Day Five: Tuesday, June 12th, 2001
I love it when I spend the night somewhere, get in late so I have no idea what the place looks like, and then when I get up the next morning, it is a total surprise. Springdale is no exception. The view out the patio door of our room is awesome. The morning air is cool and dry. I can't wait to get on the road and get back into the canyons to see them in the daylight. We load up the bikes and check out of the rooms. As I round the corner of the building and head for the parking lot I am greeted with another spectacular view. (Pic 1 / Pic 2). This is going to be a fun ride!
We get on the road and head East on Hwy 9. It is early enough that we had to pass on breakfast at the Bumbleberry Inn Restaurant. It is another clear and beautiful day. We soon reach the park entrance. Just beyond that is the road that heads North up into the main Zion Canyon. Unfortunately, it has been closed to private traffic. To actually get up into the canyon requires a bus ride and is pretty much an all day event. Like so many of the places we are seeing on this trip, it would really be nice to spend about a week in each one exploring all the nooks and crannies. For now I make mental notes about where I'd like to come back to visit.
Soon we reach the steep narrow valley that has the winding road leading back up to the main tunnel. Wow. The scale of the cliffs really makes me feel small. Many of the rock faces have natural arches forming in them. As we begin the climb up the canyon wall back to the tunnel I stop to get a picture. I hope to capture the feel of the canyon but it is near impossible using my camera with my skills. I try again when I spot a window into the long tunnel up high in the face of a cliff. From this vantage point it still takes about ten minutes to make the climb up the wall to the tunnel.
The tunnel itself is really cool. It was made back in the 1920's using good old hard labor and dynamite. Along the way through, there are several windows looking back out into the canyon. There are signs everywhere saying not to stop. Apparently, sightseers would stop and clog up the tunnel causing massive traffic jams in the tourist season. Fortunately, we are here before the tourist season and there aren't any other vehicles around. I stop the bike while the others watch for traffic and head over to one of the windows. I lean out and snap a shot of one of the huge arches in the cliff face. Still no traffic so I run back to the bikes and we get underway.
After we come out of the tunnel, the road follows the twisting and winding bottom of the canyon. I don't think I have hit 3rd gear once since leaving the hotel. In a matter of minutes we come to another tunnel. This one is much shorter. The rock face over the tunnel looks as if it has been ground down with a giant belt sander. A little further up the road we encounter the Checkerboard Mesa and pull over for a look. This mesa is shaped like an inverted cone with a red and white checkerboard pattern from top to bottom. Just one more in a stream of peculiar geographic oddities in this place. "Zion to Earth, come in Houston..."
Even travelling at gawking speed, it only takes a short while to get from one side of the park to the other. Soon we are outside the park heading East on Hwy 9 back to US 89. Out of the corner of my eye, I keep catching a glimpse of something popping up from behind one of the many ridges and then vanishing before I can get a good look. Evenutally, I manage to lok just at the right time and am greeted with the sight of a hang glider arcing up ino the sky in a graceful banking manuever. Soon I start to see more and more. I can't help but think what a great time those folks must be having. It is an incredibly beautiful day. About this same time, we start passing the occasional pedal pusher cycling in the direction of the park. Then there are more and more, and then come the chase vans with lights flashing. I guess there is some kind of organized event. It looks like fun except that my heart would explode within a few miles at best. I have to admire these folks as I whiz by them in relaxed comfort.
When we reach US 89, we turn North and head for the start of Hwy 12. This route was recommended by numerous people as a top notch ride. Getting there is more of a challenge as there is road construction a good bit of the way on US 89. The highway follows a nice valley for most of the way and it is very scenic. Eventually, the valley gives way to more open landscape. There is a small river off to our right. It wanders around like a wet noodle but generally follows the direction of the road. It seems to be the same width at all points and cannot be more than a few feet deep, almost as if it were man made. The water is crystal clear and gives me the urge to go swimming, sort of like the way the sound of trickling water gives one the urge to whiz hehe.
Since we left Springdale so early we did not get a chance to eat breakfast. I have no clue when we will see a place to eat between here and our destination. In the distance I spot tons of those little flapping flag streamers like car dealers use in their lots. I slow to get a good look and it seems we have just found a place to get breakfast, The Riverside Motel, RV park, Restaurant, Office, etc,... all in one place. The wind has been blowing pretty good all morning and the little flags are whipping all over the place. Pulling into the parking lot I have to concentrate on keeping the bike upright and steady. The lot is nothing but loose large gravel. We find a spot to park off to one side, where we think the bikes will be able to stay upright without the kickstands sinking into the ground, and then head inside to see what is waiting for us.
The dining area is simple and clean. We seem to be the only people here. Of course we are out in the middle of nowhere. I guess when the tourist season really gets into swing, this place is on one of the major routes through the area. Winter time must be slow around here. We all get basic bacon and egg breakfast with pancakes. The service is pretty good, as is the food. Soon we are back on the road feeling much better now that we have food in our systems. The turn off for Hwy 12 is just South of Panguitch. Almost immediately after getting on Hwy 12 we enter the Red Canyon.
Red Canyon has massive sandstone spires and arches all along the edge of the highway. As the name implies, the color of the formations is a deep rusty red. The variety of shapes formed by erosion seems endless. The contrast between the dark green of the trees, the deep blue of the sky and the ground is really cool. At one point the highway runs through a short tunnel formed by one of the arches. The road winds back and forth for a few miles before coming out on the East side of the canyon. There are lots of places to pull over to take in the scenery and this looks like a really cool place to spend some time hiking. But since we have a long day ahead of us, we continue on to Bryce Canyon.
The entrance to Bryce Canyon screams tourist trap. There are large flashy gas stations, signs everywhere, ads for tours, you name it. We are in what appears to be a valley and the road heads into the distance towards the ridges that make up the backbone of the canyons. Once again our National park passes come in quite handy and we breeze right through the entrance. It is beautiful scenery and the road is quite nice so I am quite disappointed when I see a 25mph speed limit sign! It is nearly 30 miles to the end of the park road, making for a 60 mile round trip. Including stops this can easily take us three hours or more. I hope it is worth it.
Soon after getting into the park proper, we pass one of those speed radar trailers that sit on the shoulder of the road and give a read out of your speed. I use it to check the accuracy of my speedo and find that 25mph on my speedo is right on the money. No sooner than we pass the radar, the road begins to twist and wind as it gains altitude. Traffic is pretty much nonexistent. I am struck by the solitude and beauty of this wonderous place. When we reach a turn off for one of the scenic overlooks, I decide to stop for a look.
It seems that just when I think I have seen something that cannot be outdone by anything else, the next view changes everything. There are harldy words that can describe the scenery and even pictures are at a loss to truly convey the immensity and scale of the surreal landscape. We continue along the park road to the end, stoping at most of the overlooks along the way. It is a clear blue beautiful morning and the air is cool and crisp. The park road winds along the ridges in a smooth ribbon like manner. There are times when I wish the moment could last forever, this is one of them.
We finally reach the end of the road and the last overlook. Other than the stops where we stand and gawk in mindless wonder, we have made excellent time. The road is so wonderful that the thought of actually only going 25mph seems a bit sacreligious. I am totally looking forward to the ride back out of the park. There are some overlooks that we bypassed on the way in that we are definitely going to stop at on the way back out of the park.
The ride out is just as great as the ride into the park. Even though it is getting later in the day, there is still little traffic and scarcely a single RV to be seen. Passing what traffic we do encounter is a nonissue. Most people either pull into the next overlook parking lot, or are going so slow because they are sightseeing, so passing them takes mere seconds. Once again we have spent a few meager hours in a place I'd love to spend several days. When we exit the park, we stop at one of the large service stations to fill up the bikes and grab a snack before heading off across Southern Utah.
When we pull up to the pumps there are two young boys ready and waiting to serve us. We thank them but politely decline their assistance. It is immediately obvious that they are quite interested in the bikes and they strike up a friendly conversation. It seems that they work here as a summer job, pumping gas, cleaning windshields, putting air in tires, etc,... They inform us that we are lucky becuase in the next week or so, the traffic in the park becomes heavily congested. They claim that it is not uncommon for it to take the better part of an entire day to drive all the way into the park and back. The thought of riding the bikes in such congestion on such an awesome road sends chills down my spine.
While we are waiting for Will to return from the store, I spot a couple struggling with the table umbrella outside the store. There is an outside eating area with tables covered with patio umbrellas. It has been getting steadily windier throughout the morning. As if to make a point to the couple, the wind gusts mightly and lifts the umbrella clean up over the table and into the air like a kite. Fortunately no one is hurt by the sharp end of the umbrella pole and we just get a chuckle out of their plight. When Will returns, we say goodbye to the young gentlemen and are on our way back to Hwy 12.
I have to say that if we were to park the bikes now and call it a day, I would have to qualify it as one of the best days of riding I can remember. But it is barely lunch time and we still have hours of light to burn. So we head East on Hwy 12 towards the tiny town of Tropic. An unusual name considering the geography here. The clouds are getting thicker and the wind is really starting to blow. But it is still a wonderful day.
Bryce Canyon sits on the Western edge of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Park. Hwy 12 skirts along the Northern edge of this park on the Southern edge of the Dixie National Forest. The ride to the town of Escalante is fun and it does not take long. Once there we stop for a break and snacks. We meet a couple from Las Vegas riding two up on some kind of old Beemer. It seems they have a lot of miles on their tushes and they are serious tourers. After a nice visit, we mount up and head out of town for the really good stuff.
Prior to this afternoon and in the preceeding days, we have been knocking out some serious miles doing some serious speeds. I guess getting away with this has made me reckless. As we are leaving town and getting to a fun section of road, I spot a dark SUV in the oncoming lane with odd red and blue lights buried in its' grill. About the time it dawns on me why they are there, they light up and start flashing! Oh crap! I'm not going to say how fast I am going, but amazingly all I get is a stern look and a serious finger shaking in my direction. I guess the rapid application of the brakes is enough to convince him that he has successfully scared the poop out of me and that I will slow down. He's right and I do.
Within a mile or so of my encounter with the nice SUV, the road enters into the Escalante Canyons and gets really fun. There are boulders sitting on the ground next to the road that are larger than most homes. I can't say that I have ever seen such large single chunks of rock! Much like Zion National Park, I am torn between paying attention to the road and rubbernecking to take in the amazing scenery. So I slow down a bit. This is a very unforgiving road with no run off areas.
Before we have time to get bored, the scenery changes yet again, and again. I could never have imagined that the topography could change so much in such a small area. Just South of the town of Boulder, the road climbs up onto the back of a very narrow ridge, known locally as the Hogsback ridge. There is little if any shoulder here. There are no guardrails to speak of and on each side of the road is a steep drop into narrow canyons. Leaving the road here could easily be fatal, not too mention that there wouldn't be any way for the others to get down into the canyon to assist the fallen rider without simply following right behind him. We slow down once again.
North of Boulder we get into the mountains and Aspen forests of the Dixie National Forest. The road is a dull grey asphalt with LOTS of tar snakes. It has begun to get cooler and the wind is really blowing hard now. The sky is getting a little more overcast but the sun is still shining brilliantly in the clear air. This day could go on forever and I would not mind. At one point the road climbs up the side of one of the many mountains and I spot a nice place to pull over for some pictures and a quick nature break. Looking back the way we have just come, the air is getting hazy. Bad weather must be coming. The wind chill here is quite nippy without my helmet and gloves.
For the last few miles I have been keeping track of unfamiliar headlights behind me. It appears that the Beemer couple have been really eating up the asphalt and they have caught up to and passed us. I give them a friendly wave as they go flying by the rest area and vanish around the next corner. Apparently, that guy is not the least bit concerned about the wiggly tar snakes that have been making my bike squirm all over the place like a stuck pig!
I am wishing I had an airspeed indicator. The gusts are strong enough to make me lose my footing if I am not careful as I head for a large boulder (rest stop). The trees are whipping back and forth in the wind. We have to get back on the road because I am freezing. It is hard to believe that scarcely an hour before I was melting down in the canyons. After taking care of business, I take a quick moment to get another shot of Beth's SVS. What a groovy bike hehe. Then we are on our way, hoping to stay ahead of any potentially nasty weather.
Again, I am simply blown away by the ride. Despite the winds, this is just a fantastic place to be right now. The Aspen trees are hypnotic as their leaves shimmer when the wind causes them to flip back and forth. The bright white trunks stand out in stark contrast to the deep green of the ground and the leaves. Everywhere there are wildflowers in the open areas, resplendent with every color of the rainbow. I think how cool it would be to have the opportunity to ride here on a regular basis. But then I wonder, would I ever get used to it and take it for granted? Is it possible to have this scenery fade to the background of my attention? Maybe it is a good thing that I live so far away. The road is simply one series of smooth wonderful esses after another as it winds its way up, down and around the mountain side. (Will / Beth).
It is killing me to go flying along this road with such awesome scenery on all sides. I want to stop and take roll after roll of pictures. However, I'd soon lose touch with Will and Beth. The communicators only reach about a mile and a half. So I stop, take a quick shot, then race along to catch up with them. Right about that time I spot something else that catches my interest and I stop again. And so it goes... If only I were alone!! This is a road to be ridden a few times. Several just to enjoy to road and the bike, then several more just to cruise along and take in all the sights. Trying to do it all on one ride is torture.
And then almost without warning, it is all over. I round a bend in the road and the scene opens up into a small valley with some houses and we have reached the end of Hwy 12. I must confess I am already feeling a sense of loss and grief! When will I ever get another chance to ride this incredible road? I drift into Torrey, the small town at the intersection of Hwy 12 and 24, and find Will and Beth at a gas station trying to fill up their bikes.
There appears to be some problem with the gas pumps. They are pumping so slow that even getting a gallon out of them takes several minutes. Will gives up and heads across the road to a new looking station. I finally give up as well and we follow Will. While putting gas in the bikes, I notice a darkening haze off on the distant horizon. The weather has been so perfect to this point that I can hardly complain if it starts to get bad. But that certainly does not mean I want it to get bad! It is late in the afternoon and we still have several hours at least before we reach Bull Frog Marina on Lake Powell. I sure hope John is having as great a day as we are having. I really hated leaving him behind and I can't help but feel a slight regret that he has missed the incredible riding and sights.
Rested and with full gas tanks, we head East on Hwy 24 and cut through Capitol Reef National Park. Once again the scenery has changed so dramatically that it blows my mind. We are racing across desert plains interrupted by huge tower formations and wild ridges. I don't know how the park came to be called Capitol Reef, but the shapes of the landscape remind me of the reefs I explored while SCUBA diving off the shores of Cozumel in Mexico many years ago. Leaving the park, I can see the Henry Mountains to our South, and then it is more miles of desert before we reach Hanksville and turn South on Hwy 95 into some serious crosswinds.
I have never been sailing. I have seen movies and pictures of boats sailing gracefully in the blowing wind. At this point I am beginning to have a good idea what it must feel like. The road is going up and down and the wind is making me lean over like the boats where the sailors all hang off one side to keep from capsizing. The scenry is still great, as is the road, but we are getting tired and we are slipping into the, "let's just get there" mode. The run down Hwy 95 just sort of blends into a blur of rock formations and wide expanses of nothing. It has warmed up a bit now that we are down out of the mountains. I am getting tired and hungry. We have not actually sat down and had a meal since breakfast.
Highway 95 runs South along the Eastern side of the Henry Mountains and eventually crosses the Colorado River. A few miles North of the river we turn off onto Hwy 276 to make the run to Bull Frog Marina. The wind is so bad now that we are riding single file down the center of our lane in an attempt to simply keep the bikes on our side of the road and out of the ditch. The strain on my neck and shoulders is killing me. I am having a hard time keeping my grip on the handle bars somewhat relaxed. Despite the grueling workout, I find that the scenery is once again drawing my attention. The pavement is excellent and the road is winding down in amongst the rocks and small valleys. With the late afternoon sun casting long shadows, this place is stunning. Hwy 276 has it all: curves, elevation changes, long straights, flat lands, mountains, and so on. It is a great ride. But when will it end!?
Finally I spot what appears to be one of the park entrance booths that you see when entering any of the numerous National Parks in this part of the country. A wave of relief sweeps over me as I contemplate getting off the bike and relaxing. We pull up to the booth and greet the attendant. As he checks our passes we get to talking about the wind and he informs us that he has been getting reports of sustained 50 mph winds! I believe it! We tell him what a hard ride it has been getting here and how glad we are to finally be here. Then he informs us that we still have quite a ways to go before we actually reach the Marina. I cannot even begin to describe the sinking feeling and dread that oozes through my body all the way down to the toes. We thank him and with no choice continue on our merry way.
The remainder of the ride is not really very far but it seems to take forever to reach the lodge. It is a little after 7:00pm and it has be a long day. Pulling into the parking lot and getting off the bike feels great! Getting the covers on the bikes in this wind is quite the challenge. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to park the bikes except out in the totally exposed parking lot. I am seriously concerned that the bikes might blow over during the night. But there really is nothing we can do about it so we head to our rooms and clean up before getting dinner.
While waiting for the others to finish showering, I take a walk outside to check out the place. As soon as I get the door opened just a crack, the wind catches it and rips it out of my hand and slams it open all the way. Good grief! I manage to get it closed and then wander over toward the lake. The grey clouds have caught up with us and I don't think I will be able to get any cool sunset pictures over the lake. This place is interesting in that it seems the entire landscape is one big rock. There is scarcely any dirt to be seen except in the flower beds around the hotel and it was obviously trucked in from somewhere else. There are no beaches, just gently sloping rock faces that trail off into the water. (Pic 1 / Pic 2).
It seems that there is little choice regarding where to get dinner. We either eat at the hotels expensive restaurant or from the vending machines in the hallway outside the rooms. We decide to try the restaurant. After we finally get seated, it takes quite a while just to get drinks. I'm unhappy because the prices are pretty high, but what the heck, we're on vacation. The view out the window over the lake is nice and the sunset is pretty despite the clouds. After an hour or so the food finally arrives and is of mediocre quality, especially considering the price. Right after getting our food an extremely large party is seated in our area. Needless to say, we never see the waitress again.
After dinner we settle in for a few drinks. We are getting concerned because we were expecting John to meet us here. As we are debating his fate, he strolls up to the table! He manages to get the waitress's attention and order some food and another round of drinks. Then he fills us in on the details of his adventure since parting from us Monday. It takes another hour or so before we finally get our bill and head for our rooms and call it a night. Our nonsmoking room has a cigarette butt floating in the toilet, arrgghh! What a day.