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.

Alaska 2012

After I finish my PhD I want to ride to Alaska. I’ve been to all 48 states you can ride to, most of them twice, but never up to that elusive 49th.

I’ll be starting in Austin, Texas and riding up to Anchorage and Fairbanks before coming back. Along the way I know some people have have a few sights to see.

My very preliminary plan will take me along this route to meet those goals. Side stops and national parks are a must.

Camping and hotels along the way when not staying with friends, and I’m figuring on 6 weeks, but that is in no way set in stone.

So here I am, setting a goal.  Hopefully I can attain it.  Every journey starts with a step, and this is my first step.

Any advice or company is welcome.

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.

Canyonlands II, Island in the Sky

I left Moab for Canyonlands National Park. I know what you’re thinking, “but weren’t you just at CLNP?” Yes, but that’s not the whole story. Canyonlands is one big park made of three distinct and separate parts. You cannot get from one part to the other without leaving. Old case of you can’t get there from here. The Colorado and Green Rivers make sure of that. They divide the park kind of like a peace sign divides the three parts of a Mercedes emblem. I previously I visited the Needles section, and this time I was to visit Island in the Sky. It’s an odd name for a park, but when you see the pictures you’ll understand. IITS is famous for an off road trail that goes around the rim of the canyon, the White Ridge Road or White Ridge Trail depending on who you ask. The park calls it WRR for what it’s worth.

I had intended to ride my bike around the 100 two track trail but was advised to either get another bike or save it for another time when I’m more experienced. That was good advice, and I made the most out of sight seeing from above. See, this section of the park is divided into three elevations, climates, and ecosystems. The first is at the level of the water, some several thousand feet below the highest part. Along the water are trees, grasses, and lots of animals. Above that is a plateau where the WRR resides. It is much dryer although not as hot as the water level. This area was once used for mining Uranium, and besides the WRR there are several other roads formerly used in that employment. Lastly is the Island in the Sky. This section is much higher still, over 1000 feet higher than the middle section, somewhat cooler, and dryer. This is the main part of the park where visitors can drive on paved roads and have great vistas of the lower sections. Only one trail goes between the top and middle sections, that leading to the WRR. It’s a steep road frequented by only the most daring motorcycles and four wheel drives.

The entrance to this park is much higher than either Moab or Arches, and therefore it is cooler – part of my reasoning for saving it to last as the days got hotter. Noticeably it is not as crowded as Arches, which was nice.

Here you can see for the first time that huge drop between the uppermost and middle section. It’s a windy and steep road – looks like fun! I passed up on that to go sight seeing, and continued my trip. The roads were fun to ride, and there are plenty of cool things to see there.

From that arch is the first time you notice that there might be something still farther down than the middle section. There is evidence of more and deeper canyons far below.

And through the arch is a nice view of the far away Sal Mountains.

Continuing the tour takes you to a point in the peninsula. On both sides the distance to a cliff narrows until you’re eventually riding along a narrow ridge. This is when you really get the feeling of “Island in the Sky”. From the parking lot at the end it is possible to take a 1 mile hike out to the point, and from there the view is spectacular. You can see for miles in 360 degrees, some of the distances to anything near your elevation are tens of miles away, and the farthest thing you can see is a mountain nearly 100 miles away. The view there is worth a visit, even if you see nothing else! First some pictures from there then a panorama

That last three overlook the Needles section of the park – where the great pictures were from a couple days back.

Lastly, the panorama. I had to shrink is substantially even to be able to upload it, but a full version is available upon request.

Enjoy. Oh, and there are many more wonderful pictures from this part of the park. I only showed the coolest parts, but it is all cool. Check them out here.

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.