Bryce National Park and best ride in Utah

From Capitol Reef the ride down HWY 12 through Boulder to Escalante is amazing. Elevation changes bring drastic swings in temperature and curvy roads. The rock colors change as you pass through millions of years of geologic history, and the beautiful formations make for an exciting ride that you’ll constantly want to stop to take pictures. In all, this was the best “ride” of the entire trip. I saw no roads to equal this one, and everyone should get a chance in their life to ride it.

A couple views from the overlooks as I passed by.

As you can see, the rocks change colors, but also the vegetation changes as you go up and down in elevation. Some places are pure desert while others are forested and cool.

Bryce National Park is one of those famous ones with some really amazing scenery. People from California can make it there in a day, plus there is all the regular daily traffic, so it is very crowded. Some of the other parks are best known for their variety in landscape and scenery, and there is no way you could see all the best parts them all in a day, but Bryce it different. The park itself is probably best described a one hit wonder with some of the strangest rock formations you’ll ever see. That doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful. It surely is that!

But first the bike at entrance shot. She sure does get around.

I took nearly 200 photos in the park. If you want to see them all click here. These are just a smattering of the amazing sights.

There are trails that go through the Hoodoos as they are called. Click here to see the hike. It’s just too many photos to post here. I’m already way overbudget.

A couple more before I go.

Bryce is a great park and so beautiful. Go see it.

Crossing Utah to Capitol Reef

I’ve been home for a while now but am still plugging away at the blog. Being home has kept me distracted, but the memories of the trip haven’t left me yet. I remember at the end, after turning back from LA, how much I just wanted to be home. I boogied back thinking that would be best, and maybe it was. Of course now I want to go riding again. Never satisfied! It is good to have these pictures and words to look back on. And it all makes me think about the next big trip.

After the nice night and night sky at Natural Bridges I finally planned to head west. I’d spent the last 5 days on the eastern side of Utah enjoying the parks and monuments there, but many more things awaited exploration on the other side of the state, and for the first time in nearly a week it was more than 2 hours to the nearest park. Utah is high density with national parks. My first destination was Capitol Reef, somewhere I had barely heard of, but it would turn out to be a really nice place worthy of more time than I gave it. Still, I had to get there, and the road that-a-way was quite nice.

As I understood it there were only a couple of ways to get there, and most involved crossing or going around Lake Powell; the ferry was $25! I decided to take a more land based route which took me near Hite, UT and through some beautiful scenery. I really enjoyed first the windy canyon roads then the long lonely wide open spaces.

Crossing the Colorado River was nice. The gorge there is striking, and it is odd to see that much water after being in the desert for so long. But that was fleeting.

Then there was the wide open

Getting towards Capitol Reef was fun. The scenery changed, and the geology definitely made a turn for the better. It was no longer flat layered rocks eroded into cliffs. Instead sloping layers covered by red rocks told of sand dunes that had been buried and preserved. These were cool to look at.

Then I entered the park and took the standard bike photo. This is an important part of my collection, and I’ve got a couple dozen like it, most of which still have the VS800, but many now with the VStrom.

The park is gorgeous. I rode to the visitor center to plan the day’s hikes and scenic roads. There aren’t many roads, and you can do them all in a couple hours, but there is plenty of hiking, so it was a good idea to make some sort of plan. There was a video playing that talked about the Mormon settlers that called this area home. They made a life there and set up schools. The community was strong even until the park was created and they had to move. To this day the orchards and structures still exist, and they turned out to be great sights in my visit. But first I heeded the weather, which promised to soak me through. I figured it would be good to go into town, Torrey, unpack and grab some lunch. On the way out I snapped these.

After lunch it was time for some gravel roads and hiking. First was to a place called “the Tanks.” The trail was easy, and the rain had cleared most people away. So it was quite an enjoyable hike through a narrow canyon and former road.

And the tanks themselves were nice

Some more cool scenery on the way to the next trail

Where I found an apricot orchard! and much more. It was quite an odd sight in the desert. The river that runs through this valley was used to supply the water everyone needed to live and cultivate food. This was literally the fruit of their labor. Since the fruit was ripe I picked some and enjoyed eating in a nice cool place in the shade of a tree.

I stopped by the country store for an apple pie and coffee. It was unreal this place.

From there I took another hike which was splendid. I won’t post all the pictures here, only the highlights, but you should check out the rest in this link because it was so nice.

On the way out of the park I found a couple nice sights including a great rainbow.

It was a great day, and I really enjoyed Capitol Reef. It is one of those places in the world that everyone should visit.

Natural Bridges II

After leaving Canyonlands I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere. My only plan was to reach Natural Bridges again. NBNM is centrally located between the five parks in Utah, so it makes a great mid trip stopping place. It is also very quiet and rated the best night sky in the lower 48 states. Only a few places in the world are this dark. Add to that the high elevation, and the sky is really something special. Most people never see it like this. Unfortunately when I was there a few days earlier it rained quite a bit, and the sky was impossible to see. This time promised to be better.

I made sure to take another route so as to avoid backtracking. This wasn’t difficult since the way to Moab from NB was mostly dirt, I just took the highway this time. It turns out that there are some great sights along the highway. I was mildly pleased.

It was weird to see such a nice lake in the middle of the desert. It is a reservoir, as you can imagine, that collects melted snow and looks pretty. I think it is used for recreation too.

I was taking my time and let the sun get low. This wasn’t a big deal as I only had to set up camp when I got there – no hiking this time. I really enjoyed riding around sunset and took every opportunity to snap a photo.

This was one of those rare silver lining moments. Every cloud does have one!

So, one of my favorite setups for a photo is when the sun is about to set. It gives me the best shadow for the buck. If I can add to that a hill next to the road, a really rare shot comes up.

I had some more nice shots along the way.

After setting up camp and cooking dinner I set out to take photos of the sky. These were all taken after dark, but the twilight was enough that with a steady tripod I could get some neat stills.

You can see Venus in the first and last of those three.

Lastly I did my best to capture a few constellations.

upside-down Scorpio, Sagittarius, and the two together

Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila

Summer Triangle: Cygnus, Aquila, and Lyra

Big Dipper.

That’s it before the clouds rolled in. It was a fun ride and a fun evening.

Arches National Park

I left Needles quite happy. It was great being there, and everyone I talked to said the same. Quite a park it was!

My next stop was Moab, Utah. It was where I’ve been wanting to go for a couple of years now. The riding out there is fantastic, and it’s a sort of adventure rider paradise. Moab itself isn’t too special. It’s an oasis in a desert. As you ride in to the valley surrounded by high red rocks on all sides the dark green trees filling the lowest part of the valley. It’s an oddball place, but it had everything I was to need: a hotel, a laundromat, autoparts stores, and a supermarket. It had been several days since I’d seen any of those things.

After visiting the visitor center and finding out a plan for touring the national parks nearby I found the Virginian Hotel. This hotel isn’t the nicest in town, but is sure is less expensive. The Best Western 1 block away was $80 more! I checked in early, updated the blog, ate some lunch, and headed to Arches National Park. Arches was supposed to be 95° that day and 105° the next. That influenced my decision to not put it off.

Arches is only 4 miles from downtown Moab. To get there you cross the famed Colorado River. The river is green at this point, probably from all the damming upstream that blocks the sediments. Arches appears on the right, and you notice they’ve prepared for crowds. Besides being nearly downtown Moab, Arches is very close to interstate 70, and any passerbys can stop in to see most of the sights without losing much time in their trip across the country. It’s also famous even being younger than most of the other parks. This all spells crowd, and thankfully I was there on a weekday in the heat of summer or it would have been worse that I experienced.

Normally I do my best to take pictures of parks without people in them. That way the natural beauty can stand out. That is nearly impossible in Arches, so I decided to show what it is really like: a barren wasteland full of plump sunburned people and a few interesting geologic monuments to wind and time.

The ever necessary entrance shot with my bike.

Thankfully I was able to get one with just the bike, and a nice woman held her kids back and took a photo of me – something I’d neglected at the entrance to most parks.

Climbing into Arched NP you leave the valley below which hosts the visitor center and entrance roads. The sight from above is pure desert. You learn from signs posted along the road that this area used to be near a sea, and sand dunes covered the area causing the strange hershey kisses shaped rock features.

You also pass large balancing rocks that have somehow withstood the erosion that comes with ages of wind and rain.

This is the first inclination that there will be something special to see here, and it does get more interesting as you proceed into the park.

First stop is the windows. They stand near each other aligned north-south and facing the other two cardinal directions.

Nearby are two other arches, doubles in fact. One sitting next to another. They are nice to and have names, which I forget.

Here at Arches hiking is not like at other parks. The trails are paved and very short. In fact, from the road you can see most of the interesting sights. This is uncommon and breeds a different type of visitor. In my experience at national parks, and the number visited has grown large, only the people most willing to hike some distance see the best and most beautiful parts. That is not true at Arches. Most of the people I encountered were elderly or with young children. And except for the heat Arches definitely caters to them. Very few people were my age; but that is not uncommon.

I saw as many arches as possible in the afternoon I was there. There are hundreds if not thousands, but most are small and not impressive. Saving the best for last, I finally parked at the Delicate Arch parking lot and prepared to do the one challenging hike of the day: a 3 mile round trip uphill climb. It’s not uphill both ways of course, but the heat did add a factor most people weren’t ready for. I met some retired police officer Harley riders passing through from New Jersey to California who were wearing black shirts and riding boots. They had just gotten back from the hike and complained about the difficulty. I wasn’t worried.

It really was uphill to the endpoint of the trail, and I paused a few times to catch my breath under the guise of taking pictures. I’d been hiking a lot recently and was pretty fit, so I felt for the people who had to sit in the sun for long periods to rest. On the way up I came upon a mother daughter combo. They were both dressed in hot pink, and the girl’s face was these same as her shirt. She was complaining about the heat and how the hike was too far. The brothers and father went on ahead. This girl was probably 10, and both she and her mother will never see Delicate Arch. It was just too hard for them. I think they had planned poorly and not eaten at all since breakfast. So I passed them the only snack I had – a strawberry pop-tart, which they shared and were grateful for. I left when the rest of the family returned, but only after finding them some shade. They had been sitting in 100 degree heat on a bare rock with trees just 20 yards away.

The rest of the climb/hike was without adventure, but the scenery got better as I went.

Finally I reached the Delicate Arch. It was worth the hike!

People are courteous enough to allow you a chance to take a photo without anyone else. Actually, there is a sign asking you to do that. Even still, some people hogged the spot below the famed arch for immeasurable amounts of time. So I got one of me at Delicate Arch. I’m sorry for the ugliness, can’t be helped.

It is a very photogenic spot!

On the way back rain threatened, which was nice and cooled everything. I headed back to Moab to do laundry and buy food for the next leg of the trip. I also stopped for a dinner, a real dinner. I’d been eating camp food for several days and wanted something substantial. Chinese fit the bill, and the food was good, but I was surprised at an extra charge on the bill which turned out to be rice. Can you believe that? Rice doesn’t come with the meal. Oh well, the food was at least good, and my belly was happy. The next morning I changed my oil before heading out, something that needed to be done, and I had the time. Overall, my stay in Moab was pleasant and productive. Not a bad place to spend a day.

Needles Part II

I’m going to pick up where I left off last time at Needles, Canyonland National Park. It was getting close to sundown, and the shadows were long across the road. This is typically great lighting for photos, and I took advantage. It started with my bike. From one vantage point it looked like it was flying in the sky

Some people say it isn’t a good looking bike, but I beg to differ. Just around the corner from that I found what was to be an amazing view. The light was good, and the road perfect. Enjoy

and one with the bike

There are a bunch of these, and I can’t tell which is best. To check it out click this link.

I turned a corner on the way back to the campsite posted earlier and say this. Quite nice I’d say.

I was SO happy with how these turned out.

You’ll notice that I parked my bike in the middle of the road. There were no problems with that since there is no traffic there. It worked out nicely for me since this is a beautiful park, and I wanted to take a lot of photo. Needles is an amazing place for sure!

Sundown was unbelievable.

I highly recommend visiting Needles if you are ever in Southern Utah.

Ride to Needles, Canyonlands and a short hike

So this next day was one of the most adventurous and fun days of the trip. I had a blast riding about 60 miles of dirt roads over mountain passes and into the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park. What a great day! And the scenery was fantastic.

It started with cleaning up camp in Natural Bridges National Monument and riding over Bear Ears Pass east towards Blanding, Utah. Jokingly I say that the Mormons had to go through Blanding on their way to settle Utah, but that’s just a joke – or is it?

It was beautiful on top of the pass, and the road was pretty good for the most part.

I found as I went up in elevation the trees got much taller and nicer. Plus the temp dropped significantly. Of course that was temporary as it got hot again on the way down.

With the photos of the trees I would be hard pressed to distinguish between this place and where I grew up in East Texas, and the cows don’t make it any easier

Coming down the view changes as I could see mountains (real mountains formed by volcanoes rather than erosion) in the distance. I got great vistas of colored sediment and National “Forest.” Many places claim to be forests but have trees shorter than a human.

I did a couple things in Blanding including buy (but not install) a bolt for my crash guards. It had fallen out a while back, but I never got around to fixing it. I ate lunch and withdrew more cash for the next part of the trip. The town itself is nice, and as I found out later, it is more agricultural than other places near there because of the higher elevation and water recapture reservoir nearby. I wanted to do more dirt and so headed over and between the mountains to the north. This also helped prevent backtracking later on by going on a side road. It sure was nice although some of the most difficult riding I did the entire trip to CA. Here are a couple shots of the ride.

Once I hit pavement it was an easy ride to Needles but the scenery was too good to not stop, and I took too many pictures just coming into the park.

And the obligatory entrance photo, of which there will be many more coming up

I quickly picked a campsite and went hiking. The site and view from there were amazing. I was really pleased with my spot (the entire park only had a handful of campers), but the real pleasure came at sunset, and you’ll see why.

You can really see the Needles for which the park is named in that last one! Quite nice

My hike had some amazing views of the Needles, Island in the Sky, and Canyons between me and the Confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. I’ll post a few here, but you can see the rest in this link.

So the sights and hike were great, but something that made the day very special was the sunset and light. My ride back to the campsite involved as many photos as the hike, if you can believe that. They turned out great.

This has been a long post, so I’ll have to write more later about the sunset and ride back. It was fantastic though!

Moki Dugway and Natural Bridges (I made it to California!)

I made it! I’m in Pasadena and arrived safely albeit extremely tired. The last couple days have been quite entertaining. Since the last post I’ve visited Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Grand Canyon National Parks. I’ve met several cool people and rode some extremely hot days. It’s been a blast, and I’ll get to that in due time.

This is a short post about the day after Monument Valley. I was scared this day; the road I wanted to take had a big warning on the state map about being gravel and switchbacks. My fear wasn’t completely without cause, the road ended up being pretty much what it claimed although my bike can handle most things I throw at it.

The road is called Moki Dugway, and it climbs 1100 feet in just 2 short miles. Driving up to the cliff was impressive. From this vantage you cannot even see where the road takes you; it is just sheer.

quite a sight huh?

Well, the switchbacks weren’t that bad, and most had some pavement right at the worst point making it easier on the bike. One of my favorite views is this looking back down. You can start to get an appreciation for how steep the walls were and how high the climb was.

and looking out into space and Valley of the Gods

Very fun stretch of road.

I continued to Natural Bridges National Monument. This turned out to be a very beautiful park with canyons and some of the best natural bridges in the world. It would also be a great staging area from which to travel due to its central location near a crossroads.

The obligatory bike pic. I’ve got a bunch of these now!

I decided to do the long hike which took me to three bridges in ~10 miles. It would have been shorter except I forgot where I parked my bike and walked an extra mile and a half. Of course I was worn out by the end of the hike and super mad at myself for not planning better. It worked out fine though, and I was stronger because of it (literally and figuratively). The ranger said it wouldn’t rain on me and sent me to hike in a canyon. Well, it rained – a lot. Things were slippery, and I didn’t take many photos of that part. The hundreds of waterfalls were nice to see though.

Canyon from above

A natural bridge so big you could fly the space station through it with room to spare, and that is big. This one was my favorite. The others were nice but not as tall or not as scenic. You can kind of imagine a 1 pixel tall person standing on the ground below this.

The hike was as amazing as the rest of the day, and you can check out the photos here. Also, the rest of Moki Dugway here.

Utah and Monument Valley

Hi Again, time for the really good stuff. Finally I was in Utah, where I want to spend the bulk of my vacation. I’m still here now actually with another day or two to spend before seeing the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. The trip is getting better as I visited Capitol Reef Canyon yesterday and will see Bryce Canyon this afternoon.

I’ve learned a few things about myself this trip, or maybe I remembered a few things. Traveling is not easy, and it takes a lot of energy, especially if you are driving yourself around and sight seeing along the way. Motorcycles add to the load because you are exposed to the elements, meaning when it is hot out, you are hot; when it is windy, you are fighting a strong wind; when the road is especially bad or good (curvy roads fit this description, whereas traffic and bad asphalt fit the first) you have to concentrate that much more to protect yourself. All of this can tire you out, and then to go hiking and visit natural wonders, while exhilarating, makes one even more tired. Once my friend Mike from North Carolina asked me if I get tired of traveling. My reply went something like, “It does turn into something like work. Getting up every day and riding hundreds of miles is repetitive, but I love it.” That’s true, and I do love it.

Something I hadn’t known but was pleasantly surprised to learn is that even though things are farther apart out west, you can still see more by driving fewer miles. For instance, in southern Utah, there is a National Park, or Monument, or Recreation Area every 50-100 miles. You can stay in a new place every night and see quite a few things. I’m more used to riding 400-600 mile days and then going sight seeing. I like being here because I’m seeing a lot without riding very far. Everyone should visit southern Utah to see what I mean.

Now for the good stuff, and I do mean good. I can’t believe I’m so far ahead of this date. This was day 4 and 5 of the trip, but I’ve been do half a dozen places since then. Being behind like this isn’t such a bad thing. I tend to only remember what I liked about a place and forget the bad things like road construction or the jerk that wouldn’t pull over even though he was going half the speed limit on a road with no passing lane. I forget most of those things anyway 😀

Finally I’m in Utah! And the scenery gets really good from here. My first stop would be Monument Valley. I was reminded that Forrest Gump ran along the road there in the movie, and I wanted to see where he was. Great choice. 5 years ago I had ridden out here but skipped it for 4-corners and a more southerly route. What a bad choice that was! Before I got to Monument Valley I found myself in a wonderfully scenic part of the world that took me through Bluff, Valley of the Gods and Mexican Hat. This was an added bonus. I remember being really impressed with the geology, and you’ll see why.

And then I saw it! From a distance was Monument Valley. My heart was racing; just a few more miles and I’d be there!

But then there was a sign for Valley of the Gods, and the road was unpaved – one of my other goals was to learn more dirt and gravel riding. This was the perfect road for that and for its quality. And the decision to turn came easily.

Valley of the Gods

Since I always take pictures of the bike, I threw one in of myself this time

Here is a link to more of that ride.  Too many photos to post here.

And a couple more shots of the awesome geology and a new (temporary) favorite of my bike

For the next 20 miles this was my view

And then I was there! The view was amazing, and the image of Forrest Gump running there appealed to me.

I asked a Frenchman (very common sight in Utah) to take this picture. He didn’t understand, so I took the same picture of him and asked for a replication.

After checking in at the hotel I took a ride to the Indian Reservation that contained the “Monuments” and awaited sunset.

And all the photos from that ride.

Austin to Lubbock, California ride day 1

The day started late.  I finished packing, cleaning, planning, and then took a nap.  No point leaving tired.  After filling the tank and running an errand I snapped the obligatory trip start odometer reading.  And I got one of the bike.  A woman gave me a hard time for taking a picture of my bike in an REI parking lot then gave me advice on where to go on the trip.  It didn’t matter that her recommendation would take me about 500 miles north of where I told her I was going.

About 60 miles into the trip I slow down for a stoplight and hear an unfamiliar rattle. In fact, any rattle on this bike is unfamiliar. Not thinking much of it I passed an Ace Hardware. I’d already been planning a stop at Target to pick up the things I forgot: ear plugs, swim shorts… A side of the road stop revealed a loose chain guard, and I turned back to pick up the required hardware. Barely an hour out of town and already having mechanical failure! Easy fix though, and I picked up the ear plugs and sunglasses to make the trip go easier.

The temperature wasn’t bad; it reached the low 90s before clouds set in. The rest of the day was shady and breezy making things quite pleasant. I rolled on and on, only stopping for a hamburger and a short nap about 30 minutes later. Things went smoothly until I saw this.

and then a few more

and then a few hundred, then thousand more. Evidently I had ridden into the largest windfarm in Texas, no in the US, no, in the world! Us Texans have to do things BIG!!! From my vantage I could see a few hundred windmills, but that was just over one little rise.  I measured the distance from the first sighting to the last, and it was over 15 miles.  On both sides of the road for as far as I could see were windmills.  A conservative estimate would be 2000-3000, but that’s surely a low number.  The windmills went on for miles beyond what I could see, and probably more likely were there 10,000 than 3,000.  Pretty impressive, but that wasn’t all.

and then I met the definition of juxtaposition. In case you don’t know what that means, just look at these images

I had tried to take new roads today. Going north and west usually lends itself to the same old highways, but that gets boring, and my map of highlighted roads never fills out that way. So I took some new roads and was surely pleased. I also avoided the interstate except for an 8 mile stretch that saved me about 30 minutes. Stopping for gas I found a gas station with an inordinate amount of pretty girls. That’s when I realized it was time to call some people and take a break from riding.

Back on the road north I found even more windmills, but not as dense as before and only on one side of the road. Still, the impression one gets when riding through there is that these people are serious about wind energy.

Finally the topography changed, and the flat plains gave way to colorful mesas covered in brush or flowers. It was a sign that the Llano Estacado was ahead. The Llano is about 900 feet above the surrounding plains, and for the most part smells like crude oil. It is also the home of Lubbock, Texas and the Texas Tech Red Raiders. I had a hard time not throwing the horns m/ as I passed the TT signs.

Here are some mesas to get an idea of what it’s like riding up to the Llano

Notice in the last one how the clouds break near the topographic change. Pretty interesting, and seen better here on the slope up to the Llano near Post, Texas

Finally I arrived in Lubbock and quickly found a hotel with a pool and hot breakfast. Here I’m relaxing thinking back on a nice day riding in the Texas panhandle and looking forward to New Mexico Mountains.

Here’s a link to all the photos and a slideshow if you want.

and for those of you who don’t ride motorcycles, a view of the cockpit and what you might see if you take the opportunity to ride.

The first is looking down, the second what I actually see while riding.