Day Four: Monday, June 11, 2001
The hotel has the heaviest thickest curtains I think I have ever encountered. And yet... my room is still bright enough to wake me. When I pull back the edge of the curtain for a peek outside, I'd swear my retinas are burning out of the backs of my eyes! Another beautiful day. But what is that moving down by the bikes? Will is actually waxing his Trophy!! Apparently, he got up nice and early, cleaned the bike with the Honda Pro Polish and Cleaner, then went across the road to an autoparts store and bought some wax, hehe. He's got it bad.
John decides that he wants us to leave him behind and continue with the trip. He plans to catch up with us Tuesday night at the Bullfrog Marina on Lake Powell in Southern Utah. He has stayed here before on business trips and is in familiar territory. He still has to get things squared away with the credit card company and figure out how they are going to get him a new card while he is on the road. I give him one of my credit cards so he won't be totally financially busted while on his own.
We decide to head down to check out the free breakfast. Um... WOW! The breakfast provided here at the Embassy Suites rocks! We get to have our omlets custom made for us while we watch. I guess this is why the normal rates for the rooms are so high. Thank goodness John got us the corporate rate! We finish up and waddle out to load the bikes. With a final farewell to John, we hit the road. I hate leaving a rider behind.
We head out of town on US 89 North. Our plan is to head up the South rim of the Grand Canyon for a look see. Then we'll continue on 89 up into the Southwest corner of Utah. The ride out of town is beautiful. Now that it is light out, I see that Flagstaff is really a nice looking town, nestled high up in the San Francisco mountains and surrounded by National Forests on all sides. Off to our left we see snow covered mountains and Humphrey's Peak. At 12633 feet, it is Arizona's highest mountain. For us Southlanders, the idea of snow in mid June is hard to compute.
As we start to come down out of the mountains, we hit a bit of road construction and have to slow to 55 mph for a while. I don't really mind, it gives me more time to gawk at the mountains and the beautiful forests. Scattered about here and there are beautiful homes, mostly of the log cabin style. It was pretty chilly when we left the hotel, now it is already starting to get warm. We got away pretty late this morning, somewhere around noon I think. As we drop into the desert, the temperature indicator on my dash is steadily creeping up into the low nineties. It's gonna be a cooker.
Once we clear the construction, it does not take long to reach the turn off for the highway that runs out to the South Rim. At this point we are in the Navajo Indian Reservation and the edge of the Painted Desert. We turn West on highway 64 and head for the Canyon.
Highway 64 starts out kind of straight, then it starts to turn into big easy sweepers and has some mild elevation changes. I see nothing but small mesas, scrub brush and desert. We come up on a small Indian craft selling bizzare. These are all over the place in Arizona and New Mexico. I spot a sign for a small canyon at the bizzare so we pull in to take a look.
Getting to the actual canyon is like entering a major department store in a shopping mall. They make you walk through the nasty perfume and makeup department to get to the rest of the store. These guys make us walk through their little tent city where we can't help but look over their goodies before we get to the path leading over to the canyon. But it is worth the walk. However, it is getting really hot now, especially in full riding gear.
The canyon is "small" but is still very cool. We walk around for a bit, getting close to the edge for a peek over to the bottom. It is a long way down with lots of stuff to bounce off of before hitting rock bottom. I scoot back a little. I snap off a few shots with the camera before we head back to the bikes.
Not long after we get back on the road it starts to get a little more hilly and twisty. Along the side of the road, there is now some sort of scrub brush that is about ten to fifteen feet high and grows right up to the road. The result is that it almost feels like riding in a maze with the walls right on the edge of the pavement. With no view to distract, I am left to focus on the road. I set a nice brisk pace running about seven tenths. There is the occasional gravel patch or rock and I want to have time to react.
It is not long before we reach the first Southern rim park area. Once again we get to use our National Park pass. One more visit to another park and it will have more than paid for itself. The attendant waves us through and we find a place to park. Have I mentioned lately that it is really hot? There is little if any shade, except maybe next to some small rocks, which is great if you happen to be an ant! The parking lot is baking in bright sunlight. We park the bikes and go for a look around. Over the tops of the trees we spot a tower and decide to go see what that is all about. When we get there and get inside, we find out it's about spending money, hehe. Should have known.
Once inside there is a bit of a tourist shop. In the middle of the shop is one of those little wrinkled old indian ladies working steadily and decisively at weaving a beautiful rug. Apparently, she expects people to put money in a basket next to her just for the privilege of watching her weave. Interesting. I don't know if she actually sells the rugs, but having one would be cool. After a minute of watching we head over the to stairs to climb to the top of the tower. Let me just say that stair climbing is pretty low on my list of things I like to do.
The stairs wind their way around the inside wall of the tower. I think there are four levels but I really am not paying attention. I am more focused on not passing out due to the exertion. I opt for a brief rest at the top of each stairway before heading up to the next level. The inside of the tower is decorated with typical traditional Southwestern Indian art. Each level has small windows from which to look out over the canyon. Reaching the top is a little anticlimatic in my opinion. I think most people make the climb because it is there. Tourists are funny that way.
The walk back down to the base of the tower is far more enjoyable than the hike to the top. Once at the bottom we head back out to the observation area at the base of the tower for a closer look from the edge. (Pic 1 / Pic 2 / Pic 3). That's a big hole! But it is so big it is hard to wrap my head around it. It takes little time for us to get hot again. After a quick trip to the park store for a Snickers and some more water, we head for the bikes and get ready to leave.
The ride out is fun. There is not much traffic and the road is nice and twisty. As we leave the twisty section and start to head back near the smaller canyon, traffic seems to come to a halt. Once we get closer we can see that there is a helicopter parked in the road. That is never a good sign. After a short wait, the helicopter roars to life and speeds away. It reminds me of a similar event not even a year ago. After a riding career ending wreck, I watched as my Dad was flown away into the darkness of the night sky, his fate unknown. I was left standing on the shoulder of the road wondering what the future had in store for all of us. I say a quick prayer for those left standing on the road ahead. It's not a fun place to be. Soon after the helicopter leaves, traffic starts moving again. I snap one last shot of the small canyon and then we are on our way.
When we get back to US 89, we stop for gas and more to drink. It is HOT! My in dash guage is showing an ambient temperature of 103 F and there is not a cloud to be seen. My lips are chapping and my nose is cracking. People used to this dryness must really suffer if they visit somewhere like Houston and experience the smothering humidity. Gas and refreshed, we are ready to venture back out into the baking desert for the run up US 89 to 89A. Did I mention it is hot?
Soon we reach the turn off for US 89A and veer to the West. Before long the road is paralleling a long line of massive cliffs. These are known as the Vermillion Cliffs. They are composed of mostly cream, tan and red colors, a very nice blend of shades. The immenseness of the cliffs impresses me every time I glance over at them. They are just massive. (Pic 1 / Pic 2). Unfortunately, the cliffs run in a mostly straight line which means the riding is getting monotonous. My Gen-X attention span is wearing thin already, gimme something new now!
Ask and ye shall receive! A curve finally appears on the horizon. It looks as if we are entering a horseshoe shaped canyon ringed by the cliffs. As we move into the curve a bridge appears out of the flatness of the desert floor, spanning a deep chasm, Marble Canyon. Running along the bottom of the chasm is a shimmering ribbon of green, the Colorado River. (Pic 1 / Pic 2). There are actually two bridges now. The first was put in plce in 1928 at a cost of only a few hundred thousand dollars. A new and stronger bridge has since replaced it. However, the older bridge remains and we stopped at the rest stop for a look. The old bridge is still open to foot traffic and the walk out to the middle is breath taking and high!.
It only takes a few minutes before the heat convinces us to get back on the bikes and get moving again. It is not that it is cooler on the bikes really, but the sweat evaporates before it can run down my back and into my shorts, hehe. It really feels like a massive hair dryer is blowing on me as I go down the road. After some water, we are back on the road and following the cliffs that run in a Southwesterly direction away from the bridges. Here and there are large rocks that have fallen away from the cliff face. Some are larger than the buildings next to them. The road continues to be quite straight.
When we reach the end of the line of cliffs, the road makes a single curve to the right and then becomes straighter than a ruler as it disappears into the distance across a desert. On the horizon I can make out large mountains. It is now pushing 104 F and I can't wait to get to the mountains and get some altitude under us. Coming out of the corner we open up the bikes and make a run for the mountains across the incredibly flat open desert. Beth is hanging tough on her little Sv650S. It is just not really the machine for high speed cruising when loaded with luggage.
When the road hits the base of the mountain it immediately goes into a huge left hand sweeper. Having been cruising at high speed for some time, my brain is not registering speed properly as I slow down for the curve. It is the same effect when you are doing 80 mph in your car and then have to slow down to 50 mph for a short spell and you feel like you are crawling. Coming into the curve, I slow to a nice 80 mph and feel like I am crawling. Trusting my guages, I keep the speed sane and lean into the turn, rolling on the throttle as the bike howls its' way up the hill.
After a series of esses I stop for a look back out over the desert we have just crossed. Flat hardly describes it. The road gains altitude rapidly, which is nice because that almost always means lots of curves. This section does not disappoint. Soon we are entering pine trees and shade, the temperature dropping nicely!
The sun stabbing through the canopy of the pines makes shimmering patterns on the road. There is no traffic at all. The cool dry air fills my jacket and chills my skin as the sweat is lifted away. There is nothing up here but woods and the road. The pine needles cover the ground under the trees, keeping the undergrowth to a minimum. The ground is so smooth under the trees that it almost looks as if it is carpeted. I can see a long way back into the woods. It almost has a manicured park look to it. Very cool. Speaking of cool, it has dropped to a nice 74 F in the fifteen minutes it has taken to get here from the desert! That is a 30 degree difference simply due to alititude!
Before long I round a curve and spot some camping areas on the right. Immediately after that I see the Jacob Lake Inn on the left and a gas station. I figure this is a good time for a break and some lunch. Gas is not cheap here. At about $2.20 a gallon for the lowest octane, it is the most expensive stuff so far. However, there are no alternatives here and the next town is a long way from here. The station attendant is a nice young guy but he seems to have a far away kind of quality to his personality. It seems like he is somewhere else while I am talking with him about the bikes (at his request). Interesting.
With everyone gassed up, we head over to the Inn to see what sort of food can be had. Once inside, this place really has the touristy look. There are lots of the spinning racks covered with postcards and every kind of knick knack to clutter the flat surfaces and walls of your home. But right inside the door is the strategically placed desert case showcasing what the kitchen is capable of producing. Mmmm... lots of sugar... I can feel my sweet tooth aching already.
We decide to sit at the bar counter rather than getting a table. All of the waitresses here are cute young college age girls. We engage them in a bit of friendly chit chat to get some information about the Inn. It seems that the college kids live out back in dorms and work here for the summer. They come from all over within a few hundred mile radius of the Inn. Our waitress seems to have that same far away quality as the guy at the gas station. Peculiar.
We order our food and continue to chat with the waitress. The food is great but we are still primed for desert. Will decides to go for the Blueberry Pie with Ice cream. I am more in the mood for just some ice cream on a cone. I call the waitress over and ask her to bring me some soft serve ice cream in a cone. Off she goes. After a few minutes she returns with a small metal saucer filled with ice cream and topped with an upside down cone!? When I ask her what this is, she replies, "Your saucer and ice cream cone..." And then looks at me haltingly... When I tell her that I asked for SOFT SERVE ice cream in a cone, she gets all red faced and embarassed. She apoligizes profusely and tries to get me another one. We just give it a good laugh and I dig in to my unique desert. Afterwards, this place will always be known to us as the town of zombie college kids. It makes us wonder if some kind of cult reprogramming is being done outback in the dorms every evening?
It is getting late in the afternoon and we still have to get into Utah. So stuffed and cooled off, we head back out to the bikes. We get back on 89A and continue North through the Kaibab National Forest. For a while the road simply continues to wander along the ridges through the woods. Then it begins a winding descent that is not a steep as the South side of the mountains. About half way down I spot a scenic overlook and pull in for a look. Across the valley is our destination, Zion National Park. When we return from the overlook we find a nice fellow looking over the VFR. His name is David Fitzgerald and he is from Seattle. He rides a V45 Sabre and has toured this area many times over the years. We chat for a bit and then he graciously offers me his copy of a Four Corners touring guide! Very nice indeed!
We get back on the road after saying good bye to David and resume the descent down the mountainside. A curvy road is always fun. But it seems like a curvy road that is continually gaining or dropping in altitude is even more fun. It just seems easier for me to get in a rythm and makes the curves that much more fun. Sooner than I'd like, the flat land of the valley pops out from behind the trees and we are once again racing across an open desert plain. It is sometime after 7:00pm and we need to get to the hotel before 9:00pm. This is gonna be tight!
The race across the desert plain offers us a breath taking panoramic view from horizon to horizon as we approach the mountains on the Utah side of the plain. The desert plains we have been seeing may at first seem to be just dull places to be avoided. But on closer inspection offer an intriguing variety of textures and colors. The different layers of the soil and rocks are often exposed edge making the colors that much more contrasting. If we weren't so pressed for time I would be stopping and taking more pictures. Somehow I think that might result in some grumbling in the troops. So we press onward for the border.
Just beyond the border 89A rejoins 89 and enters Kanab. It is just after 8:00pm. Just beyond Kanab, the highway starts to follow the Kanab Creek and winds its way along a narrow canyon. There cliffs are lined with caves of all shapes and sizes. There are even a few places where it appears that someone has built a structure covering the entrance to a cave, a sort of facade. It reminds me of western movies with robbers making their hideouts in the caves. Many of the smaller ones up higher in the cliffs appear to have become ideal bird houses. After the brief run through the canyon, we soon reach Mt. Carmel Junction and head West on Hwy 9 for the entrance to Zion Park.
Just outside of Mt. Carmel Junction, Hwy 9 begins to get a little altitude. As we climb up the side of a ridge, we are offered a beautiful view looking back over the small valley to the edge of a colorful plateau. It is the time of day when the shadows are starting to get long and the temperature is finally dropping to a nice pleasant range. When we finally reach the entrance to the park the Ranger booth is empty and there is no one in sight. We all have our annual passes so we just go on into the park since we are getting short on time.
It is only a matter of a minute or two after entering the park that I realize that this is going to be unlike any ride I have ever done in my life. As a kid, and even now, I love to watch old cheesy sci-fi flicks. I have always loved the far out fantastic landscapes that the directors would create to represent alien worlds. As we get deeper into the steep twisting canyons of the park, my mind can only think of this place as one of those alien worlds because it is so far removed from the world of my daily reality. The fading sunlight and wild shadows only add to the effect. I am torn between keeping my eyes on the incredibly twisty road and the awesome mind boggling scenery. In the end, the road wins out, but without me doing some serious neck stretching along the way.
Not being able to stop for pictures is killing me. I keep telling myself that I will have all the time in the world to stop on the way back through tomorrow to take all the pictures I want. There are several tunnels along the highway. The most spectacular is nearly a mile long straight through the mountain. Awesome. When we pop out of the far side of the tunnel, we are high up on the side of a very steep and narrow canyon. The road immediately starts to switchback onto itself as it decsends into the very bottom of the gorge. The cliffs on either side are so sheer and high that my head is really having a hard time wrapping itself around the idea of such terrain. I could spend hours hiking around in here soaking in the views.
Not long after reaching the bottom of the canyon, the highway reaches the town of Springdale. This is a very cozy little town on the West side of the park. It has lots of cool little boutiques and restaurants. We quickly find the hotel, the Bumbleberry Inn, famed for its Bumbleberry pie. It is 8:55pm and the doors are already locked!! I see a note on the door with a number to call, but when I try it, no one answers. Then while peering through the doors, I spot several young women in the back messing with a hottub and I notice there is a side door entrance by the tub. So I head around the side of the building and fortunately the door is unlocked. Needless to say, when I walk in on them and they see me standing there in full riding gear, the look on their faces is priceless. I ask them if they can help us get checked into our rooms and they seem a little put out because I am interrupting them. Then they act surprised when I tell them that the front door was locked. Oh well, we get our rooms and decide to get cleaned up before looking for something to eat.
As nasty as we would have been had we not cleaned up, it would have meant we'd have a better chance of finding something to eat. Apparently this town pretty much shuts down promptly at 9:00pm. It is 9:50pm now and the only place we can find that is open is not open for new customers, but only to let the customers already eating finish up and get lost. A waiter informs us that there is a place down the road a few miles that stays open late. Unfortunately, there are no cabs to call and we are whooped from a long hot day in the saddle. Our stomachs win out and we start walking.
It turns out that the walk is actually a nice way to stretch our legs and work out some of the stiffness from sitting all day. The night sky is incredibly clear and the stars seem more numerous than the grains of sand on the beach. The cool evening air is refreshing. It takes us about twenty minutes to reach the place. It turns out that this is just a bar, the Bit and Spur. It seems that for a bar to stay open late in Utah, they must also have a minimal menu of food available. Interesting. But at this point I'm in no mood to question this.
We nab a barstool table and make ourselves comfortable and order a few cold brews. There aren't many other customers so we get lots of attention from the waiter. The pickings are slim on the menu so I decide to try some kind of soup. I am so hungry I figure I can eat just about anything. Will and Beth decide to just munch on the complimentary chips and drink beer. The soup arrives and it is HOT! Sure it is hot to the touch, but it is also so spicy that it seems to set my mouth on fire. I don't normally go for such foods, but in this case it also tastes great and I can't quit eating it. Will decides that it makes a great dip for the chips. I begin scrounging the other tables in search of extra napkins to wipe the sweat from my forehead and from under my eyes! I am going to pay for this in a bad way in the middle of the night when it comes back to haunt me.
We chat with a few of the other customers, all from out of town as well. And when I finally manage to finish my soup, we settle the tab and head back to the hotel. The cool walk back is refreshing because my head is still steaming from dinner. Once back at the hotel, I down a few Rolaids as preventitive medicine for the heartburn that is sure to come later and then we call it a night.
3:00am... aagghhh... Where did I leave that roll of Rolaids!? What was I thinking??