Utah’s “Secret” Tourist Attractions

Escalante country in south-central Utah is home to many of Utah's best hidden tourist gems.
Escalante country in south-central Utah is home to many of Utah’s best hidden tourist gems. (Photo from Wikipedia “Commons” file)

“Stone Face” is Just One of Utah’s Unknown Rock Stars”

Utah’s number one “secret” tourist attraction may well be a piece of rock in the extreme northwestern corner of Duchesne County. It has no official name but along North Fork of the Duchesne River, locals call it “The Great Stone Face.” There is nothing at the site, nor on any map, giving the slightest indication of its presence.

Nathanial Hawthorne and his story of the “Old Man of the Mountain” in New Hampshire have nothing on this phenomenon. Hawthorne spun the legend that he who came to resemble this “profile” in the cliffs would become one with him in wisdom and prosperity. We find no such legend on the North Fork. Not even a sign. It is just a huge, jutting jaw with nose and eye sockets, which could hardly resemble a large human face any more if sculpted out.

New Hampshire made its stone face an official trademark which attracted many tourists. The past tense is used here because the New Hampshire stone face has fallen apart and is no more. Utah could quite possibly now have the only such feature in the world.

This particular man-image is easy to miss driving up-canyon but looms large if driving south. It is easily accessed from pavement—if reaching gravel, you’ve gone too far.

Stone Face near Duchesne

There are other reasons for driving one and a half hours east from Provo, via Heber City and Francis across Wolf Creek Pass. You travel through the Uinta National Forest through beautiful mountains and meadows where wildlife can step into the road in front of you at any time. As a teen I hunted deer and bear in this region, from muddy roads. Now, the way is paved all the way to Duchesne.

But The Great Stone Face is not alone in being lost as a valued tourist attraction. The Kolob sector of upper Zions National Park accessed from I-15 south of Cedar City is as spectacular as red rock scenery can possibly get but who knows about it? So is the road north of Virgin to Kolob Reservoir showcasing the “back side” of Zions park.

For that matter, there are unsung sectors of Utah, such as the Manganese Road with its red rock “goblins” southwest of Gunlock. Ditto on the highly colored road to Motoqua beyond the Shivwits Indian Reservation. Snow Canyon State Park would be two national parks if east of the Mississippi.

The mountains between Beaver and Marysvale/Junction are some of the most scenic in the Lower 48 with peaks rising above 12,000 feet elevation. This Tushar Mountain Valhalla receives relatively little attention. Beaver Canyon has a series of beautiful natural lakes. There are others on the Dixie National Forest ; several like Anderson Meadow are outstanding trout fishing lakes.

Sometimes a unique physical feature on private land is lost for all practical purposes. Hole in the Rock on the north slope of the Uinta Mountains is promoted for miles before you get there. But the actual location has no sign indicating you have arrived. Why? Because, as the Wasatch National Forest explains it, “The thing is on private land.” One would at least like to know, however, that they are there.

Years ago a University of Utah biologist took me to see the Escalante River country. Exquisite rock and canyon formations mile after mile of brilliant hues. Said he, “The state has nothing to give this area protected status. Maybe someday Utah will realize what it has.” Nothing was done here until granted national monument status with the title of Escalante-Grand Staircase. This was controversial in the way it was done and with what would seem an excessive buffer zone. But at least someone finally recognized its tourist value.

Arizona Highways magazine, published by that state, is replete with pictures of natural phenomena. Rightly so in regards to the Grand Canyon. But Utah has much more to offer the tourist in scenic attractions than Arizona and has not promoted them nearly as much as could be done.

As for The Great Stone Face, some may prefer to quietly visit the site without fanfare. There is at present only room for perhaps two-three cars to stop by. But at least it ought to go on the next “Utah Life Elevated” road map. And have a suitable sign suggesting its presence.

Share Button