Day Six: Wednesday, June 13th, 2001
Morning rolls in and it looks to be a gloomy day. It is overcast and the clouds are hanging low in the sky. There is a peculiar crispness and odor in the air. The wind is still blowing stiffly out of the West. Here it is the middle of June and the air is chilled. We are in a bit of a hurry because we have to catch a ferry to cross the lake and continue on our way. Missing the ferry means waiting for two hours for it to return and leave again. The only other way out of here is to head back North to Hwy 95, a serious detour. Despite having to stop for gas, we just make it to the ferry in time. Fortunately, they are having a hard time making room for a large truck and trailer. So even though we are late, they have not left yet and make room for us.
The water is still fairly calm this early in the morning and the boat is not swaying to bad. Still, I am a bit nervous about the stability of the bikes. We all decide it is best to just leave them on their sidestands and to keep an eye on them. We stroll around the boat and talk with the other passengers. Everyone wants to know where we are from, where we are going, etc,... A few of them are also riders. In the time it took to get the ferry loaded, a clearing in the overcast has appeared and the sun is shining down on us. It really is quite beautiful out on the water. (Pic 1 / Pic 2). Maybe it will be a pretty day for a ride after all?
The ferry ride takes about 45 minutes. When we reach the other side there is already a large gathering of vehicles and people waiting for the return trip. Being small and agile, we are allowed to depart first and are on our way. It does not take long for the clearing in the clouds to disappear and the gloom to return. As we begin the ride out of the park on Hwy 276 back to the Southern end of Hwy 95, it starts getting colder and begins to mist lightly. Hmmm...
Highway 276 out of the park is just as bizarre as the ride in on the Northern half of Hwy 276. Everywhere I look, there are large hills that look like big piles of rocks, really really big. This is the Red Rock Plateau, an obvious choice for the name of this place hehe. There are quite a few places where the rocks have slid out onto the pavement. We have to be watchful. They are large enough that hitting one would be nasty. But the road is really cool and has big sweepers that twist in and around them hills. I let everyone get ahead of me before taking their picture as they get ready to disappear behind one of the smaller hills. Being a wimp, I stop to put on a liner and my heavy gloves. I hate being cold. I hate being wet and cold even worse.
Last night at dinner John had told us of a short ride up an incredibly steep gravel road. This road is on our route for today. The rest of us are a bit nervous about the prospect of riding down a steep winding road strewn with loose gravel. But we decide to keep going and see what we encounter. After hitting Hwy 95 we head South for a few miles before picking up Hwy 261 South. There is a large sign here warning of the gravel road ahead. We stop for a pit stop at this intersection. Whilst I am indisposed, an RV comes from the direction we are heading and stops to chat with everyone. They think we are nuts for taking bikes that way. We thank them for their warning and head off into the gloom.
The twenty three miles to the start of the gravel road is fun. We seem to be on a high plateau covered in short scrub trees. It only takes a short while to reach the edge of the plateau. To go or not to go... that's the question! There is a lot of gravel here and some of it is quite loose, but it is not deep. So ideally, if we keep the speed low, we should be fine. We stop at the overlook at the top for a view of what is in store for us. Then we head down ever so warily.
It has been a long time since I have ridden on a road this bumpy. There is a severe washboard in the soil. There seems to be no speed that minimizes the jolting. For the first time ever I am afraid my luggage might actually vibrate off the bike. I am riding the back brake to keep my speed from picking up to fast. The road is quite steep and simply coasting in first gear is not enough to keep the speed down. Even though many of the hairpin curves are "paved", I still tiptoe through them because there is so much gravel strewn all over the corners. Yet, in some strange way, I am having a great time, hehe.
After fifteen or twenty minutes we finally reach the bottom. I turn to look back up and am astounded to see that the road is invisible from the bottom. It actually looks like the highway stops at the base of the cliff. The only recognizable feature is the prominent peak at the top where the overlook is located. We notice what appears to be the top half of a beer truck working his way slowly down the road. The road surface is sunk down so that there is a natural wall along the outside edge. From below, the wall completely hides the road. Now we are back to high speed desert crossing mode. A last shot along the line of the cliff shows the stark contrast of the plateau standing high over the desert floor. Highway 261 continues off to a line of mountains on the horizon and meets up with US 163 just North of Mexican Hat.
We head back into Arizona on US 163 through Monument Valley. It is still cold and overcast, also very windy. While stopped at a roadside Indian flea market for a quick group conference on our route, we are deluged by a sandstorm. The tourist trap shops race to get their goods inside and the store fronts closed up before it hits. We stand by the bikes with our hands blocking the underside of the helmets to keep the sand out. The bikes have sand in every nook and cranny imaginable. Yippee. Then in an instant it is gone. We ride on to Kayenta and have lunch at the Blue Coffee Pot at the intersection of US 163 and US 160. Good grub at fair prices.
After lunch we head up US 160 to US 191 for our run to Maob, the day's destination. I can't say I am impressed with the area in the northeast corner of Arizona. Too much desert for me. Hwy 191 heading north into Utah is not much better, but at least we are making good time. We stop in Bluff for a potty break and gas. Strange place. The lady running the place is nice, but odd. She starts trying to talk me into staying there for the night, "ten bucks a night, nice bushes, hot shower, quiet..." I start getting visions from the movie Psycho. We move on.
Shortly before reaching Blanding, the overcast that has followed us all day begins to boil and look ominous (Pic 1 / Pic 2). We stop to gear up for the anticpated rain. The road disappears into the middle of the nastiest looking part of the storm. The wind really picks up and as we get near Monticello and we hit some light rain, I start wondering if we might be smart to pull over and wait it out. And then for a moment, it actually looks like it might clear up and not get worse. In Monticello we pull into a gas station crowded with rented Road Kings being ridden by a horde of French vacationers.
It is now around 41 deg F and has been sleeting mildly. John decides to buy some leather work gloves in the store. The Harley riders leave and head north. Soon after leaving the station, we are at the end of a long line of cars and trucks that have backed up behind them. I take the lead in passing them only to have a truck try to pass at the same time and take me out while I am in the middle of passing, close call!
We get around them. The weather starts to clear up and actually get nice. We get into Moab and check into our rooms. The Sleep Inn is actually very nice. We have a cab come and take us into town so we can eat at Eddy McStiff's, a local microbrewery and restaraunt. Excellent food, brew and friendly cute waitresses. We cab back to the hotel and call it a night after soaking int he hot tub for a bit. Total miles for the day about 330.