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If you must choose only one Utah road to travel, let it be this road.

Here, on Highway 12, all the elements of our state come together in the space of 108 miles. You'll see the Utah mountains and the Utah desert - green alpine meadows and spires of red rock. You'll see clean, small towns. Cattle. Deer. Two gorgeous national parks. Indian ruins. Wilderness.Just off the blacktop you can find a place to go fishing, or camping, or ride a mountain bike or a horse. A dozen places to hike beckon and a hundred photos wait to be taken.

Venture off the road a few miles and you can tour one of three state parks - the historic Anasazi, colorful Kodachrome Basin or the Escalante State Park, which protects Utah's largest petrified forest.

The European tourists have found Highway 12. Busloads of foreigners, Germans mostly, have seen the route this summer. They don't need to know English to know what they are seeing is unique.

Rose Campbell and her husband Jim own the Circle D Motel in Escalante, in the middle of U-12. Business has been so good these past two years, since the last 32 miles over Boulder Mountain were paved, that the Campbells have

opened a restaurant. Soon they will expand the motel and add an RV park.

Campbell says, "I don't know how all the Germans find out about us. Most people from Salt Lake don't know what kind of country we have." But that's changing, she says.

"We are getting more Utahns every year. Lot of people down here don't want things to change. They are kind of soreheads. But I say tourists are coming. You've got to be ready for them."

Now, in late September, the leaves are already turning to flame on Boulder Mountain. They've had a dusting of snow, Campbell says, even down in Escalante. Come soon, if you want a scenic fall weekend.

Highway 12 connects Capitol Reef National Park, in Wayne County, and Bryce Canyon National Park, in Garfield County. Driving south from the Wasatch Front, you can reach U-12 from U.S. 89 near Bryce or take U-24 at Sigurd and pick up U-12 in Torrey.

If you take the later route you could lunch in Bicknell - both the Aquarius and the Sunglow (famous for pies) serve decent cafe-home-cooking. Or you may want to pick up some groceries in Torrey for a picnic lunch in a meadow on Boulder Mountain.

From tree-lined Torrey the two-lane road rises steeply to the top of Boulder Mountain, then drops. As you drive, you pass through the Dixie National Forest.

There aspen, pine and cedar trees open up occasionally to intimate little picnic sites beside a creek or in a meadow. Near the 9,200-foot summit, the forest parts again to reveal wide vistas.

Nowhere are the geological upheavals that formed this state more apparent than when you stand on Boulder Mountain and gaze over the Waterpocket Fold or the Kaiparowits Plateau. On a clear day - and they usually are on Boulder Mountain - you can see 100 miles to the La Sal Mountains.

Some who have enjoyed Boulder Mountain all their lives, people like Dick Brinkerhoff of Bicknell, don't seem averse at all to sharing their peaceful spot. Brinkerhoff wants the rest of the state to know, "For hunting and fishing or just plain sight-seeing, Boulder Mountain's pretty good."

And it's one of the nicest places in the state to ride a bike, especially if you can get someone to give you a ride to the summit. Then you can swoop down the smooth scenic highway to the postcard-tidy town of Boulder, without even sweating, and reward yourself with a soft ice cream cone from Griffin's Drive-In.

Utah Outback, a mountain bike touring company, has recently set up an outpost in Torrey. For guided or self-guided tours and rentals call their Salt Lake number, 583-8929, or leave a message at the Chuckwagon Motel in Torrey, 425-3288.

In Boulder, you will find the Anasazi State Park, complete with life-size replicas of the Indians' dwellings.

"People are always telling me that Highway 12 is the prettiest highway in the state," says Kim Morris, public information officer for the Utah Department of Transportation. "I agree with them 100 percent - but then they go on to rave about the Boulder Mountain part."

Morris prefers the section of Highway 12 between Boulder and Escalante. On each side of the winding ribbon of road, the earth drops away a few thousand feet. Morris says, "It's called the Hog's Back, and it is one of the two most beautiful stretches we have. I never get tired of driving that gorgeous chunk of road."

From the Hog's Back ridge you can see Calf Creek Campground (where a five-mile hike leads to a waterfall) on the Escalante River. Trail rides through the surrounding canyons and plateaus can be arranged by calling Calf Creek Ranch at 826-4833.

From here Highway 12 passes through Escalante. The Escalante State Park is 1,000 acres and offers a variety of hiking trails. The town is named after Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante who, along with Father Dominguez, explored vast sections of the West in 1776. Only not this section. Oh well, the town bears his name anyway.

Next the road passes through Henrieville, Cannonville (gateway to Kodachrome Basin), Tropic and then through the red rock canyon on the north corner of Bryce Canyon. Just before Highway 12 disappears into 89, you will pass Ruby's Inn. Accommodations are available and trail rides continue through October. For more information, call 834-5341.

That's Highway 12. You'll wish it were longer.