Southern Utah is Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid country, said Susan Spano in the Los Angeles Times. Robert LeRoy Parker, “alias Butch Cassidy,” was born in the Sevier River Valley, 200 miles south of Salt Lake City, and he soon learned “how to put his brand on other people’s livestock.” After he and his Wild Bunch gang took to bank robbery, they often hid out in Utah’s isolated Colorado Plateau. Audiences familiar with the 1969 movie know the two bandits died in a hail of bullets “in a dusty Bolivian town.” But what I remember most is the “sumptuous Western” landscape that Robert Redford and Paul Newman rode through before fleeing south. This region’s five national parks form a “concentration of grand Western scenery” without rival.
In my own pursuit of Butch and Sundance, I started out in the town of St. George. There, the Washington County Library features a vintage mug shot of Cassidy taken in 1894, when he was arrested for horse stealing. Also on display is a group portrait of the Wild Bunch, taken in 1900 at a Fort Worth photography studio. Keen-eyed lawmen “used it to create wanted posters.” One scene in the movie—in which Butch takes a ride on the newfangled contraption known as a bicycle—was filmed in the nearby ghost town of Grafton on the Smithsonian Butte Road Scenic Backway.
After a long drive, I reached Red Canyon, on the edge of Bryce Canyon National Park. Here the Cassidy Trail “fingers into a network of gulches” in which, legend says, a teenage Butch hid after he took up rustling. The next morning, I headed for the ranching town of Panguitch, hometown of Butch’s sister Lula Parker Betenson, who published a memoir about him in 1975. On the last leg of my journey, I headed east on Utah 12, “one of the finest scenic roads in the U.S.” At Upper Calf Creek Falls, I stared down at the canyon, where, in the film, Butch and Sundance jump from an aerie, “yelling a profanity” on the way down.