The temperature ranged from 46 to 109 degrees the day we left Colorado for Utah. It was probably hot in 1883 when prospector Cass Hite wandered up White Canyon along the Colorado River in search of gold. He found instead three magnificent bridges water had sculpted from stone. In 1908 Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Natural Bridges National Monument.
We rode the 9-mile bridge loop trail as the temperature climbed to 103. Fifty miles west near a modern steel bridge across the Colorado River the temperature hit 109. The bridge spanned the upstream end of Lake Powell. The dichotomy between the hot, barren landscape and a fresh water reservoir is always striking. On the way to Hanksville, UT, our destination for the day, I wondered if it is only I who thinks that a view of fresh-water lake in a desert is unnatural and out of place.
“Yeah, we are from Southern Illinois. We are 10 days into a 3-week trip,” said the big Harley rider sipping a beer in front of the room next to us at Hanksville, UT. As he spoke, he was peeling the first layer of his cooked skin off his shoulder. There were four couples. The women were equally sunburnt with bright red faces and shoulders except for thin white stripes under the straps of their tanktop shirts. No helmets, no earplugs, no riding gear, all in the name of Harley culture.
Some call Capital Reef “A wrinkle in the earth” caused by its unique geology. But that is not what most folks see. What they see is a vibrant palette of color that spills across the landscape. The hues constantly change, altered by the play of light against the towering cliffs, arches, and twisting canyons.
And then famous Utah Route 12 led us to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the flagship unit of the National Landscape Conservation System. The Staircase is a series of massive geological steps that descend toward the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The five cliff formations—Pink, Gray, White, Vermilion, and Chocolate, are each different chapters of geologic history spanning the Age of the Dinosaurs.
It was lunchtime as we crossed hogback ridge just prior to reaching the village of Escalante. Hogback ridge is a significant contribution to Route 12’s reputation. It winds around a narrow ridge-top with cliffs and great views on either side. It reminded me a little of the Million Dollar Highway. We stopped at The Outfitters for lunch just before a deluge of hard rain. “It hasn’t rained since May,” our waitress reported. “Isn’t the rain great?” Of course, we agreed, despite our bikes and gear getting soaked. The temperature came down 10 degrees.
Bryce Canyon National Park was the last stop of this remarkable day along Utah’s finest landscapes. Bryce is actually not a canyon, but a series of amphitheaters that are etched into the pink Claron limestone of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. It is most famous for Inspiration Point amphitheater, but all the rest, including Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, and Bryce Point, among others, are just as remarkable.
We were tired from the excitement, the ride, and heat as we rolled into the parking lot of the Purple Sage Motel in the village of Panguitch, UT. The motel owner saw us coming and offered us old towels to clean up our motorcycles, a nice touch. Of course, that keeps his good towels free of dirt and oil. A Blue Goose IPA and a nice salad bar at Kenny’s restaurant prepared us for an early bedtime.