Scenic Byways

Arizona Colorado  •New Mexico  •Utah

Why you should travel with a map, good information, and a working cell phone

True story by Kathryn R. Burke
All content © San Juan Publishing Group, Inc, All rights reserved.

[Four Corners States] This story is the result of having helped  travelers  who had stopped in at our local chamber office for information. They had just drive  into Ouray from the north, planned to “do” the San Juan Skyway, and spend the night in Cortez before continuing on to visit Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. Friends had told them it would only take “a couple of hours” to do the loop,

In an airplane maybe, at high altitude. But not by ground transportation. Their car wouldn’t cut it.

The couple had no map. Their cell phones didn’t work in the high mountain areas. (Not a lot of cell towers up here.) It was 5:30 pm on a crisp fall evening and, surrounded by 14,000 foot peaks, dark comes earlier here than it does in the flatlands. These folks had reservations for Cortez, which at best would be three hours away, in the dark, through deer country, and over a couple of passes topping 11,000 feet. Incredibly scenic country when you can see it. Not so much fun in the dark.

We got out a map and explained this, pointing out that although the map was flat, the area they planned to travel in was not, And that the roads were not 70 mph freeways, but steep and twisting mountain roads, in some places marked 35mph. Or less.

They got it. So, we lent them a cell phone to call cancel their Cortez reservations (long distance call), and helped them find a local hotel. We made dinner suggestions. Then we gave them the map. And wished them happy travels the next day when they could enjoy all that wonderful scenery scenery in daylight.

Even then, they would not experience only the eastern, and possibly most ruggedly scenic half of the San Juan Skyway. We had to route them around the western side, past Telluride in order to get them closer to where they would hook up with the road south to Arizona and their next destination. If they’d had a reference like this one, they could have planned better, and had the opportunity to see it all!

This couple, like many auto travelers, had set out to enjoy some of America’s most scenic roads. The U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration has designated 150 of the most scenic and diverse roads as National Scenic Byways. The designation is based on archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic qualities.(1) All of the national byways are good highways that can be traveled year round.

Between them, the Four Corners states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, an Utah claim ownership of 29 of these Byways, Colorado leading with 11 of them. Interactive Map (2) map of Colorado’s Scenic Byways. Alphabetical list (3) of Colorado byways with descriptions.

In addition to national byways, there are also state-designated byways. Arizona has 21, Colorado 14, New Mexico 19, and Utah 19. Some of them, like Colorado’s Alpine Loop, are only open part of the year, and a few require four-wheel drive. Many, like New Mexico’s Narrow-Gauge Scenic Byway, target a specific interest. All of them are a wonderfully scenic adventure, nearly as much fun to plan as to actually do.

Use the links at the top of the page to see what’s available in each state, with mileage and time included, and links to descriptions of the major byways. Mileage and approximate driving times are “start-to-stop” under ideal conditions. All of these states have varied terrain, and where there are mountains, the going will be much slower (especially if its dark, raining, or snowing). Driving times assume full daylight, good weather, no road closures for highway repair, and not getting out of the car untl you reach your destination. How much fun is that! Plan for delays, take a picnic, give yourself enough time to explore and enjoy.

You might also want to consider taking along a mountain bike or your hiking shoes. Many visitors prefer to rent a jeep, or take a jeep tour to enjoy the more rugged high country.

Image list

The author lives and works in the Four Corners area. And avid traveler, she has traveled many of these byways and plans to “do them all!” as time permits.

References & Additional Links
(1) National Scenic Byways Program
(2) Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways Map