Johnson Canyon Road intersects with U.S. Highway 89 about 9 miles east of Kanab, Utah, so this access point is easy to find. Johnson Canyon Road is a paved road that runs for 16 miles along the western border of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Near the 16 mile marker, the paved road ends at the intersection of BLM Road 600 and BLM Road 500. Both of these rough BLM dirt roads suitable for only high ground clearance vehicles, so for passenger car drivers this is the end of the line.
Touring the paved Johnson Canyon Road is a real pleasure, because the setting is so majestic! This road parallels the western edge of Grand Staircase-Escalante till it enters the National Monument near the 11 mile marker. The first part of Johnson Canyon Road runs through lush green farm and ranch land, which features the sandstone outcrops of Escalante towering over the eastern edge of the valley. On the west side of the valley, tall red sandstone outcrops also hem in the border of the flat ranch land. As can be imagined, the Johnson Canyon Valley is a picture perfect representation of what most folks imagine as being the old wild west, so it is fitting that Hollywood chose this location for filming many old classic westerns and the Gunsmoke television series.
The old remnants of the Gunsmoke film stage set can be seen 5.5 miles up Johnson Canyon Road. Fans who remember Marshal Dillon fighting every outlaw in town will surely be able recognize some of the decrepit old buildings that still stand at this site. Most of the old stage set lies in ruins, so there is not much to see from the roadside, which is as close as visitors are allowed to get. The old Gunsmoke Film Set is on private land and no trespassing signs are posted, so getting a closer look is taboo. It is a shame that nothing is currently being done to restore the Gunsmoke Stage Set, because this could be quite a tourist attraction, especially since the town of Kanab is close by.
When continuing north on Johnson Canyon Road from the Gunsmoke Film Set, the lush ranch land gives way to the harsh high desert environment. The landscape becomes more rugged as the distant mountains come into view. The towering multi color sandstone outcrops also start to gain a more formidable look where the Grand Staircase-Escalante high desert wilderness takes over.
After entering the high desert wilderness section of Johnson Canyon Road, those who drive a Jeep or a 4×4 all terrain vehicle will be in hog heaven! There are a few marked access points along the road for off-highway vehicle excursions, which rarely appear on common road maps. The first access point heading north is the Crocodile Staging Area for the Hog Canyon OHV Trail System. The Hog Canyon Trail System is a vast BLM recreation area that covers the rough terrain between Kanab and Johnson Canyon, so a 4×4 enthusiast can spend all day exploring the dirt trails in this place. A little further on down the road is the Nephi Pasture Staging Area, which is an access point for 4×4 ATV trails that loop through a wide variety of landscapes in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This is another spot where ATV and Jeep drivers can escape from it all!
For those who drive a passenger car, a round trip tour of the 16 mile long paved section of Johnson Canyon Road is the only option, but this is a worthwhile sightseeing venture. The classic western setting of the old Gunsmoke Stage Set and the Grand Staircase-Escalante desert wilderness is as picturesque as can be. The multi color sandstone terrain is very photogenic, especially when the cobalt blue skies of Utah prevail. When traveling on Highway 89 near Kanab, this little side trip is well worth logging on the books, especially if you happen to be a fan of the old Gunsmoke western TV series!
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