Southern Utah Splendor
Michael S. Brown
January 3, 2013
Filed under Favorite Rides: Motorcycle Rides from Rider Readers, Motorcycle Rides, Roads and Self-Guided Travel
For three decades, my buddy Ted and I have taken long rides from our homes near Portland, Oregon. Years ago, we exhausted all the scenic roads within a day’s ride, so we bought a Kendon Stand-Up trailer in order to get our 60-year-old selves and Suzuki V-Strom 650s farther afield with enough energy leftover for some great riding.
Last May, we set out on our third long trip using the trailer. Our goal was southern Utah, an area legendary for exotic scenery. Leaving Portland early one morning, after an overnight in Idaho, we stopped in the very small Utah town of Torrey, a perfect base for exploring the state’s southern region. Torrey lives for tourism, so there are plenty of choices for both food and lodging.
The next morning, we unloaded the bikes and rode south on Utah Highway 12. Our goal was Bryce Canyon National Park, about 120 curvy miles away. We quickly climbed the shoulder of Boulder Mountain through groves of aspens to the chilly 9,300-foot summit. In the tiny hamlet of Boulder, Anasazi State Park has a small visitor center and an archeological site out back. It reminded us that humans scratched out a Stone Age living here long before there were roads, motorbikes or even horses.
Staying on Highway 12, we soon got our first taste of Utah’s famous red rock canyons as we twisted our way through the Calf Creek Recreation Area. The road would be paradise for sportbikers, except for the frequent cattle guards and an infinite number of slippery tar snakes. It’s best to ride cautiously and enjoy the view. Another hour of beautiful curvy roads through rocky scenery and it was time for a nice lunch at Clarke’s Restaurant in Tropic.
Just a few more miles put us at the entrance to Bryce Canyon. This was the first of many parks we visited that required an entrance fee ranging from $2-15 per motorcycle. Bryce is a wonderful and amazing place. The colorful spires of rock, known as hoodoos, fill a huge amphitheater eroded into the side of a ridge. To get the full effect, you should hike down among the formations, but simply looking down from the various viewpoints is still stunning.
Passing back through Tropic, we retraced our scenic route back to Torrey over Boulder Mountain. It was near dusk, and herds of deer contested our right of way. Ted lives in deer country, so he took the lead. Later that evening we enjoyed a fine dinner and a perfect margarita at upscale Café Diablo in Torrey, which includes free-range rattlesnake with ancho-rosemary aioli on the menu.
The next day we tackled the Burr Trail, an 1880s cattle route across a dramatic valley called the Waterpocket Fold. The trail begins at Boulder, where we stopped the day before. Riding east through tight red rock canyons, the pavement turned to gravel and came to a precipice where the road seemed to disappear. Peering over the edge, we could see a series of very tight switchbacks. Next time, remind me to deactivate the V-Strom’s ABS!
On washboard gravel, we headed for Bullfrog Bay Marina on Lake Powell to have lunch at the lodge. It was 95 degrees and we wanted to rest and rehydrate. We paid $15 each to enter the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, but found the restaurant closed. Thirty dollars poorer, we grabbed a snack and fuel at the gas station and headed north on 276 to complete the loop to Torrey.
Along Utah Highway 24, we paused for photos of the deep red rocks of Capitol Reef National Park. In the bottom of the beautiful canyon are fruit orchards left by the pioneers that are now tended by the Park Service. Only a few buildings remain of the town called Fruita.
It was time to move our base camp to Moab, near two spectacular national parks, but known these days as a 4-wheel-drive mecca and mountain bike nirvana. During peak season the town is cowded, prices are high and you need reservations.
Arches National Park is more than just arches. It’s a wonderland of strange rock formations, from small to gigantic. Your mind will automatically try to assign labels to the weird shapes until you force it to stop. If you are into photography, the changing light will both delight and frustrate you. Visit on more than one day if you can. It’s a rather small park and can easily become overcrowded, so avoid the peak season if possible.
Our second day in the Moab area found us at Dead Horse Point State Park. The view from the 2,000-foot cliff down to the Colorado River is spectacular. Off to the north, we noticed some strange bodies of water with an intense blue color. They turned out to be solar evaporation ponds for a large potash production facility that makes much of the fertilizer used by American farmers.
Just down the road is the entrance to Canyonlands National Park. We paid our respects to Mother Nature at several stunning viewpoints on this high plateau called Island in the Sky, which was swept by gusty winds. Later, we explored the Colorado River Canyon east of Moab and the Castle Valley area. It was beautiful, but we were getting tired. Our minds and cameras filled with images, it was time to start heading home. We loaded the bikes in mid-afternoon and drove north.
The next morning in Provo marked our eighth day on the road. We were tired of motels and decided to see if we could make it all the way home to Portland in one day. It would mean roughly 14 hours on the road, something we would never attempt on the bikes. We also planned to visit two points of interest.
Our first detour was a short loop through the bedroom community of Bluffdale. A huge National Security Agency (NSA) data center is being built there and I wanted to see it with my own eyes. Reportedly, the facility will suck in virtually all Internet and phone traffic for storage and decryption. We drove by carefully, watching for surveillance drones and making sure our tinfoil hats were in place.
We made our next stop just outside Ogden. Hill Air Force Base is the site of a great aircraft museum. We walked through the outdoor displays, which included a B-52, a B-1 and a B-29. Inside the buildings, we were amazed to find two large galleries with virtually every aircraft ever flown by the U.S. Air Force, from an A-1 Skyraider to an SR-71.
With the aid of caffeine, audiobooks and loud music, we made it home safely that night and soon began planning our next adventure. Using the trailer to extend our range has reinvigorated our joy of motorcycle touring and has opened up many new possibilities.
(This Favorite Ride Southern Utah Splendor: A pair of 60-somethings on a pair of Suzuki V-Stroms was published in the January 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)