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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by ScottFree, Jul 4, 2021.
I reread that post, not sure how I missed that... thanks for the heads up!
Scott, I love the route you're taking, but I do not envy the temps. I do those areas in the late spring and fall. You should get some relief as you head off 95 toward the lake and by the Henry's...and 12 should be bearable toward Boulder. Fortunately it looks like a slightly cooler spell has moved into the area...perhaps?
Scott, you're an inspiration! Just getting into adventure riding (my second season), and I have a soft spot for nostalgic stories and 35mm photos. Not to mention, SE Utah is one of my favorite places in the world. Thank you so much for this awesome RR!
A Nice Summer Day in Utah (Forty Years Ago)
Before I relate the ride from Mexican Hat to Tropic via Moki Dugway and Burr Trail, let me catch up on how I got to Mexican Hat back in 1981.
In ‘81, my goal wasn’t just Shafer Trail, obviously. Having ridden up to Moab on the Pritchett Canyon-Behind the Rocks trails (I think), paid a brief visit to Arches, and ridden down Shafer, I was feeling pretty good about the ride. And so I set off for the Needles section of Canyonlands, home of the infamous Elephant Hill, via the Lockhart Basin trail.
My album from this trip includes a comment about how navigation was easy “once the Public Road out of Moab had been found…” This referred to the thing that scared me the most when coming down Shafer Trail the day before: when the road gets into the potash mining area, with those evaporation ponds and chain-link fences topped in barbed wire, and signs everywhere screaming “PRIVATE PROPERTY,” it was easy to think I’d made a wrong turn and would soon be dealing with an ill tempered security guard. And then I passed a sign, no more than one by two feet, with the words “PUBLIC ROAD.” It was the most reassuring thing I saw all day. No such signs anymore, but the potash company has now put up signs clarifying that Shafer Trail runs across their private property, but they have graciously and generously allowed the public to use the road anyway, so would the public please respect the signs and barbed wire fences…
Anyway, I started with a run over Hurrah Pass and out to Chicken Corners for the photo that’s been my inspiration for the six years that I’ve been attempting to get this trip together:
Yes, I know, I included this picture a couple days ago. Here’s where it actually fits the narrative.
This spot gave a great view of the river:
There was raft traffic that morning, and the folks on the rafts and I could almost make out what each other were saying.
“Y’all think you could toss me a beer way up here? What? You could do it but all you’ve got is Coors Light? Never mind…”
The guidebook also told me (approximately) where to find a rather neat natural bridge on the edge of the cliff.
Of course I walked over it. Wouldn’t you?
On the way back to Lockhart Canyon Road, the iconic balanced rock:
Balanced rocks are natural selection acting on geology: lots of hard cap rock boulders find themselves sitting on softer rock that’s wearing away to a thin pillar. Only a few are positioned just right. The rest fall, and are ignored by tourists.
The Jeep Road guide said that the Lockhart Basin trail was pretty easy except for the northern end, where it went up Lockhart Canyon. This hill, the book warned, was subject to washouts, often required trail maintenance, and was sometimes in such bad shape as to be impassable. Therefore, they recommended, you should always travel the Lockhart road from Moab to Needles and not the other way around.
I must have arrived on a good day, because my trip book records that the climb was relatively easy and a lot of fun, that the Yamaha seemed to really attack the hill. Or maybe I was giddy with exhilaration simply because I made it up the hill on the first try!
Once through the canyon and into Lockhart Basin, the ride became about navigation and scenery. Navigation (in these days before GPS) was a bit dicey; not all the roads were shown on my semi-accurate trail map (and new ones were still being made by prospecting companies), and the distances written in the guidebook were hopelessly inaccurate. The Yammie’s trip meter was wildly optimistic, but the one on the guidebook author’s Jeep was even more so. I consistently came to landmarks and intersections well before his mileage numbers said I should. Maybe he spun his wheels a lot.
However… in those days, these roads were very lightly used, so tracks could last a long time. In particular, I knew there was a company in Moab that ran a weekly tour down Lockhart to Needles (and back on the paved road). They used Toyota Land Cruisers, which had a distinctive tread pattern. So, when I needed reassurance that I was on the right route, I looked for those Toyota tire prints. Long as I found them, I knew I was on the right road. Think of them as the analog version of a GPX track…
As for scenery, all I had to do was look. It was everywhere.
A comment on wear and tear: I found a YouTube video of a ride down this road a couple years ago, and found this exact spot. The road looked to be in a whole lot worse shape: the two tracks were more deeply rutted, and there were a lot more big rocks in the ruts. I guess that’s what 35-40 years will do to a dirt road. This got me thinking: many of these roads were first bulldozed during the postwar uranium boom, so they were 35-40 years old when I rode them in ‘81. They are now nearly twice that age, and judging by the videos most of them don’t get much maintenance. That may explain why some of the vids I watched while planning this trip looked more like (un)observed trials. I wonder, will we reach some point where these roads really do become impassable?
More scenery, and of course the comment on how ATTGATT had a different meaning in 1981…
Yes, I ran this picture in the teaser, but this is where it fits. And it allows me to tell a little story about that helmet: I have never gone by the name “Rusty” or had competition number 53. I got the nicely-painted helmet because a bike shop had gone out business, its inventory was being auctioned off by the table-load, the guy who ran my favorite accessory shop had bought a table’s worth of stuff, and that table included this helmet. He showed it to me, it fit, and he offered me a great price… on the condition that I not repaint it. So, for the next several years, I was “Rusty.”
Hey, it’s a little story. I didn’t say it was a particularly interesting little story.
The guidebook mentioned interesting historical things along the way. Like, near the northern end, there’s the remains of a stone wall across a small side canyon, which we are told formed a horse corral. I found this, but don’t have the picture of it with me. Sorry. Somewhere in the middle of Lockhart Basin, there was supposedly the remains of a jet fighter crash from the ‘50s, and you could still see the airplane’s aluminum tail from the trail. I couldn’t find this, and when I asked the park rangers, none of them had ever heard about it.
One thing that the book mentioned, I found, and photographed, was this little dwelling tucked into a cliff about fifty feet above the road.
The people who built this were smart; they were overlooking at place where an intermittent stream goes over a little waterfall. The stream runs after a rain, though the water’s pretty red with sediment:
Cheating a bit here: this is a photo from the rented-Jeep trip in 1980.
In 1981 the stream was pretty much dry, but—and this is perhaps why people chose to live here—there was still plenty of water in the natural pool below the waterfall. It was deep enough to swim in, and with the sediment mostly settled out, even felt like swimming in water rather than mud (I remember swimming in that pool in 1980, and finding myself covered with a thin layer of red dust after I let the sun and wind dry me).
This is only a few miles from the paved road into Canyonlands National Park, where I set up camp and reflected on one very nice day of riding in the dirt.
Continuing The Ride From Moab To Needles (in 1981) (pix added when I got home)
I mentioned a stone wall that had once been a horse corral in a side canyon along Lockhart Basin Road. Here it is:
Might not look like much anymore, but consider: people lived out in this desert, rounded up horses, maintained a living... all without air conditioning. Amazing.
A Not At All Fun Day In The Desert (still in 1981)
The next day (which my book records was a Monday) began with a hike to the top of a nearby rock, to watch the sun coming up over the campground.
The Park Service knows where to put campgrounds. I assume they didn’t move the rocks.
The sun rose, the first beams of light hit the side of a motor home parked in the campground… and there was a soft click followed by a loud “rrrr—putt-putt-putt” as the generator started up… followed by much confused shouting in German as the tents in the next site were awakened and their occupants spilled out, cussing at the noise.
I had carefully selected the site as far away from that motor home as I could find, just for that reason.
The days’ plan was to go over Elephant Hill and see the wonders on the other side. ‘Twas not exactly to be. The front side of the hill is tough, but passable.
The back side features the infamous “slot,” a 40 degree slope into a hard turn (a “pull in/back down” for four-wheel vehicles, if I recall correctly).
Take note of the saddlebag’s condition. There will be a test later.
I looked at it for a few minutes, then gritted my teeth and started down. At the bottom, I started the turn, things happened fast, and I found myself on the ground next to the bike. Oops. Well, on the good side, I had made it to the bottom of the slot. Funny how gravity does that. I picked the bike up, started the engine, puttered on another fifty feet or so, and noticed papers flying around on the wind. Cussing at whoever was littering in a national park, I stopped to pick them up and discovered they were twenty dollar bills! What a windfall! Umm… yeah, they were twenty-dollar bills exiting my right saddlebag through a large gash. Oops. I recovered my funds, patched the saddlebag (duct tape fixes everything… except inadequate riding skills), and continued a little further. That’s when I noticed a wet spot under the bike. Not oil, at least. The NPS would probably throw me in prison for spilling oil on this pristine wilderness. It was water: my plastic water jug had a hole in it.
Which meant this ride was over. You do not go into the desert without at least a gallon of water, and duct tape would not fix the jug. So I turned around, headed back, and tried to figure out how I would get back up the slot.
Yes, that is the road. Notice the repairs to the saddlebag.
I made several tries to get up this thing. Without success. Discovered many new ways to fall down, and also discovered that bare rock is a lot harder than soft dirt and sand. These falls hurt. This was starting to look serious. Luckily, I was only a few miles from the ranger station. So, I parked the bike (as if I was leaving it here intentionally), took my leaky water bottle, and set off on a hike.
The park ranger said, well, she could call a tow, but it would cost hundreds of dollars. Or I could walk back and wait for somebody with a Jeep and a winch to come by. All I really needed was a little boost up this hill. There were no doubt people in Jeeps out on the far side of the hill, and they’d be coming back sometime in the late afternoon. Sitting in the heat next to a stranded bike didn’t sound like much fun, but it was looking like my best option. Then the ranger’s boyfriend, who was staying with her, ambled in and listened to the tale of woe. He said he had a lot of dirt-biking experience, maybe he could give this a try. So the ranger drove us out to the trailhead, we walked over the hill, found the bike exactly where I’d left it. I started it, he then gave it a try.
Right up the hill, made it look easy. He then graciously handed the bike back to me, and we rode double down the front side of the hill and back to the ranger station.
Well, sometimes you learn things. But did he have to make it look so easy? It reminded me of my short competition career, when I’d been stuck on something and one of the “A” class riders would go past me as if the obstacle I was stuck on didn’t even exist. Ah well.
I repaid my rescuer by giving him a lift into Monticello the next morning. I forget what he needed there, but it had something to do with getting his Honda 750 running again (it was parked out behind the ranger’s trailer). Not sure exactly how we fitted two of us and my camping gear on the XT, but we did it. And I was on my way to Arizona, New Mexico, and ultimately Texas before heading for home.
Which brings us, finally, to Mexican Hat. Back on the Shafer Trail, at the Goosenecks, I promised a photo of some really neat “entrenched meanders” down by Mexican Hat. Here they are:
The San Juan River Goosenecks. There is a state park there, and it is worth the visit.
I just passed through Mexican Hat. Think I went to Flagstaff that night, and stayed in a hotel because it was raining. That would turn out to be a sign.
But the sign I’m seeing right now says “breakfast is served.” More (including reports on yesterday’s rides up Moki Dugway and Burr Trail) later.
I've seen windy days in the Moab area before, but not $20 bills blowing in it...LOL! That was awesome.
One of the (few) benefits of getting old is that you can laugh at the dumb things you did when you were younger.
Much to my surprise, the last couple days haven’t been scorchers. The most miserable heat/humidity day of the trip remains last Friday in Kansas, where the temperature was over 100 and the humidity was something like 40%, meaning it felt like about 110. Moab was hotter than hell when I arrived, but surprisingly comfortable on Tuesday morning when I rode Shafer (it got pretty toasty in the afternoon, when I walked to the downtown for lunch and a beverage). The ride to Mexican Hat started under somewhat chilly rain and ended with mildly steamy heat. Yesterday… well, that’s my cue for the latest report:
In Utah, This IS The Direct Route
The San Juan River looked a bit different in the morning:
Overnight it had turned from a pale green to a bright orange-red, courtesy of sediment washing down from yesterday’s rains. Some of that sediment probably came from the Valley of the Gods.
After a hearty breakfast at the restaurant (the San Juan Inn doesn’t include a “continental breakfast” but does have its own open-to-the-public restaurant. I think this might be better, because I get to choose what I want and the cooking has to be good enough that people will actually pay for it), I headed up Utah 261 toward the Moki Dugway. The weather was perfect for a ride: sunny, only in the comfortable 70s, light breeze. Perfect.
This is where the gravel began… and the GoPro ended for good.
I turned it on. Wouldn’t work. Complained of no SD card. Checked. SD card was inserted properly. Pulled it out and re-inserted. Still “NO SD,” and now the card wouldn’t click into place. Figuring earlier damage might be interfering with it, I pried the back off the camera and tried inserting the card directly into the socked on the motherboard. Still no click, still “NO SD.” Then the card popped out, tumbled off my pillion bag, and disappeared. I searched the ground around the bike. No sign of it. Removed the pillion to see if it had fallen into the bike somewhere. Nope. Apparently it went into an alternate dimension. There is a tiny chance it found a way into the hollow back fender of the bike, but I’m not about to take the bike apart that far.
Luckily, the videos from Shelf and Shafer were also imported to the iPad, so they were not lost. But… no video from Moki Dugway or Burr Trail. ‘Tis OK. I got the video I really needed.
As I expected, Moki was a bit of an anticlimax after Shafer. YouTube is full of videos in which people ride this road on full-dress touring bikes, with one hand on the bars and the other on the phone shooting selfies. The gravel road seems in better shape than some paved roads I’ve been on. Makes me wonder why they keep it gravel. Could be as a tourist attraction (people come from hundreds of miles around to ride the “dirt switchbacks,” they spend money). Or it could be to keep the big rigs from using 261 as a short cut: there are signs warning of a 10,000 pound load limit on the gravel part, which effectively means no through traffic over that weight.
The cover of my Benchmark Maps Utah road atlas features a picture virtually identical to this one:
They put the overlook there for a reason. Now shut up and take that picture. Cameras will be checked in Hite.
The one big difference is that on my atlas cover, there’s traffic on the switchbacks. There is also oncoming traffic in those YouTube videos. This morning, I did not see a single vehicle on the switchbacks, or anywhere else on this road. I think I already mentioned how little traffic I saw on Shafer (basically TAT rider Mark and one Jeep), when I’d seen a lot of traffic three years ago. I expected things to be a lot more crowded than they’ve turned out to be this summer.
A look back into the Valley of the Gods:
From up here the road looks just fine. Of course, from this distance, all roads look just fine.
Utah 261 runs across some high country that’s surprisingly green for the “desert.”
261 ends at Utah 95, which heads up toward Hanksville. On a “normal” year, I’d be turning left after ten miles and heading west on Utah 276 to catch the ferry at Halls Crossing/Bullfrog. This is not a normal year. The ferry across Lake Powell has been closed since late June due to the absence of an actual lake at this point. Not only is the ferry closed, nearly all the paved boat launches are as well, at least until the park service finishes adding “temporary” boilerplate (?) extensions to them. Their plan is to try and maintain one functioning paved ramp on the northern part of the lake (Bullfrog) and one on the southern (Wahweap, down by the dam). The website dryly points out that a dirt launch “ramp” at Hite is also open, limited only by one’s courage.
So, I continued north on 95. Temperatures, which had been blast-furnace hot when I last rode this stretch in 2018, remained comfortably cool. I passed this odd formation, which is named “Cheese Box Mesa.” Don’t ask me why.
I think it’s a bit weird that humans have this habit of naming rocks for everyday objects. Does this rock really look like a cheese box? (Come to think of it, what does a cheese box look like?)
A bit further on, I was overtaken by a couple Harley riders out for a tour. We stopped at a viewpoint in what was called “White Canyon” on the map… which made limited sense, since the road had run next to a brilliant red cliff for some time.
Made a bit more sense when we walked over to the right, and saw the world drop away into a deep canyon… in white rock.
A ways further along, I stopped for gas replenishment at Hite. Wasn’t even close to needing gas (I had filled up in Mexican Hat and used all of 1.1 gallons to go 80 miles), but stations are said to be few and far between. Topping off at Hite assured I had enough gas to make Boulder, at the far end of the Burr Trail.
I was somewhat surprised to find a human being tending the store at Hite—I suspect it’s one of the lonelier jobs in the world, what with the river—I mean, “lake”—being pretty much inaccessible at this point (there is a huge concrete launching ramp at Hite, which ends at least a half-mile from any water). But there she was, talkative, and from… Indiana, by way of the Chicago area. Seems like everybody I encounter in Utah came out from Chicago at some point! We talked about a lot of things, ultimately including the lack of cell coverage… which led to a discussion of those satellite-based emergency help gizmos… which led to a story of two women who needed theirs not long ago… which led to the mention that they were riding Himalayans… which led to me showing her mine (the Himalayan—get your mind out of the gutter)… because she is interested in maybe buying one.
One thing leads to another…
And the road leads, next, to the bridge across the mighty Colorado, the one Edward Abbey for some reason wanted to blow up in The Monkey Wrench Gang. Never quite understood what he had against this bridge. I think it’s a pretty nice one.
And up the other side, through some nice curves and scenery.
We have now zigged. We will next zag, onto the other end of Utah 276. Ninety-two miles to go what would have been half that if the lake had been higher.
It’s how you get around in Utah. And it’s perfectly suited for traveling on a motorcycle.
Scott, your view of the The White Canyon is a spot I've primitive camped by van and RV quite a few times over the years...up on the ledge, not below...LOL! Not sure if you were just on the highway overlook or that pull-in just across a usually dry stream bed which is not far from the road. It was a great jumping off camp spot where I could do a bunch of rides on my street legal KLX300. It's a beautiful spot that accesses a lot of great off road routes.
Thursday Part Two: Not Increasing My Love For Pavement
The northern half of Utah 276 is considerably less interesting that Utah 95. It’s mostly a boat hauling route. I saw a lot of boats moving northward. Giving up on the season?
Utah geology is just plain weird. Every rock layer is tilted, there are bands of color in everything. How did this thing, which looks like a petrified sand dune, come into existence?
There is a little town called Ticaboo a few miles north of the National Recreation Area boundary. They have gas. Three stations, all currently charging over four bucks a gallon for regular. Since I had filled up at Hite, I did not need gas. Nor did I want a lunch as big as the ones they were offering, so I just grabbed a little snack… and a nice Burr Trail sticker. I was a bit wary that buying the sticker before actually riding the road would lead to bad luck… and I had heard that the one place there could be trouble on Burr Trail is the dry-wash crossing a few miles from the Bullfrog end. There had been some rain lately, and the thing was said to be tricky if it was wet. So I resolved to not put the sticker on the bike till after I’d ridden Burr.
Got to the crossing.
Alas, pavement resumed shortly after the crossing. It had some nice curves,
but I was really looking for a dirt road at this point, after not getting to ride Valley of the Gods yesterday. My Benchmark Maps atlas said the pavement would run out in a few miles, where Burr ran into the road to Starr Springs, a place the map calls “Eggnog Junction.” But… still on pavement.
By the way, it’s interesting how none of my maps agree on what this road is called. Benchmark Maps calls it “Notom-Bullfrog Road.” Google calls it “BLM 12000.” Apple calls it “Burr Trail.” The OSM maps used by my GPS app call it “CR 0598,” though they sometimes hedge their bets and call it “Burr Trail Road.” Not that it matters—after the initial sign on Utah 276, telling you to turn right onto Burr Trail, there are no street name signs. Just a few signs at intersections telling you what’s in each direction (Boulder, Notom, Starr Springs…)
The pavement finally ran out at the boundary of Capitol Reef National Park.
This road runs along a nice example of Utah geology that I suspect continues all the way up to the developed part of Capitol Reef. Possibly it’s the same formation that I-70 dynamited its way through at Eagle Creek.
What you see there is (I think) the Oyster Shell Reef: a layer of relatively hard white stone that’s been tilted up at something close to a 30º angle. On the backside it drops almost straight down, as the softer red stone under it wore away. It’s part of a larger formation called the Waterpocket Fold, which appears to run all the way up to Utah 24 by the National Park headquarters.
There are a few gaps where streams or ice or some other form of erosion have cut their way through the wall. We are headed up one of them:
Unlike Shafer Trail and Moki Dugway, where the road runs up the edge of a long cliff in the open, the Burr switchbacks are inside a fairly narrow break in the white rock layer. There’s a definite feeling of being inside a gap, with tall rock cliffs on both sides.
The road climbs till it hits a wall, turns around and climbs until it hits the wall on the other side of the gap.
It was fun. More washboarding than Shafer or Moki, but a good ride to the top.
All too soon, Burr Trail leaves Capitol Reef and again becomes paved. It’s still incredibly pretty as it winds through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (note to the government: that name is way, waaay too long).
There is only one real problem with this section of Burr Trail: every now and then, a sign (obviously placed in error) indicates the speed limit is something absurd like 30 or even 20 miles an hour. There are also some that just say REDUCED SPEED AHEAD, which is kind of silly when (a) the last sign was ten miles back, so who knows what the current limit is, and (b) there is no follow-on sign with the reduced speed limit.
As I said, obviously placed in error. Or perhaps a prank by somebody at the highway department.
By the time I was approaching Boulder, the weather was starting to look a bit sketchy. The sun was still illuminating the white rock formations, but the summer afternoon monsoons were warming up.
So, once on Utah 12, I didn’t make photo stops, just bought a snack in Boulder and gas in Escalante, and tried to beat the weather to Tropic.
Didn’t quite make it. I started getting spits and dribbles around the time I hit the national forest boundary. Put on the rain gear (well, added the pants to my already-waterproof Roadcrafter jacket), settled into a full-on drizzle once I was over the 7600’ summit, and finally ran into a wall of water coming into Henrieville. This was a build-an-ark downpour, big heavy drops that hurt when they hit, propelled by winds that were trying to push me off the road (when they couldn’t do that, they settled for blinding me every time a truck went by the other way).
Did I mention I was also in a construction zone at the time?
But, being a pop-up monsoon season storm, it ended almost as soon as it began. Maybe three or four miles in the downpour, ten or twelve miles of rain in all. By the time I got to my motel in Tropic, the sun was out. I checked in, performed a little maintenance on the bike (1/3 turn on the chain adjusters, clean and lube the chain, find a level place to check the oil, add about four ounces), and strolled a couple blocks to the pizza joint for a “meat lovers” and a couple cans of Uinta Kölsch. By the time I got back to the motel, properly fed and watered after a delightful 265-mile day, I didn’t want to do much but crash out till morning. Which is why this posting is so late.
Friday: Fallen Arches (not that kind)
Beautiful morning in Tropic. The hotel had one of those “continental” breakfasts, featuring packetized oatmeal, so I went next door to a real restaurant for a “meat lovers” omelette. I wonder if the omelette cook moonlights at the pizza joint.
One of the fun things about the internet is that you can get an answer (not necessarily a correct one) to any question you ask. I asked for the as-the-crow-flies distance between where I was and my home, and confirmed that Tropic, UT, was the furthest away from home I would be on this trip. 1370 miles, about 100 further than Mexican Hat. From here on, the trip is taking me, however indirectly, toward home.
With a full belly, it was time to hit the road!
…briefly. At least it was a pretty place to stop and wait for the “pilot car” to escort us all through the four miles of construction.
But soon, I was at the morning’s destination: Kodachrome™ Basin State Park! I had intended to visit this bit of geological weirdness three years ago (on the “Rumsfeldian Zen” trip), but been distracted by a luggage rack that cracked apart and needed to be welded back together in Escalante (this introduced me to the Desert Doctor, so it wasn’t entirely a wasted morning).
I had a brief chat with the nice young lady at the fee booth, who was… you guessed it, from the midwest, by way of Illinois. By the time I get home, will anybody be left to say “welcome back”?
Oh, and One Million Internet Points to the Utah State Parks for charging motorcycles a mere five bucks to enter (I think cars are $25). We pay the same as walk-ins and bicyclists, which is as it should be. It was also interesting to see a sign reminding visitors this is a state park, not a national park, so their national park passes would not be valid here. Utah is probably the only state that has to remind people of this.
The map showed a paved road leading to the far back of the park, and an unpaved road leading to “Chimney Rock” and the “Shakespeare/Sentinel Trail.” Guess which road I took…
This is “Chimney Rock.” Doesn’t look much like a chimney to me. In fact, what it does look like makes me notice there’s a big gap in our tendency to name rocks for things we recognize… a point that will be made more forcefully as the morning progresses.
Looking the other way…
The gravel & dirt road to this point was only a couple miles (it’s not a big park), but it was bumpy and had a few muddy patches that made me glad I didn’t attempt Valley of the Gods on Wednesday. The Pirelli MT60 really does not like mud.
Oh, and there were cattle wandering around in the park. And on the road. It struck me as odd that there was a fence around the Chimney Rock area, with a cattle guard, and lots of cattle on the inside of the fence. Of course, there were also lots of cattle on the outside of the fence. Go figure.
I rode over to the Shakespeare Arch trail, only to discover that it’s fallen:
Not just the signpost, the arch.
I should, at this point, insert some kind of a bad joke involving William Shakespeare’s feet, but none immediately comes to mind.
I knew the arch had collapsed (there was a sign at the park entrance station), but I was still surprised to find no trace of it. Where are the big chunks of fallen rock? Did it completely disintegrate? A mystery.
Here, courtesy of a sign at the trail head (which does not yet mention that the arch has fallen), is what Shakespeare Arch once looked like.
When I was in Arches a few years back, I saw signs about how a couple arches I visited in the past have fallen. We’re told “geologic time” is much slower than human time, but sometimes geologic things happen on a human scale.
I didn’t follow the trail to “The Sentinel,” because it was getting to be hot and sweaty and the trail was pretty rugged. There are close to 70 of these “sand pipes” in the park, and some are closer to the road.
There is a “Panorama Point” in the park. This panorama was taken from a different point.
It’s a cake! A rocky road layer cake!
So now we come to what makes Kodachrome Basin special. What do they look like to you?
Non-dirty-mind note: none of these campsites are suitable for tents.
Yeah, this one’s even got a sack…
So what are these formations? They are called “sedimentary pipes,” and scientists aren’t sure how they formed. They agree that the things actually formed underground and were exposed (ha-ha) by erosion, and that they are made of coarser sediments than the surrounding rocks, and the particles are stuck together by a stronger form of natural cement than is found in the (now eroded away) surrounding rock. But… how the sediments collected in these columns and got glued together? Nobody’s sure. Maybe the stuff percolated into cracks formed by earthquakes. Maybe these were hot mineral springs that filled up with coarse debris. Maybe the stuff was squeezed up from below into faults.
These are the questions that keep geologists awake at night.
There are a lot of trails in the park, and one could spend a couple days here. Or one could get on down the road, as there are places to be seen.
Friday Part Two: What Planet Are We On?
Navigation is simple: take Route 12 north. Stop when you get to Torrey.
I had planned a more complex route, taking the dirt road up to Hell’s Backbone, the original, CCC-built, road between Escalante and Boulder. It is said to have a bridge spanning a preposterously deep gorge. Alas, there had been a fair amount of rain in the last couple days, and I was again advised against attempting what (they told me) is not an all weather road.
This is still a new thing to me. The unpaved roads in Illinois are not particularly exciting, but nearly all of them are all weather. They might be a little messier after a rain, but they aren’t going to wrap your tire in mud. Oh well. I will have to come back someday. The sign at the entrance to the road is enticing.
So I stayed on the second automobile road to Boulder, which has charms of its own:
A panorama from “Head of Rocks,” which looks out over this other-worldly white stone landscape.
The road is just a thin black line…
Which brings us to the “hogback…”
Like Skyline Drive in Cañon City, but much higher, and with curves.
This strikes me as highway engineers being allowed to have fun. They could have put the road down a little, on one side or the other of this thin rock spine, but they said no, we’ll run it right across the top, with huge dropoffs on both sides.
Ya gotta love a road like this.
I stopped briefly at Calf Creek Recreation Area, looking for the “self service bike wash” (the creek ford) that I had found there in 1990 and 1992. I was either in the wrong place, or they’ve replaced the ford with a bridge, or the ford’s back in what is now the “registered campers only” area. Oh, well. I wasn’t planning to make the two mile (each way) hike to the falls anyway. I fear I let that opportunity slip away thirty years ago…
Rolled into Boulder looking to kill a little time and grab a small lunch. No luck: the Boulder Grill, which would have been a fine place to stop if I hadn’t devoured that enormous breakfast, had nothing small. Next time…
I grabbed an ice cream bar from this little general store just up the road:
“Film”? I asked the clerk how long that sign’s been up there. She said it’s been a long time.
North of Boulder, the road rises, eventually reaching 9600 feet. On this road I hit the trifecta: construction, animals, and weather. The construction was, fortunately, minimal. Nothing actively being done, just occasional bumps where the pavement had been ground off and not yet replaced. The animals were mostly cattle, who have the great virtue of being stupid enough to be led into a slaughterhouse without (usually) attempting to get away… though there was one calf who was spooked by the bike and started running in my general direction. Fortunately, not too close. And a deer or two. Lots of them on this trip. Then the weather… spits of rain, and then I noticed I was getting hit with something that bounced off. Yep, hail. At least it was small stuff, and it didn’t last too long.
I stopped at an overlook for a view of Capitol Reef:
Notice the sunshine. It was an inspiration.
Got into Torrey about 2, brought my stuff in, filled the gas tank (75.6 mpg) and headed over to Capitol Reef.
Some of my favorite places to ride. My wife and I go there often.
Friday Part Three: Digging Up Some Dirt In The Capitol
Capitol Reef is a fascinating park. Long and skinny, incorporating a big chunk of the Waterpocket Fold. The developed area, where Utah route 24 passes through it, is a pretty small section. Someday I want to ride down Notom Road, through the Narrows to Burr Trail. I think that with the ferry closed, that might have been a more sensible plan for yesterday: take 95 up to Hanksville, 24 to Notom, Notom to Burr, and then down to Escalante. Coulda, woulda, shoulda…
In 2018, I visited the park, rode up the paved scenic drive, turned around and came back. I noticed there were a few unpaved roads as well, but since I was on the Harley I skipped them. This trip, I figured to check some out.
Capitol Gorge road is moderately rough gravel, dirt, sand and occasional bare rock. In other words, fun. Wish it was longer, but after a couple miles it ends at a trailhead.
The trail map promised interesting things, but at the cost of a minimum two mile hike. My back was still bothering me, so I skipped the hikes and rode back out.
Nice gorge, pretty narrow in places.
Interesting colors in the rocks, too.
Back on the paved road, which doesn’t just cross the dry wash; at times it’s in the dry wash.
The second dirt road, Grand Wash, had ominous signs warning visitors not to enter if the weather was threatening.
It starts out with a disturbing part of Utah history, the Uranium boom. There was a thin layer of rock with poor quality uranium ore on this land.
So of course somebody had to try and dig it out.
They went broke and left a mess to be cleaned up.
There is an arch along Grand Wash Road, but it’s really up there. I had to break out the DSLR and the manual-focus telephoto lens to get a decent shot of it.
I’ve seen a ridiculously small number of arches on this trip. Usually I can’t go ten feet without bumping into one, but this is only the third legitimate arch I’ve seen.
Here’s something that would be an arch, if only the rock was thinner. Instead, it’s going to be a sort of amphitheater.
These roads were bumpy, so I started working on technique, in particular standing on the pegs for extended distances. I have not been one to do that. I know it’s a standard dirt bike technique, but when I worked on it at the BMW training class, I had disappointing results. Today, riding down these little NPS dirt roads, I decided to stand up and steer by shifting weight on the footpegs, and wow—the Himalayan responds really well to this. Wish I’d practiced this technique more before I went up Shafter; could have saved my back a pounding. Well, life’s about learning, and I recall Land’s End (Sunday’s destination road) being really rough in 1989. I can always start doing stuff better.
And they are right: standing on the pegs looks cool and impresses other people. Especially those in pickup trucks who can’t go half as fast as you can.
Of course, the dirt roads in the two parks only added up to about thirteen miles. I need to find a dirt road that actually goes somewhere tomorrow.
One of the really neat things in Capitol Reef is the former town of Fruita, so named for its orchards.
So how do you get these fruit trees, and a rather nice campground, in the middle of the desert? The secret is the Fremont River, a little stream that wouldn’t rise to the status of creek in the eastern part of the country. Here, it sustains a beautiful little oasis.
And that’s it for today. Back to the hotel, grabbed a bite, calling it a night. Off to another Fruita, the city in Colorado, tomorrow. Not looking like a highlight-of-the-trip day—just east to Hanksville, up to Green River, and see if I can find frontage roads and such to minimize use of I-70. Not even sure where I’ll find a dirt road, unless I take a quick spin down a few miles of Notom. Or find that back way into Green River from UT 24…
Scott, that warning about Hell's Backbone road is way overstated. It's a very good road. Like most/many Utah dirt roads, it can go to pot in a heavy rain, but otherwise it's an easy road with great scenery.
There is a great dirt road in Capitol Reef called Cathedral Valley. 50 miles or so. You do have to cross the river, though.
Saturday: I Rode 199 Miles and I’m Still in Fruita?
I was sort afraid of that. Oh well. I also misread the distance and thought I wouldn’t have enough time to ride it. There was a sign in Escalante that seemed to say it was 50 miles to Hells Backbone, which implied another 50 miles back. In truth, it’s about 45 miles from Escalante to Boulder via Hells Backbone. Crap.
I look at things like that and assume there’s a good reason for them to happen… like, maybe to give me a reason to come back. It would sorta suck to say I’ve ridden every road in Utah that I wanted to ride…
Anyway today’s ride… mostly getting from one place to… the same place? Not quite, but still mostly an A-to-B day.
I got a really early start because the hotel’s “breakfast” was a bagel, an undercooked hard-boiled egg, and a broken orange juice machine. So I was on the road before 8 am, while the Harley guys were still putting on their assless chaps (not making this up; they were at the other end of the parking lot, studiously ignoring me) and the guy with the hotshot sporty-touring bike hadn’t even taken off his cover.
Aside: I had a motorcycle cover. It came with my Road King. Never used it, as I sorta figured that if I’m going to ride the bike in the rain, it can sit outside in the rain. Eventually the squirrels in the garage decided to burrow into it and use it as a nest. Never figured out the point. I carry enough crap as it is when I travel.
So, across Capitol Reef and past the historic settlement of Fruita one more time. Right into the sunrise, of course. Luckily my Nolan N-40.5 has a really nice adjustable bill (I refuse to call it a “peak”) that blocked the sun without obscuring the road, or much of the scenery.
You really have only two choices when riding from Capitol Reef to Hanksville: stop every ten feet to photograph a bit of scenery, or some historical structure, or say “no pictures” and enjoy the wonderful sweeping turns and the way the cliffs constantly shift as you progress. Having ridden this road in 2018 and done the former thing, I did the latter today. Only one picture:
I want to run the stripes on that cliff through a bar-code scanner and see what I’ve ordered.
I was moving surprisingly fast, in Hanksville before 9 am. Hanksville is home of another case of dementia autopartsia, where people get the uncontrollable urge to weld up dinosaur skeletons from junked car parts.
The automotive T-Rex thunders its triumph after dispatching its parent:
The gas station I stopped last time was closed, which allowed me to stumble across this place:
Hollow Mountain! And the Beast(s) thereof!
OK, this one takes an explanation… back in 1956, somebody at United Artists got the bright idea to make a cowboy/monster mashup movie, in which two ranchers would get into a range war about disappearing cattle, only to discover in the final reel that their livestock were being eaten by a dinosaur! Might have been a good idea, except that the PR people put the dinosaur on the posters, turning it from a cowboy movie with a surprise ending to a really disappointing monster movie, where the monster doesn’t show up till the very end. The great Chicago-based horror host Rich “Svengoolie” Koz would run this movie with all kinds of snark about “trust us, there IS a beast…” and even a musical number…
So it was kinda fun to discover not just Hollow Mountain, but three rather hungry Beasts on the roof!
And yes, this really is a business built into a man-made cave in the rock. It’s not a repurposed mine shaft or anything; the guy who built it decided that a convenience store built into a big sandstone cliff would be a tourist attraction.
Well… I did buy a candy bar there, so I guess he was right.
And, the place had a wonderfully amusing sign over the bathroom sink:
Wash those hands!
I had toyed with the idea of taking the unpaved cut-off from about five miles south of I-70 and into Green River, to bypass the interstate and do some pavement-free miles. Alas, when I got to the point where google said the cut-off hit Route 24, there was… nothing. The GPS showed… nothing. So, up to I-70, five miles of interstate, and there I was in Green River at something like ten in the morning… and only going as far as Fruita, Colorado.
I did (later) look at the GPS data more closely, and at Google’s satellite pictures. It appears there is a road, though it might be little more than a line on the map and two tire ruts. Hard to say. Anyway, I couldn’t find it.
Which left me with a problem at Green River: I had all of 90-100 miles left to go to Fruita, it was only ten in the morning… even with the laundry, I was looking at a lot of free time. I thought about maybe getting into Fruita, ditching my stuff at the hotel, and rushing out to ride Land’s End Road up Grand Mesa. I’d almost certainly return in rain, but it would allow me to ride further tomorrow, and if I pushed things I might be home another day earlier.
Then I noticed that my reservation for Sunday night in Steamboat Springs was already past its cancellation deadline. Crap, I thought…
Luckily, the Utah Transportation Department had me covered. I had planned to take old US 50/6, which is more or less a frontage road along I-70, instead of the slab. The map showed it as paved.
Well, sort of.
I’ve ridden (parts of) the TWAT. Now I’ve ridden the Taint, as in “tain’t pavement, tain’t dirt, tain’t gravel.” Most of this road seemed to be pavement that was being allowed to return to its component parts. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, asphalt to gravel, as it were. I couldn’t tell if the loose gravel had blown in from the land on either side of the road, or if it was being shed by the pavement as the asphalt slowly disintegrated. There were stretches of caked-on, sun-baked mud, where I think rainstorms had washed mud over the pavement.
In truth, the dirt/gravel parts of the road were better riding than the places where there was still something like pavement, because the paved stretches were full of heaves and gaps and potholes.
It was fun to notice that this primitive, disintegrating road was a mere half-mile from the interstate.
Of course, if the bike broke, I might as well be a hundred miles from the main road. I saw absolutely nobody on this road.
There’s a short stretch where the road is unambiguously paved, around Cisco. Which turns out to be the home of a general store that’s called either “Buzzard’s Belly” or “Bussard’s Belly.” The letters look like “Z” but they’re facing the wrong way. You decide.
Had a nice chat with the proprietor, who has been here for forty years and is one of maybe two permanent residents of Cisco. So what’s the place doing here? I noticed a couple of raft-company vans in the lot when I pulled in; maybe they get business from the floaters. Otherwise, maybe just stubbornness. Life ain’t gonna push us around. Not that I would know anything about that.
Either way, a nice place to stop for an ice cream bar. Then, thirteen miles of I-70 (during which I managed to maintain all of 60-65 mph, or 15-20 under the posted 80 mph limit), and another stretch of old 6/50 to the border.
Very well marked.
On the Colorado side, the road was unambiguously paved, with a center line and even passing/no-passing zones. I followed it into Fruita, arriving at the motel around 2 pm. Still early, but I needed to do laundry anyway. Took advantage of the pool to relax while the machine was washing my clothes, then headed over to the Other Brewery in town, the one I hadn’t visited in 2018:
And that’s that. 199 miles today. Tomorrow will be longer: I intend to go up Land’s End Road, then once on top of Grand Mesa I am looking at taking a dirt road to Silt. After that, I think I’m stuck on interstate through Glenwood Canyon (but it’s gorgeous and theoretically posted 55 mph) before I follow the Colorado River at Dotsero, onto a road the state map promises me is pavement free. Spending the night in Steamboat Springs, where I bet I can find a brewery.
Monday is the last day in the mountains, going up to Laramie to see the Ames Pyramid, then finishing the day in… Nebraska… (sigh)
My Colorado map shows an unpaved road running east out of Steamboat, over Buffalo Pass (10,180’) and eventually into Walden. Anybody know about that road?
Off to dinner… and seeing the end of the fun stuff looming up ahead…
I saw the turn off for that. Wasn’t about to try such fun without much knobbier tires and preferably an accomplice to take pictures when I took a bath in the river.
Your second picture suggests it isn’t just a straight ford. Do you have to ride some distance in the river?
Maybe 50 yds. Usually solid sandy bottom. This time it was rocky. Not very deep unless flooding. The sand through the valley and by the river was deep this year. It is a beautiful ride. As an aside, Cisco is where the final scene of the original "Vanishing Point" was filmed.
It does look like fun. What’s on the other side? I am still attempting to maintain the position that I don’t ride dirt for the sake of riding dirt, but because there’s something there that can’t be experienced any other way.
I was able to maintain that attitude when I owned a KLR (barely); very able to maintain it when I owned a GS… getting a lot harder to continue the pretense when I randomly throw the Himalayan down a pavement-free road just because it’s not paved and I’m tired of asphalt
But let’s hold off on the philosophical (?) rumination (after that Mexican dinner, I’ve got no room for a cud) until I’m in Nebraska and there’s nothing left to talk about other than Things I Learned On This Trip.
Meanwhile, let’s catch up with 1981 me… now with pictures, as I had nothing better to do this morning (updating the day after I got home) but insert some 1981 pix to help finish out that story.
After passing through Mexican Hat, I went down to Page, AZ, passing by Monument Valley. After Canyonlands (and perhaps still smarting from Elephant Hill), I decided not to pay an entry fee to ride around on a dirt road and look at big rocks. So this is all I saw of it.
If indeed this is Monument Valley. The picture is titled "This Might Be Monument Valley." So it's equally possible it's not, I suppose.
At Page, I stopped to tour Glen Canyon Dam.
Pretty as a picture postcard. Notice the presence of an actual lake behind the dam.
It might seem outrageous to younger people, but in 1981 Lake Powell was a real lake. In fact, when I visited the dam in 1984, the problem was too much water, not too little—the lake was threatening to overtop the gates at the spillway, which was out of service because the last time they opened it, boulders the size of Volkswagen Beetles had ripped out of the spill way tunnel. Anyway, the most memorable thing about the 1981 tour was the “Building the Dam” movie preceding the visit to the power plant. The director was really determined to show all the ways that concrete can come out of mixers, chutes, buckets, etc. It was a bit unsettling. I think the director probably went on to make specialized adult movies. If you catch my drift.
So much for the dam (at least that one). You can’t visit the Southwest without seeing pre-Columbian native American ruins, so on this trip I stopped at Wupatki/Sunset Crater National Monument. Wupatki is a fairly big dwelling:
I am not sure how much of this was reconstructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the ‘30s. I did notice drain tiles in the rooms, which the park ranger admitted were not original. She joked that CCC workers from out east installed them, not realizing that there’s next to no rain in this part of the country.
I should note that it was drizzling when she said this.
Sunset Crater is a nearby volcano, part of the same national monument because Wupatki’s people and the volcano were intertwined inseparably.
No, the people did not leave when the volcano erupted—they left when it stopped erupting and stopped raining mineral-rich volcanic ash onto their fields. Seems the soil here is really poor.
There is a lava field at Sunset Crater, complete with lava tubes that you can explore. I did. Can’t find the pictures, of course.
So, down to Flagstaff.
The next day I headed to New Mexico, to visit friends in Silver City. It was a long, long day: in the morning I rode down Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona, made a stop at the natural water slide at Slide Rock.
What fun! Then, down to the Tonti Natural Bridge, a unique formation, a natural bridge built up out of travertine (stone deposited by mineral rich water). You pay a small fee, park on top, hike down to the bottom. A tiny waterfall pours from the top of the bridge, and sort of peters out in mid-air.
And then, down to (T) Roosevelt Dam, which in 1981 was a gorgeous piece of stone engineering.
In '81, you could ride across the top of the dam, which was a pretty neat thing. This is also, of course, the end of the Apache Trail (from Phoenix). In those days all three of the roads that meet at this dam were gravel or dirt, and the highway department had done a great job of covering the route to the north (the one I came down from Tonto Natural Bridge) with a thick layer of loose gravel. It seemed more work to ride than the dirt roads up by Moab! I will blame this on the (by then well worn) "universal trials" tires that were standard equipment on dual purpose bikes back then. Equally inept in dirt and pavement, and particularly bad on loose gravel.
I regret to report that I went back to the dam on a business trip in 1993, only to find it was being buried in soulless concrete as part of an “improvement” project, raising the height of the dam to trap more water for the golf courses of Phoenix. I am not sure how much that helped, as the lake is currently at only two thirds of capacity. And of the three dirt roads that converged on the dam, only the Apache Trail was still unpaved.
Somewhere in the desert east of Safford (a town later immortalized in the Albert Brooks movie Lost In America), I stumbled upon this monument to Melvin Jones, the founder of the Lions Club. It was, as I recall, pretty much in the middle of nowhere.
Possibly at the same stop, I decided I should get a photo of the bike with an actual saguaro cactus, so I did... also getting a fair piece of my finger. How I can not notice my finger in the picture when I'm framing up with an SLR, I don't know. But I do the same thing with phone cameras now. Maybe I have some kind of selective blindness that doesn't notice my own finger in front of the lens. Another mystery: notice that the left saddlebag has been replaced by a stuff bag secured by bungee cords. I don’t remember when, or why, I did this.
Especially strange since it was the right saddlebag that I tore up on Elephant Hill. Did I have another spill that was so bad I blanked out the memory?
So I encountered some drizzle at Wupatki. And a pretty good downpour while I was in the hotel in Flagstaff. I didn’t pay much attention to this. I should have.
I have received at least my fair share, and probably more, rain during the summer in what’s supposed to be the desert. Usually the storms are brief and scattered, but every now and then Ma Nature gets things organized. This happened to me in ‘81, east of Safford, AZ, where I faced a choice: ride a little north, toward Morenci/Clifton, and then south into Silver City, or ride a little south, toward Lordsburg, then north into Silver City. I saw ominous clouds over the Morenci route, so I chose the less-scenic Lordsburg route.
And ran into this:
It rained. Then it rained some more. Then the bike stopped running, because the last time I’d adjusted the points I had slightly torn the cover gasket. Big deal, right—I was going to The Desert. Yeah.
I kicked and kicked, with no success, before I discovered water in the points housing. By then the storm, instead of fading away as these things normally do, had built to tropical ferocity. I suddenly realized I was standing next to the highest conductive object in the neighborhood, in an electrical storm. Not a brilliant move.
I skittered down the embankment, keeping my eyes open for flash floods, until the rain abated. Which it did—somewhat. A guy came past in a pickup truck and asked if he could help. Alas, no WD-40. But he did have a beer in the back (and one in the front for himself), and we commiserated about the weather while we drank them. Must have made the bike happy, because it started and I rode as far as Lordsburg. There, I had to ride through a flooded viaduct, and… you can guess what happened. Pushed it to a hardware store that had never heard of “water displacer spray.” Dried the points the best I could, and it stumbled to life. It stalled out three more times on the way to Silver City, despite a lack of any serious rain.
But, I made it… around midnight.
OK, now for the test: what was my reason for buying a ‘79 XT500 with points instead of a new ‘81 model with electronic ignition?
(B) Was afraid electronic ignition would break down in the middle of nowhere
Luckily my host in Silver City had beer.