Crossing the Loneliest Road in America was really nice, but after two days in Nevada, I was ready to keep on going. I left Ely on a sunny Monday morning, stopping at the Great Basin, one of the ten least visited National Parks, and was impressed with what I saw. The rangers at the park told me it is a well-kept secret amongst the National Park System, mainly because it is so far from any major center. The night skies there are supposedly something to be seen, because the absence of big city lights allows for a stunning display of stars. It would be great to watch a meteor shower there, and I will add this one to my growing bucket list.
I entered Utah almost immediately after the Great Basin, and passed by a number of sleepy little towns, stopping frequently for some cold water. The landscape changed, being a bit less arid than Nevada, but the heat remained strong and I was riding in 100F most of the time. Water became a necessity, and in all my stops, I began to notice a most unexpected trend: French families traveling in vans or RV’s, lots of them, and in separate groups. In every convenience store or bar along the way, the language I heard the most was always French, and it seemed to me that the whole of France decided to take the month off and come to Utah. They all looked happy, though, and I wondered why Utah would be a favorite destination for the French. As I arrived in Moab a few days later, it seemed that they were all heading there.
My first night in Utah was spent near Zion, one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever visited. Since all the places near Zion were sold-out, I stayed in Hurricane, some 25 miles away. Zion is quite a small park, and I didn’t want to take a shuttle bus to see more of it (I’m starting to develop a thing against buses full of tourists, just can’t help it…), so I headed on to Bryce, another gem of a park, around 150 miles away. I was expecting to see rocks in Utah, and Utah delivered them in style: all kinds of rocks, in all colors, sizes, shapes and forms. It’s something extraordinary, to the point that it got me interested in learning more about this unique formations in this part of the country. After Hurricane, my next stop for the night was in Tropic. Seeing these two great town names, I looked on the map for a town called Disaster for the next night, but couldn’t find it… I stayed in a wonderful bed and breakfast in Tropic, the Buffalo Sage, in one of the coziest rooms in this whole trip.
From there it was time to hit the highly anticipated route to Moab, via one of the All-American roads, Highway 12. It was just as I expected it, a fantastic road cutting the Grand Staircase and Escalante Parks. The skies were overcast and I even got a little rain now and then, but that didn’t take anything from the ride, and the journey to Moab was splendid. The town is home to the Arches and the Canyonlands National Parks, and is also surrounded by a number of great off road trails. It became kind of a mecca for outdoor adventurers, including biking, hiking, climbing and kayaking. Since there was so much to see, I decided to stay two full days in Moab, a decision that proved to be right on target.
The first day was spent visiting the town itself and Arches, and the second was simply simply one of the best days from the trip: I planned to visit Canyonlands, but before I entered the park, I rode around and found a great road at the Manti-La Sal Park, completely deserted and full of fantastic views. It was early in the morning, my camera was still in the tank bag, and as I reached the highest point of the road, after a tight corner, I had to brake suddenly for a deer. It was right in the middle of the road and, surprisingly, it didn’t move when it saw me. I didn’t want to take the camera from the bag, fearing any movement would scare the deer away, and we both stared at each other for a long time, before it decided it had enough of me and crossed the road into the woods. A pure Robert De Niro moment for those who saw “The Deer Hunter”.
After lunch, I finally made it into Canyonlands, another must-see place. Incredible rocks and mountains formations, and not so crowded as Arches. I had a great time taking photos there, and on the last place I stopped for a final view of the whole valley, I noticed a stunning dirt road below me, zig-zagging around the mountains in unbelievable sharp and very steep switchbacks, until it reached the valley floor, following on as far as the eyes could see. I looked at my map and found out it was called Shafer Road. After the switchback session, which seemed rather long, it divided itself: left and it would lead me to Moab, crossing the park, and right it would do a very long loop around the whole of Canyonlands. I felt tempted to try it, even though it was already very late in the afternoon, I had no more water bottles left, and the bike had no off road tires anymore. Sometimes your gut feeling tells you to throw precaution to the wind, and when the feeling proves to be right, it can be a memorable experience. That was the case for the Shafer Road, which ended up becoming one of the highlights of my trip. The light was fantastic, the road as challenging as I could have expected, sometimes completing disappearing in sections filled with big rocks and ruts, and I experienced one of those rare moments when the fear of the unknown is just slightly less strong than the desire to keep on going, bringing you to a state of pure and constant exhilaration. It could have gone wrong, I know, but it didn’t, so the gut feeling was right this time.
Today I left Moab knowing it’s a place I definitely want to come back to, not a bad feeling at all. The weather changed overnight, and I imagined I would be riding under rain for most of the time, but I kept beating it somehow. I rode Southwest in direction to the Moki Dugway (thanks for the tip, Jack!), a small and fantastic road that cuts through a canyon, three miles of pure thrill in packed gravel. It’s a deserted area, no cars in sight, and as I was approaching it, the skies turned really ominous. Heavy, black skies wherever I looked, and soon it was raining. No problem, for I enjoy riding in the rain, but then I saw the first lightning and got worried for real. The second one came, and the third, and I started to count the seconds between the flash and the thunder. Less than ten, not good, but I had nowhere to take cover. I sat by the road for some good fifteen minutes, waiting for the thunderstorm to go away, and only then I started to descend the Moki Dugway. Fun, lots of fun, even with a little rain. From there, a quick stop at the Four Corners and more heavy skies in front of me. The rain never came, though, and I still had time to ride around the Mesa Verde Park near Durango, a special place to be visited with more time in the future.
Now, a few days in Colorado, through the beautiful mountain passes and the valleys. It should be great, but the forecast calls for a lot of rain too, so let’s see how much of it all I will be able to see. As I was preparing the photos for this week’s post, I saw how close I am from home now. Still a few thousand miles to go, but it seems close anyway, and I will be reunited with my family in less than two weeks more. I miss them, a lot, specially after being away for eight straight weeks, even though the life on the road has been fantastic. All things must come to an end, and this incredible journey is no exception, but until I park the bike in my garage back home, I will keep on thinking this is just the beginning of it!