There are thrilling stretches of road and then there are truly are dangerous sections of road that cause plenty of nail biting. The Hogback now falls somewhere in between, but it did not used to be this way. This stretch of road has seen continual improvements in recent years because of safety and environmental concerns. The improvements have taken away some of the character, but the ride is now much safer and the shoulders of the road are no longer wearing away from vehicles trying to park on the edge of the road. There is a lot more blacktop on the Hogback than there ever used to be, yet this is still one of the best little scenic drives in the west!
The first time that I drove over the Hogback was quite a while ago and this truly was a dangerous narrow road that pleased thrill seekers. Just like the name suggests, the ride is like driving the length of a hog's spine. In this area. Utah Scenic Byway 12 runs through The Canyons district of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This is a sandstone bedrock area that has thousands of small canyons, so routing a highway through here was a complicated matter. Highway 12 zig-zags through this maze till the road starts climbing to a higher elevation near Boulder, Utah. The road literally climbs over the top of a ridge line on the center of a few tall bedrock humps, just like riding on the back of a hog.
In the old days, there were no wide blacktop road shoulders and there was barely any room to park in the narrowest parts. Basically if a tourist misjudged the risky parking maneuver, the vehicle would tumble straight down into a ravine. This caused problems, because folks would actually stop in the middle of the road to take pictures just to be safe, which really caused some scary moments. Even worse, if a big RV decided to park on the dirt road shoulder, half of the vehicle would hang over the road, which caused many drivers trying to pass to curse and swear. As can be imagined, the Hogback was actually more aggravating than dangerous.
The no parking signs, paved overlooks, wider road shoulders and a fresh painted center line certainly have toned down the dramatic Hogback driving experience. Even so, this is still a magnificently beautiful little stretch of Highway 12. The views looking down into The Canyons from the Hogback are what dreams are made of, especially early in the morning after a brief storm. Both the Burr Trail and Hells Backbone are in this same area, which are two more thrill rides that will keep the adrenaline flowing. There is a little saloon in Boulder that offers drink specials for survivors of these three famous roads, which is nice to know if the nerves need steadying. The Hogback certainly is a unique driving experience, so be sure to chalk this one up high on the list!
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