canyonlands-Needles District Campgrounds, so this is a good reason to get an America The Beautiful National Parks Card before doing the trip.
After passing through the Indian Creek Recreation Area, the road approaches a big bend before turning north toward the Canyonlands National Park-Needles District. In this area the neighboring Bears Ears red rock butte and mesa landscape becomes even more dramatic. Some of the views of the green desert floor extend for miles between the red rock mesas, which truly is a sight that classic wild west landscape paintings area made of!
There are a few famous rock formations in the Indian Creek area that are a photographer’s dream come true. The North Six Shooter Peak and South Six Shooter Peak are twin rock pillars that are very photogenic from any angle. There are many good vantage points along the road and even more can be experienced by following the hiking trails. Capturing a one of a kind photo of the Twin Six Shooter Peaks will certainly earn bragging rights back home!
Doing the 80 mile round trip tour on Utah SR 211 to the Indian Creek Recreation Area and Canyonlands National Park Needles District certainly is a scenic drive that is worth logging on the books. There are several picnic areas along the road that are perfect for turning the scenic drive into a full day trip venture. There is so much to experience in this pristine wilderness area, that a visitor could easily spend an entire vacation here and never get bored. The Indian Creek Recreation Area is just one of many lesser known places in southeast Utah and those who like to do some meandering away from the big crowds will likely find the rest!
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