Inspired by Deeter’s thread on BARF advertising a week long tour of Utah and Colorado, I agreed to join up for the first day and then split off on my own. I could only afford 2 days off work right now, so I put together a nice 4 day, 1960 mile loop through south-western Utah hitting sevaral national parks including Great Basin, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and of course Yosemite.
2003 Yamaha YZF600r equipped for sport-touring with 3-piece Givi hard luggage, XM satellite radio, GPS, Audiovox automotive cruise control, Chatterbox X1 communication/music system, and various other electrical accessories useful in cold weather but dead weight on this trip.
I’m cheap when I’m touring, so I carry a tent, sleeping bag, thermarest mattress pad, and camping stove with backpacking food for emergencies. I also have a 45oz camelbak in my tankbag along with a digital camera easily accessible. When touring, I carry three pairs of compression shorts, non-cotton t-shirts/bicycling jerseys/underarmour, and non-cotton knee socks. I have an Arai helmet, A*’s SMX boots, and a one-piece Fieldsheer Highlander suit.
Saturday – San Jose, CA to Ely, NV
After dancing the night away at my uncle’s 60th birthday party, I was a little tired when I woke at 5 am to finish packing the bike and get underway to the meeting spot in Manteca. I filled my tankbag-sized camelbak and tucked my camera into my tankbag.
With my xm radio playing some favorite tunes (XM 22- the Mix) I cruised down 680 and then over the Altamont Pass. I was the first to arrive at the Lyon’s in Manteca, and didn’t see any good parking spots near the front, so kept my helmet on in case an opportunity opened up. I started to gear down when I saw Dundrods 1000rr pull up to the gas station. A short time later Deeter joined us with his R1.
We headed inside for a quick breakfast and planning session. We decided to just risk Tioga pass to avoid the extra 50 miles necessitated by 108. We headed up through the foothills with Tom (Dundrod) capably leading. The two of them pulled away from me at my more relaxed pace but there were plenty of regrouping opportunities.
Our first gas stop was at Crane Flat in Yosemite. Deeter and Dundrod both needed gas, but I knew that with my 200+ mile range I could easily make it to Lee Vining, where I suggested lunch at the Tioga Gas mart. Tom had been there, but Scott was a little skeptical about eating at a gas station.
The food was great of course. I had the Lobster Taquitos again. Who’d have thought…gourmet food at a gas station!
After lunch, we continued on US6 to Ely, stopping in Tonopah for gas and ice cream and a few smaller gas stations where Scott and Tom filled their thirsty tanks.
We arrived in Ely around 7ish? and found Mr and Mrs Overkill at the KOA already set up and drinking all the beer!!!
Scott and I set up our tents while Tom settled in at the Motel 6. We called up the Nevada Hotel, who advertised a “limo” to shuttle us from the KOA into town for dinner. Soon a real limo appeared and we climbed in. Scott said that was the first time he’d ever ridden in a limo… and he had to come to Ely, NV to do it!!!
The prime rib special at the casino was ok, but the real entertainment was getting to know my traveling companions and hearing all the dirt on Deeter and Mr Overkill’s past tours.
We split up for the night with an agreement to meet at 8am for breakfast.
Sunday – Ely, NV to Torrey, UT – 370 miles
I found myself lying awake early this morning, enjoying the slight breeze and wondering when my alarm was going to go off. Finally I threw off my sleeping bag and gathered fresh clothing, toiletries, and my camping towel. The hot water felt great, washing away the sticky sweat feeling from the day before.
When I walked back to the campsite, Mr & Mrs Overkill were out and beginning to prepare their wee-stroms for the day’s travel. I stopped to chat and we speculated on when Deeter would show signs of movement. :p
Then it was back to my tent to see if I could get back into the drill of quickly packing up and getting ready to go. I stufffed my sleeping bag and pad into their compression sack and tossed everything out of my tent. Feeling pretty successful, I had my bike completely packed 1.5 hours after getting out of bed. Mr and Mrs Overkill were ready soon thereafter.
We went and got coffee from the KOA office while Deeter finished packing. Mrs Overkill was suprised to see that I only filled my coffee cup about 3/4 of the way. She commented on my furtive (and slightly ashamed) look just before I started dumping sugar into my cup.
“Ah”, she said. “Want some coffee with that sugar?”
Mr Overkill helped me remove the YZF from the gravel pit that had threatened to claim it the evening before. A few minutes later, I watched in slight despair as the wee-stroms and Deeters R1 disappeared in clouds of dust down the driveway while my foot slipped in the gravel trying to heave my bike up off the sidestand. A young man was sitting by the building. I called him over and he was able to help me get the bike upright. I found Deeter waiting for me at the end of the driveway. He later admitted that he had been concerned about my ability to get the bike up, but hadn’t thought of it until he’d already left the tent area.
I joined the crew (+Tom) at McDonalds for breakfast and took a few requisite group shots of the bikes and riders. Then I filled my camelbak with ice water and tank with gasoline. I was ready to go off on my own!
First stop of the day…Great Basin National Park. National Parks are pretty important to me as travel destinations. When I was a child, my dad would take a month off work every summer and we’d take the traditional American family road trip, visiting grandparents in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, taking in Yellowstone, pioneer forts, natural wonders, and various monuments along the way. The wonder of traveling instilled in my youth has strongly inspired me to continue the tradition as an adult.
I love new places, and though I have traveled through Ely before, I don’t think that I have ever stopped to visit Great Basin NP. I saw it from pretty far out. First I noticed the huge snow capped mountain dominating the desert skyline. It seemed to be in the wrong direction for the park, but as I got closer the road turned and I realized the mountain ahead must be Mt Wheeler, the showpiece of Great Basin NP, my destination. I pulled into the new-feeling visitors center and snapped a few shots of the mountain before gearing down.
Inside the center, I stopped at the information counter to ask about the road to the top. A woman ahead of me at the counter sounded concerned. She repeatedly asked the ranger if the road was very tight.
“I hate those roads.” She said, “They’re so scary!”
“What are you talking about!” I exclaimed, “Those are the best!”
“Yeah, on a MOTORCYCLE.” she replied.
I smiled and checked with the ranger to make sure the road was paved all the way to the top, with a paved turn around area. It was, so I felt comfortable going up.
The visitors center is just outside the park on flatlands, so it can stay open year-round when the road up Mt Wheeler is closed due to snow. I drove up the road, enjoying the whimsical “no tresspassing” signs erected by neighboring property owners. I especially like the “alien in a wheelchair” and “legs sticking out of the ground before a hillside grave.” Here is “cyclists last stand”.
The interesting thing about Mt Wheeler and one of the major educational points of the park is it’s status as an “island in the desert.” The peak is so high that it gets above the desert climate into an alpine environment with it’s own isolated flora and fauna. Many animals and plants in the park are unable to cross the desert to another such island, so they have been trapped here for millenia, free to develop and adapt to their unique environment. This island status is typical of many high Nevada mountain ranges rising above the flat plains of the great basin that stretches from the Sierras to the base of the Rockies.
The mountain road was a little gravely, so I didn’t feel comfortable really enjoying my first twisty road after the long straights of NV. When I stopped for some pictures above 10,000 feet, I realized another reason for caution. I was slightly light-headed, out of breath, and dizzy. I was definitely experiencing some altitude sickness, so I resolved not to spend too much time up on the mountain. At the top, I stopped to chat with a group of rangers about to take a hike. I queried one about a strange, ummm, “column”-like rock formation, asking if it was named.
“Nope,” he said. “But if you want to name it, we’ll start telling everyone…”
I quickly declined and went back to my bike to take a drink of water before starting down the mountain. Mt Wheeler receded quickly into the distance as I entered Utah on SR12. The bike was operating just fine and the scenery beautiful as I rolled down the highway. I passed small towns, dusty homesteads, and the ubiquitous LDS churches. I stopped for gas in Milford. Resolving to stay away from fast food for the rest of the trip (not that there was any in this town) I asked the station attendant about a good lunch spot. She recommended the Station House restaurant around the corner from the gas station. I moved the bike and went in. I was surprised to find a combo Chinese/American restaurant with pretty good (if very-americanized) egg foo yung and fried rice. I went through almost an entire pitcher of water and thanked the grandmotherly woman who served my food with a nice tip.
Before leaving Milford, I called the campground in Torrey where I planned to spend the night and made sure they reserved a spot for me. The woman on the phone asked where I was calling from and sounded skeptical that I could make it to Torrey by nightfall. I assured her that I could make it.
I briefly picked up I15 down to SR20 across to 89. I started to see the rock cliffs characteristic of the “color country” along 89 and marveled at the beauty before me. I was also watching for a good gas station as I hit SR62 north toward Torrey. I wanted to make sure I had good tank range for the “Fishlake loop”, but no major cardlock stations appeared. The fishlake turnoff appeared all too soon and I hesitated briefly. My tank was at 150 miles and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it all the way to Torrey if I took the loop. Sadly I continued on to Torrey, vowing to hit Fishlake on another trip.
I found the Sand Creek RV park easily. The owner told me that the hostel cabin was empty and cheaper then a tent site. Thinking, I compared a questionable hostel with my own tent and mattress. I paid the extra dollar and set up camp. I had carefully chosen this particular RV park for the restaurant across the street (within walking distance). During my pre-trip research I had come across reviews of the Cafe Diablo as a gem of the desert. Zagat rated food in the middle of nowhere. Yes, I think so. As I crossed the street, I noticed a black & white with lightbar parked across from the park.
It was delicious. I ordered the pacific salmon with some of the best strawberry lemonade I’ve ever tasted. Before my beautifully plated meal came I enjoyed a plate of “house tapas” (marinated veggies and crusty bread). When the salmon appeared, it was hidden beneath a crown of crab flautas and shaved radish on a bed of tomato bisque. Yes, I will be back. The bill for one person was over $30 and all I got was an entree and a lemonade. Well worth it though.
While waiting for my food, I started talking to another couple that had arrived just after me. We both complained about the heat. They said they were from North Carolina and I immediately assumed that they were used to such heat.
“No honey, we’re from the mountains! It never gets this hot there!”.
They also brought up the usual topic of surprise at a woman traveling alone on a motorcycle. I explained that I try to keep in contact at least once a day when traveling, calling my boyfriend and my parents. When I was preparing to leave, the woman reminded me to call my mother.
Alas, there was no cell phone signal on my Verizon phone and I couldn’t find a payphone in walking distance. Sorry Tony. Sorry Mom. Hope you didn’t worry too much.
As I crossed the highway, I noticed the sheriff still parked there. I was suprised he hadn’t found someone to pull over in the time I’d been inside eating.
Monday – Torrey, UT to Cedar City, UT – 350 miles
It was very windy over the night, and I kept waking up and unzipping the tent flap to check on the YZF, concerned that it would get blown over. My fears were unfounded, it was solidly planted on the hard gravel.
I quickly went through my morning drill and packed the bike. The owners wife came down from their apartment to take a pet dog out. I asked her about the sheriff. “Is he there all the time?”
She seemed puzzled for a second and then laughed. “It’s the dummy sheriff”.
As I passed the car, I looked closely in the window and laughed at the wooden face of the dummy patrolman hunched in the driver’s seat.
Rolling through town, I saw no fast food restaurants for a quick breakfast and started to wonder if I was doomed to a shrinkwrapped hostess muffin from the gas station. I fueled up and filled my camelbak at a large modern station only 5 miles from my first national park of the day. As I pulled out of the gas station, I saw an espresso shop in a newish looking strip mall.
I pulled up and ordered a small mocha and a blueberry muffin. The woman looked dubious.
“You know, we usually only put one shot of espresso in the small.”
“That’s fine.” I said. “I don’t really like the coffee”.
“Ah!” she exclaimed. “That’s tells me how to make it.”
The mocha was delicious.
I tried my cell phone while eating my muffin and found that even in the center of town, there was no signal. The woman asked me if my phone worked. It came out in conversation that the only service that worked in that area was “Cellular One”. Are they even still in business????
Next stop: Capitol Reef National Park. Prior to my trip, someone had asked me “Where’s the reef?”. I admit curiosity as to how a rock formation in the middle of the canyonlands could be named after something usually found deep in the sea.
Soon after entering the park, I pulled over at the “orientation station” where a small display explained that early explorers commonly used seamen’s terms to describe features of the trail. Anything they couldn’t cross was a “reef”. “Capitol” comes from comparing the huge white rock dome formations found there with state capitol domes.
After walking through the visitor’s center, I rode down the 12 mile out and back “scenic drive” exploring the 100-mile long “Waterpocket Fold”, as Capitol Reefs uplift formation is called. Then I continued down SR24 to the eastern border of the park before turning around. I was amazed to find that going west through the park was far from just a redux experience. I saw the rock formations from another perspective and saw some that I had missed completely for the first time. I also stopped to view ancient indian carvings on the sheer cliff face.
After leaving Capitol Reef, I turned onto the famous Utah SR12, the Million Dollar Highway. I stopped at overlooks to see vistas stretching for a hundred miles. I traveled along Hogback ridge, with sheer cliffs dropping into red-rock canyons on both sides of the narrow 2-lane road. I followed twists and turns across green meadows with purple wildflowers waving in the breeze.
Around lunch time, I entered the territory of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. At the visitors center, I learned that a “grand staircase” of colored cliffs rises slowly from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the “youngest” cliffs of Bryce Canyon. Each cliff series is named for it’s primary visible color: The white cliffs, vermilion cliffs, etc.
I stopped for a quick lunch before entering Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce, like many of the more popular national parks, is struggling to deal with the influx of tourists while preserving the wonderful natural features of the park. Like several other parks, Bryce has instituted an optional shuttle system that allows visitors to park their cars outside the park. I admire the system (especially that it’s optional) but did not feel I had enough time to utilize the system.
I flashed my parks pass to enter the park and found my way to the visitors center. After checking out the displays and gift shop inside (sorry Tony, I couldn’t find a collectable spoon to bring you), I thought to check my cell phone for service. I had checked it several times over the day and never found any cell service. I figured that Bryce was probably the most likely place of all the areas I’d been in that day to find service and I was right. After leaving a “I’m ok..call off the search and rescue squad” message on Tony’s voicemail, I called my mom. We reminisced about travels through the area taken when I was little and caught up on family news.
Bryce was of course beautiful, and I stopped dutifully at every overlook to snap a few pictures and see the thousands of “hoodoos” (rock monoliths). Sadly I found myself becoming almost numbed to the beauty… “Look – more red cliffs”. I guess I found Bryce not quite so spectacular as Capitol Reef. Perhaps it was the crowds. I felt closer to nature in CR, while Bryce seemed to work hard to keep you at a distance.
The heat also played a factor. It had been in the mid-90′s all day and the constant stopping and walking around (during which I removed only my gloves – left the helmet on) was taking it’s toll.
After leaving Bryce I stopped at Ruby’s Inn outside the park to refill my camelbak and grab some ice cream. I also bought a book by one of my favorite authors (big mistake…you’ll see). By the time I got going again it was late afternoon and I worried about missing the visitor’s center at Zion.
Sure enough, I rolled up to the entrance gate at Zion around 7:30. The sun was still in the sky, but the shadows were long. After the gate attendant checked my parks pass, I asked if he knew whether the visitor’s center was still open.
“Nope, they close at 7. You’re a little late. The shuttle system is offline too.” He wasn’t able to give me a “black header” visitors guide either, saying that they could be found at the visitors center. (WHICH WAS CLOSED). In all, I felt he was angry at me for daring to arrive past closing time and having the gall to expect service.
I slowly made my way into the canyon, once again marveling at the rock formations (all different from any I’d seen that day. I lamented that the light was bad and knew that none of my pictures would come out.
One interesting thing about the park road is that it travels through a long, winding tunnel bored through solid rock. Every few seconds, a “window” opens onto the canyon outside and the driver is tantalized with the view flasing past. When finally I emerged into Zion canyon, I almost forgot to watch the road, awed by the spectacular rock formations colored by the sunset.
After winding my way through the park, I stopped at the “Spotted Dog Cafe” to eat dinner on the patio surrounded by the colorful cliff walls. The waiter recommended the meatloaf, a mix of several different meats including buffalo and venison. It was delicious, only overshadowed by the surroundings.
I had hoped it would cool down while I ate. Alas, though it was full dark by the time I left the Zion area, the temperature was still in the mid 90′s. I spent the 45 minutes from Zion to Cedar City yearning for the cool breeze of AC waiting in my reserved hotel room.
Tuesday – Cedar City, UT to San Jose, CA – 690 miles
I made a big mistake this morning. I got caught up in my book. It happens all too often at home. I’ll get engrossed in the adventures of the characters and completely lose track of time, often resulting in a late night at work (to make up a little time). Today it meant that I didn’t get down to my bike until 11am Utah Time!!!!! Big mistake on a day with almost 700 miles planned. I knew I’d be regretting it later, but the book was soo good!
After filling up my camelbak and my stomach at a Sonic Diner near the motel, I got going. It had been hot the past few days, but nothing beat the temperatures I was seeing. I crossed out of Utah on SR26 to connect with US95. I got gas in Caliente, NV and headed for 375, the Extraterrestrial Highway.
I was running my cruise control at speed limit so I had plenty of time to watch the eroded cliffs, Joshua trees, and my ambient temperature gauge creeping between 104F and 112F depending on elevation. Interestingly, my interpretation of the desert rock formations had completely changed after the parks I’d traveled through. Everywhere I looked I saw the remains of ancient cliffs uplifted from the desert and then slowly ground down by the passing millenia.
I passed Rachel, NV around lunch time and considered stopping. I needed a break and food, but the parking lot looked suspiciously gravelly. A mile past I thought, “screw it, I need to stop and rehydrate.” I knew it would be dangerous to try to make the additional 100 miles to Tonopah without stopping for food and an influx of ice water.
I did a three point turn on the empty highway and headed back to the A’Le’Inn. A typical tourist trap, this UFO themed cafe was full of neat merchandise and, more importantly, a proprieter used to motorcyclists.
I sat down and the woman behind the counter said, “How bout a nice big ice water.” I gulped it down and ordered a sandwich. While I was waiting for my food, some GS riders in the corner finished up and stood to leave. One asked for a bottle of water and cup of ice to fill his Camelbak. The woman immediately said to hand it over. She pulled a big container of ice out of the freezer and started shoveling ice into the bladder.
“I’m used to this. We keep lots of ice around and our water is excellent.”
I took advantage of her ice bucket just before leaving. She wished me luck and reminded me to keep drinking my water.
Very much refreshed, I continued on 375 to US6. I tried to get ice cream at the McDonalds in Tonopah. I was dismayed to find that the ice cream/milkshake machine was out of commission. Instead I bought a small drink and used the cup to refill my camelbak (yes, I was drinking that much water).
Not long after I crossed the border into California, I was forced to stop at a construction site. While waiting for the pilot car, I got into a conversation with the flag(wo)man. She talked about the paving project and the difficulty of beating the heat on a day like this. The pilot car finally came, with about 5 cars following it. The driver pulled up next to me.
“Sorry, I gotta wait for three more cars to make it worth the trip back.”
Dismayed, I agreed that was fair.
He laughed, “Just kidding!” and turned his pickup around.
As we got under way, another motorcyclist came up behind me and followed us through the construction project. After the pilot car pulled to the side, I waved the rider past me, assuming he’d quickly take off into the distance. I soon found myself chugging along below speed limit. Amazed, I passed him and he followed me along US6 toward Benton. Going speed limit (running cruise control actually) I even started to lose him going through some of the wide sweepers of the border hills. I pulled over in Benton hoping he’d be up for a chat. We exchanged greetings. He was headed for Lee Vining to spend the night. Jealous, I suggested the Tioga Gas Mart for dinner. I let him take off on route 120 and followed at an easy speed.
I got gas at Lee Vining (Deeter, the Tioga Gas Mart has Camelbaks. Big display by the door) and started up the pass, forgoing dinner to make progress through the Sierras before dark. My friend Sean once said that he heard the Tioga Pass was especially spectacular at sunset. Yes, Sean, it’s beautiful, but the glory of the peaks backlit by the colorful sky was overshadowed by my fear of “deer hunting” and unfamiliar curves at night. I didn’t stop at all through Yosemite, and only rested at the Crane Flat gas station to clean off my face shield (which had acquired one really vision-blocking bug splat).
When I got to the entrance to Old Priest Grade I hesitated. I have a fear of heights often triggered by steep roads. It’s ok in the daylight, but I was not feeling very good about OPG in the dark. I decided to go with the safety of continuing on Hwy 120.
After pulling over several times to let cars pass (don’t like having their headlights in my mirrors) and slowly navigating the foothill curves, I arrived in Oakdale at the base of the Sierras. I stopped at the Dennys for a quick meal before crossing the central valley. Just as I sat down, a nosebleed started (from the hot dry air and pressure/elevation changes over the last few days?)
The valley crossing was one of the hardest I’ve ever done. I had already ridden over 550 miles that day and had a few hours to go. My back was sore for the first time on the trip and I was feeling very tired. Many times I thought of pulling over to take a nap, but I wanted to get home and sleep in my own bed. Plus, I *really* needed to be at work in the morning.
My freeway exit was never so welcoming and I began peeling off my riding suit as I walked through the door (which Tony had left unlocked for me). I fell into bed and immedieatly fell asleep, feeling as though the bed was moving slowly like a roller coaster.
A trip to remember. Gotta get Tony out there. Oh, I checked in the morning..my 03 Yzf rolled over 30,000 miles somewhere on 680. :p