July 23, 2005 – Saturday – Day 28

48 States or Bust – The USA on Two Wheels
Miles Today: 313 – Total Miles: 6,676 – Average: 238.4(travel days)
8AM-9PM (10hrs – moved back into Mountain time zone)
(-staying at Harold’s Place Inn) NV,AZ,UT (25/48)

Everything before this was preamble. All that we’ve seen from before were poor, pale shadows to what we witnessed today. The Virgin River Gorge, Zion National Park, and Bryce Canyon National Park. Each alone would make much that has gone before tiny in comparison!

At Steve’s urging and with his inspiration, we actually did get on the road a little before 8am! It was good getting into the morning earlier and miles on the road before the heat of the day.

Around 10am in the little town of Mesquite, NV we breakfasted on pancakes. A couple motorcyclists were eating there. We met up again with Bruce Lee and Wilson at a gas place in Hurricane a while later. They were just tooling up on their Harleys to the Bryce area for the weekend. It was a dazzling day to ride. Especially toward the end of the day, the heat was somewhat lessened by thunderstorms in the area.

Just before St. George, UT was the Virgin River Gorge. It reminded us of some of the other scenic byway gorges we’ve traveled through, but it had few trees, mostly scrub and rock. Oh, and much much taller mountains. I had to watch the road, of course, but I recall riding through the gorge on my bicycle with craning neck and bulging eyeballs at the scenes through that corridor of mountain miles.

We entered the 25 miles or so of Zion National Park at 1 o’clock. The road would lead us to route 89 which would take us to Bryce. In Zion were splendid views of mountains distant and near that rose to such heights as to be staggering to the thought. And then the road took us up with turns of narrow hairpin variety and finally near the top was a slender tunnel. A mile-long, it was through and along the side of the mountain. It was very dark in there, although it did occasionally have open ‘windows’ on the one side which let a splashing of light in. Only one lane of traffic was allowed through at a time and we were first in line. When it was our turn to go I proceeded slowly to be sure through the darkness. The light shafts that came from the truck-sized windows in the rock were welcome, but also caused pupils to close, so that when past the blast of light, it was actually harder to see in the darkness that followed.

Zion National Park is made of swirling, tortured, fractured rocks up to the clouds – dotted with the trees that would, along with other erosion forces, bring down the leviathan mountains in say, a couple million years.

We stopped occasionally to take pictures, but many of the turn-offs were gravelly and I was hesitant to stop on them because of the intense angle of the roadway and the worry about keeping the bike upright. Karen was snapping photos like crazy all the way from the back of the bike and at one point she said how her neck was getting stiff from looking up so much.

At all the stops we would attract attention because of our sign and at the final one we had good conversation with a lady originally from New Jersey, but who now lived in Arizona. As with most she wished us good luck on the ride.

It was about 80 miles or so getting to Bryce Canyon. After some sprinkles from the occasional dark clouds scudding around, we got to the Bryce area around 4pm. We decided to check out a motel about 15 miles from the canyon. We had to come back this way anyway, so we figured we’d freshen up, leave our stuff in the room, go tour the 18 out-and-back miles of the national park, and then return to the motel before dark. First I called a few other motels in the area. One was booked up and the other only had three rooms left. On the basis of this and the very reasonable price, we decided to take a spot in Harold’s Place Inn. We had a choice of little cabins or a more conventional building. The more conventional one offered wireless internet so we took that one. (But it ended up not working anyway!)

After we had gotten into the room I was actually a little light-headed for some reason – probably not having eaten for awhile or some blood sugar thing. But I drank some water, had the remainder of some long-ago opened corn nuts, and then we made our way toward the park.

On the way to Bryce is Red Canyon. A wonderful geologic area all in itself. The rocks resemble the result from when one was a kid playing at the beach with wet sand. Then taking that wet sand and drizzling mounds of it to make castles and columns. Only here the hue of the material was red and the substance was very solid rock. This fairyland design of magic pillars went on for maybe a mile or so of highway and a couple of times the road tunneled right through it.

After a bit more highway, we came to the Ruby’s Inn complex of buildings and attractions. The Ruby family had been at the right place at the right time in the late 1800’s and began an inn at the entrance of what would soon be a national park. Descendents of the original family still run the place. And they run it well.

At Ruby’s café we had a good dinner and then after a little sojourn in the nearby gift shop, we headed into the park. (By the way, most of the national parks cost $20 to enter these days, and so I was glad to have purchased a park pass before leaving.)

There were a number of vista points along the 18-mile roadway. The traveling was easy, no major switchbacks or hills to climb. We were already on the top of the immense canyon. At the breaks in the trees the vista points were nicely paved. We stopped at almost each one to take in the amazing sights.

Nothing like the combination of water, wind, air, and time to create such beauty! Because of the way the river canyon was formed and eroded huge mountain-sized structures were left after nature had its way with things. “Hoodoos”, or seemingly slender odd-looking stove-pipe-like columns graced the landscape out to the horizon in parts. Slices of harder mountain rock still stood after the less strong surrounding rock had eroded away and the result was often jaw-dropping beauty of grand design. Frequently, that design looked to me like vistas of alien apartment buildings that ranged for twenty miles or more in every direction and of most every hue and shade of color.

All the turn out points presented dream-like views of this evening tapestry in rock with now lengthening shadows. One enormous rock area had been worn away from the middle and formed what appeared to be a gargantuan natural bridge, but which was really a fantastic arch spreading wide for all to see.

The day set a record for the most photographs taken (approaching 500!) and also for the most times scrambling off and on the bike. Karen especially got tired of that.

Riding back through Bryce this evening to the entrance on that broad smooth blacktop through the forest was like slicing through the freshest sweetest air in the world!

I was a little nervous about that leg of the ride because it was beginning to edge on middle dusk in the midst of that tree-lined roadway, and also because the gas tank mileage was approaching 100.

We stopped at the ranger visitor center for bit and then back at Ruby’s for gas and more gift shop time. I tinkered with the idea of buying an expensive Utah blanket, but instead opted for only some food stuff and a pair of sunglasses.

It was a cool to cold ride back through the expanse of desert and eventually through Red Canyon and to the motel. But it was a clear evening, and the 70mph fresh night winds hitting my face on that straight deserted drive evoked heightened perceptions of wonder and life itself. It was a grand feeling.

(Tomorrow: going to the edge of one of the biggest holes on earth!)

Author: Joel Perlish

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