3 Brothers & A Buddy – Day 3

(click on map to enlarge)

Friday, May 18

Morning arrives and I awake to realize that I’ve slept well except for the bright street lamp mounted on the nearby bathhouse. I swear every private campground owner thinks they have to light the place up like a downtown parking lot. It’s probably comforting to the retirees in their motor homes but I keep waking up thinking something is going on. If darkness is desired, one must stay in a National Park or rough it out in the woods. And then there was Alaska where it never got dark at all but that’s another story.

We pack up and head to the Jacob Lake restaurant for breakfast. We’re quickly seated and place our order but alas, it is misplaced back in the kitchen and we end up hanging around longer than we had planned. But the waitress keeps the good coffee coming and once the food comes, it hits the spot. We get back on the road and head North on the forested plateau which soon begins descending to the desert below. We cross into Utah, pass through the town of Kanab, and then head West for Zion National Park. It’s a busy day at the Park and we line up behind a lot of cars to pay the entrance fee. As we discovered at the North Rim yesterday, it’s now $10 per bike and is no longer transferable to other national parks. But we don’t mind. They certainly need every dime they can gather.

We always appreciate these courteous signs that alert us to the fun awaiting us ahead

We ride through the Park and arrive at the Visitors’ Center to find the parking lot utterly filled but we finally find a spot under a shady tree that will suffice for the bikes. We wander around a bit and relax before getting on the bikes and climbing back out of the canyon. The traffic is heavy enough to warrant rangers at each end of the mile long tunnel to manage the flow. As stunning as the Canyon is, it feels good to break free of the Park and its traffic, hit the open road and head for Bryce Canyon. Once we turn off Highway 89 onto Highway 12, the scenery really takes a turn for the dramatic, starting with Red Canyon, comprised of vermillion-colored rock formations and stands of Ponderosa pines.

We’ve thought about trying to camp at Bryce Canyon but its campground is full so we continue East on Highway 12 to see what else we can find. No one else in the group has ridden this section of road and I explain that it is superb mountain and canyon riding, especially the section called the Hogsback where the road runs along the crest of a ridge with dramatic, 1,000 foot dropoffs on both sides. The road snakes through desert canyons and over mesas and then begins a climb up Boulder Mountain in the Dixie National Forest through pine forests to a height of 9,200 feet where we ride through aspen groves and alpine meadows. This highway is also known as “A Journey Through Time Byway” and “The Million Dollar Road to Boulder”. It was constructed in 1935 by the CCC and opened up this isolated section of Utah to automobiles where only mules and horses could travel prior to it.

The Hogsback as viewed from the air
(click on photo to enlarge)

There’s only one flaw in this amazing highway and that’s the preponderance of tar snakes, strips of tar used to seal cracks in the road surface, that really spoil the fun. Having one’s front tire slide sideways when leaned over and crossing these greasy strips can be very unnerving. The memory of having my big Honda GL1800 repeatedly slip out on me back in 2003 has me more spooked than I thought. I find myself tensing up as I enter each turn but corner after corner, what was once covered in spider webs of tar, is now smooth and clearly the result of a resurfacing project. Still, I can’t relax and truly enjoy the ride as I keep expecting to find them. Highway 12 ends where it t-bones into Highway 24 and the little town of Torrey, Utah. If it weren’t late in the day, another run up and down 12 would be a great way to spend an afternoon. Now that the road has been renovated, a future trip will need to be planned to focus on it.

The only campground in town looks full so we look for a motel instead. We ride to the West edge of town to check out the motel there and we find at least 50 BMW motorcycles neatly lined up on the street in front of it, a big BBQ underway and the no vacancy sign turned on. This explains all the Beemers we’ve seen riding around over the past couple of days. We find out later that this rally was organized by the BMW dealership in St. George, Utah.

Capitol Reef National Park is 8 miles East of town so we scoot up the road to see if we can get into its campground but it comes as no surprise that it is full. Along the way, we passed 3 or 4 motels but they are all full as well. We start thinking we’ll have to camp off the side of the road and rough it yet again but it turns out that the campground in town has a single spot left. The owner tells us that May is their busiest month of the year and that the majority of the visitors are motorcyclists. It makes sense. Late April and early May often still have snow on the ground and after May, it gets way too hot. Then add the fact that kids are still in school during May which means a lot less traffic.

A big storm is blowing directly our way from the West so we hurriedly setup camp before it hits but it passes us just to the South and we are treated to a beautiful, sunny evening. We stroll across the highway to a restaurant and enjoy some excellent steaks.

There are no firepits in the campground and Utah beer is a joke due to the liquor laws but the hot showers are a godsend after two nights without them. And so we are clean and content to drink a couple of weak beers, smoke a cigar and enjoy the night air. It’s been a great day of riding. Tomorrow, we’ll head out into the desolation of Eastern Utah and then work our way South to Monument Valley.

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