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Aug 14 2013

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Red Canyons

01-02 August, 473 Miles (original)

01-02 August, 473 Miles

Ah bliss! A lie in and no riding today. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the riding and I don’t mind getting up early – I actually love being out in the early morning when the sun is coming up and there are fewer people around – but we have been on the go for a while now and it was a nice thought that we didn’t have to get up and put on our bike gear.

Our room here is lovely with a private patio where Kevin sat and did his email while I did some much-needed washing in the guest laundry on site. I was able to air our outer bike gear also.

Springdale is very well organised for public transport. Every ten minutes a town shuttle bus goes past (each way) and we decided to use that rather than gear up and go on the bike. The park only allows private vehicles up to a certain point and to get any further in you need to use one of the park shuttles so there wasn’t much point in having the bike there anyway. Even better, the shuttles are all free and we were at the far end so it wasn’t full when we got on.

Also getting on at our stop were a father and young son with bicycles, both looking very fresh and excited. They were able to stow their bikes on the front of the shuttle – a facility we’ve noticed here in the US which seems like a really good idea.

We got to the park reasonably early and decided to go straight on the first available park shuttle and ride all the way to the top. You can get on and off at any of the stops so if we saw anything we particularly wanted to revisit we would get off on the way back down.

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As you go through the park a pre-recorded commentary plays on the bus explaining a bit about the park and pointing out specific peaks or other points of interest. The site was discovered by Mormon’s in the 1860’s and many of the viewpoints and peaks have religious names.

When we reached the end of the ride we got out and decided to take the 1.5 mile hike along the aptly named Riverside Walk. There was a concreted path of about 4 feet width which meandered alongside the river and up and down with the contours of the rocks. It was fairly crowded but by slowing ourselves down we managed to get in between bus loads and have some peace. Along the way were some very tame squirrels (or “skwerls” as Americans usually say it) which I assume are tame because people feed them. In the leaflets about the park there is a rather gory photo of a man’s hand where he was bitten by one. There was quite a large family of the creatures at the end of the trail and one guy was quite sharp with his wife when she stopped to take a picture, he made it sound like they were as dangerous as mountain lions!

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We weren’t as adventurous as this German family who were wading down the river

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We had a nice relaxing walk but on the way back it started to rain really heavily. You probably can’t see it in the photo but the rain was quite visibly moving up the valley accompanied by some rumbles of thunder. We didn’t mind the rain as it cooled us down but there were people sheltering under trees which didn’t seem sensible to us.

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Half way down on the return journey we thought we’d try the Lodge which advertised a restaurant. It also had ice creams but the queues were so bad we decided to go back to the town and have something to eat there. It was a good plan as we had a lovely lunch.

On the bus back to the hotel the father and son were also on the bus. This time the son looked very red and more asleep than awake. I guess they’d had a more strenuous day than we did.

I can see why the parks restrict people from using their vehicles but from our own, selfish, perspective it certainly lost something by not being able to ride up and stop in our own time. But…it was nice to just have our regular clothes on and not worry about where to stow our helmets, jackets etc.

It was another early start the next day as we wanted to visit quite a few places and our experience had shown that for some of the more scenic and restricted access places it is better to be there as early as possible. That’s why we found ourselves at the Cedar Breaks National Park visitor centre as it was opening.

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On our way up to the canyon we noticed there were huge swathes of dead trees. I asked one of the rangers what had caused this and he said in the 1990s there were a couple of years of drought and the trees were not able to produce enough sap to ward off the Spruce Bark Beetle. These beetles managed to kill thousands of trees and even after 30 years the forests still haven’t fully recovered. The foresters are still experimenting with the best method to deal with it – should they leave the trees to nature, or should they cut and burn? Talking of burning, we also saw quite a few areas where dead trees had obviously been burnt which was mostly due to lightning strikes causing wildfires. As we rode through one forest a wildfire was in progress but all we could see was the smoke and a fire-fighting crew on their way to fight it; they are brave men.

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What a place! It is easy to become a bit blasé about ‘red rocks’ but these certainly had the ‘Wow’ factor.

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This chipmunk was using a drainage hole to hide from us. He did get bold enough to poke his head out, then a bit more and finally he came right out to look at us.

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Every so often you get random bits of odd rocks.

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We stopped for an excellent breakfast at the Bryce Canyon Pines Restaurant. They had maps of the local area as place mats and we noticed there was a nearby ghost town called Widtsoe. It was described as ‘Settled in 1876, a drought in 1920-30 left it a ghost town’. We’d never seen a ghost town. It sounded interesting and wasn’t far off our our route so we asked the waitress about it and she said it was a pretty ride. Kevin also asked about a side road that led from Widtsoe towards Escalante (our next scheduled stop after Bryce Canyon) but she said she wouldn’t ride it as it was mostly clay and would be really slippery after the rains they’d had. We decided to ride to Widtsoe then retrace our steps back to the main road.

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b130811 130802 027 As we stopped in the first Bryce Canyon viewpoint this lovely little boy was just coming back to the car park. He was very excited to see the bike and seemed to enjoy sitting on it, although he wasn’t too keen to have his nan take his photograph as he was too busy looking at a weirdly dressed lady taking one.

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You have to constantly be on the lookout for wildlife – especially the apparently brainless deer

After Bryce Canyon, which was very pretty, we headed to the ghost town. The ‘main’ road was newly gravelled – if they’re not putting overbanding (‘tar-snakes’) on the road they’re top dressing it with gravel to make it last a bit longer. In the UK we use fine gravel, over here they use larger gravel and leave it quite thick for the traffic to smooth over. After about 12 miles I saw the sign for Widtsoe and we turned up a gravel forest road. Just up the road, on the right hand side, were a couple of sheds and barns, a ‘For Sale’ notice and a mobile home. Nothing noteworthy.

At this point I’ll tell you about road signs in the US. They very rarely put the number of miles to a location. This can be very frustrating as if you don’t know the area you’ve no idea if the place is half a mile off the road or a hundred miles. So although there was a sign pointing to Widtsoe we had no idea how far away it was.

We carried on, still no sign of the ghost town. Eventually, after about 8 miles, we decided we must have missed it somehow. Up ahead were three ATV’s with a group of people standing around chatting. They were standing on a crossroads and we had no idea which direction to go or whether to turn round. They were local so were able to advise us. The sheds, barns and mobile home were the ghost town! They thought it was a joke that it’s called a ghost town as did we. We were apparently about a third of the way along the road the waitress said we should avoid but fortunately it was quite dry. If we carried on for another 12 miles we would reach the main road to Escalante so that’s what we did.

The scenery was lovely and well worth the trip. This track also had some steep downhill bends but, unlike Moki Dugway, the gravel seems to have been swept into the hairpins rather than off them. I think Kevin was still nervous being on gravel with me on the back. We did seem to be going a lot faster towards the end of the track than when we started but I suspect I enjoyed the ride more than he did. It was nice to be off the main road and seeing things we’d not usually come across.

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We came across many of these half-done roads.

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And they often left just the middle not repaired

Back on the road and at the visitor centre in Escalante the Ranger told us we’d have to be careful as SatNavs can take you down some dangerous roads. I didn’t have the heart to tell her we’d probably just been along one of them.

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You may remember me mentioning Thomas in a previous entry who had suggested some roads to us. Among those recommendations was this: Highway 12 goes from Torrey through Escalante, Kodachrome, and Bryce towards Zion National Park. A great variety of beautiful scenery. We rode it in the opposite direction and what he didn’t mention is that it is an excellent riding road as well with lots of long swooping bends and hills.

In the centre of the road was a wide belt of newly-laid tarmac that glistened with oil in the sun; we suspected that was probably slippery. On the edge of the road was gravel and we knew that would be slippery. Trouble is it was the same colour as the rest of the road and difficult to see where the road ended and the gravel started. In between the two was overbanding. This, in the wet, can be quite dangerous for a bike as it’s like riding on ice. It was dry today. I suppose at an intellectual level we always knew it could be slippery in the dry as well as there’s not much for the tyres to grip on to. It’s not something we’ve ever experienced though as it is used very sparingly in the UK. In the US they have a tendency to plaster it on thickly and cover the road as if they are trying to ease a world glut. This was the case for Highway 12 and we had several nasty slides. In truth I suspect they felt a lot wore than they actually were but they were enough to give us a few heart-in-the-mouth experiences. That didn’t stop us really enjoying the road though. Thanks again Thomas.

Our last stop of the day was Capital Reef. While I was in the visitor centre Kevin got chatting to a couple from Essex. It’s funny how being on a UK-plated bike prompts people to come up and chat.

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We then rode for 170 miles or so to our hotel for the night in Springville.

Permanent link to this article: http://thewellers.net/motorcycling/red-canyons