Scottish weather on scenic Utah-12

Day 45 – Saturday 17th August 2013 – Torrey, UT to Mount Carmel Junction, UT

I was seriously beginning to think I really had brought the Scottish summer with me. The outlook from our hotel balcony that morning was dark with grey skies. We could see the rain and lightning not far to the west. Before we’d finished breakfast, the rain had reached us – and it was heavy. We didn’t need to check out until 11am, so we decided we’d try and wait it out, but the forecast wasn’t good. Two or three big bands of rain were forecast to be moving across southern Utah. In the north of the state, there had been wildfires, and they badly needed the rain, but instead, in places they were getting “dry” thunderstorms – lightning strikes without any rain, and these were a major cause of the wildfires.

From Utah, August 2013

Our plan for the day was to take Utah route 12 south to Bryce Canyon. I had ridden the 12 in the opposite direction last time, and I knew Doreen would love it, if only the rain didn’t persist. With half an hour before we had to check-out, the rain petered out, so we loaded our gear onto the Trooper and made a start down UT-12.

We’d only ridden a couple of miles before we were hit by another band of rain, and we had to stop and struggle into the waterproofs. This was going to be the story of our day, intermittent rain all day long. I guess we ought to be used to it coming from Scotland. But all in all, we were pretty lucky since we had dry spells at some of the most scenic points along UT-12. And even riding along in rain, with all the aspens and great views wasn’t such a hardship.

From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013

I was really glad that we had a dry spell when we reached the Million Dollar Road and the Hogsback. This was something I wanted Doreen to see properly. When I’d ridden it 2 years earlier, I’d confused this road with the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado, but they are not the same road, and I now knew better having ridden both.

The part of UT-12 east of Escalante used to be called the “Million Dollar Road to Boulder” when it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the late 1930s. When the road was opened in 1940, it gave the town of Boulder, Utah, its first year-round mail service to be delivered by motor vehicle. Until then, Boulder was the last community in the US to have its mail delivered by mule train. The last section of UT-12, north of Boulder was still gravel until 1985. That would have been a section of road I wouldn’t have wanted to ride the Trooper along.

From Utah, August 2013

One of the best sections of the Million Dollar Road is known as the Hogsback. Here the road runs along the top of a narrow spine of rock between two canyons. There is almost no shoulder and steep 2000-foot drops to either side. The photos below really don’t do it justice, maybe taking a look around with Google street view gives a better impression.

From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013

From the Hogsback, the UT-12 drops down with sharp curves and steep gradients for the next 4 miles. Great riding.

From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013

As we got closer to Bryce Canyon, we hit more of the Scottish weather. After 10 miles of riding, with the rain only getting heavier, we pulled into a gas station at Tropic to seek shelter and to try to wait it out. Its a pity that this was one of the few gas stations that didn’t serve fresh coffee, as we had to wait over an hour before it brightened enough for us to want to continue. We rode on in drizzle, and as we approached the turn off for the Bryce Canyon National Park, we could see the rain hanging heavy over the park. Just before you get to the main entrance of the park and have to pay for entry, is Bryce City, a tourist destination with “Ye Olde West” storefronts, over-priced hotels and a rodeo every night. We took shelter again, and this time managed to get a coffee. Over coffee, we pondered what to do. Our planned final destination for the day was meant to be Cedar City, which was still 80 miles away and it was beginning to get late with signs the weather was only going to get worse. The sensible thing to have done would have been to get back on the road and high-tail it to Cedar City, but Bryce Canyon is one of the most spectacular views in southern Utah and it would be a real shame for Doreen to miss it, so we waited. And then waited some more, until finally, after another hour, we got a brief gap in the rain and we went for it.

The park was 14 different vista points along an 18 mile route. The recommended time to do this route is 3 to 4 hours. We didn’t have anywhere near that time. We could have probably managed an hour, without rain, before we had to get back on the road in order to reach Cedar City before dark, but as it was, there was an angry looking thunderhead fast approaching from the south. We decided to take a look from one viewpoint, and then make a dash for it to try to beat the rain. We figured all the views were of the same thing, only from different directions. One viewpoint should be enough to give the main impression – which was pretty much the story of the whole trip. A whistle stop tour, just skimming the surface and hopefully just enough to give an impression of the real America.

From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013

Doreen’s verdict was that it was well worth seeing Bryce Canyon, even if only for a short time. But I was beginning to feel a little ripped off by the National Park Service. We were charged $25 for our 20 minutes in Bryce Canyon. Now I suppose that’s our fault for not staying longer, since the ticket is good for 7 days, but I really don’t think a motorcycle, carrying 2 people at most,  should be charged the same as a RV or bus carrying, potentially, a horde of people. At some other National parks, I’d been charged $12 per person on the bike, whereas a car or RV would have been charged $25. I really should have bought an annual pass when I visited my first park. They cost $80 and they are good for a whole year across the whole country. I would have saved myself a fortune and probably popped into more parks, especially on the east coast where time would be shorter.

As we scuttled around taking photos of the canyon, we could hear the huge cracks of thunder and see the black sky to the south moving toward us. We needed to get back on the road, so $25 for 20 minutes it would be.

We hadn’t booked any accommodation ahead, but set off in the direction of Cedar City. As soon as we turned out of the park, it began to rain again and continued to rain as we passed through Red Canyon. With the rain there was little point stopping for photos, but I had taken some during my last visit.

From South Utah
From South Utah
From South Utah

With the rain beating down, we were eager to get off the road as soon as possible. We passed through several small towns, but they all seemed to be lacking one or more of my holy ride trinity – bed, beer and food. We saw a few motels, but not anywhere near the other two.

We pressed on still in the direction of Cedar City. The rain had somehow creep up my waterproofs and had soaked the back of my jeans. We needed gas, and when we pulled into fill up, I checked the weather radar – one of the more useful apps I’d downloaded for the phone. It was showing huge clouds and rain between us and Cedar City. We hadn’t really needed to look at the radar, we could hear the thunder and see the lightning.

The road over to Cedar City looked twisty from the map, and the road sign declaring sharp curves and steep grades confirmed it. I didn’t much fancy that in a thunder storm, so I decided to try to make a dash for it to the south, and see what we could find.

The first suitable place we came to was Mount Carmel Junction. We rode in around 8pm, and at first sight it didn’t look very appealing – just a run down motel and a family restaurant sans bierre. But then Doreen spied a Best Western a little further along the road – it had a restaurant attached, serving beer and wine. It didn’t really matter how much it cost, we’d have taken it that evening. With a guest laundry and a decent wifi, it was paradise by the roadside for us wet and weary travellers.

 

Whooah, we’re half way there

The Trooper had to be at the Harley shop at 8.30 sharp to guarantee being seen to first. It was very handy staying in the hotel next door. I was there at 8.20 and had to wait for them to open up. As check-out from the hotel wasn’t until 11am, I came back to hang at the hotel until I had to be out.

When I got back, Ed had packed up his bike and was about ready to leave. We said our good-byes and gave each other contact details with a view to meeting up at Sturgis and having a beer.

At 11am, I checked-out and went over to Tripp’s. I browsed around the store, brought a replacement pair of gloves for the ones I’d lost, and just as I sat down with a complimentary cup of coffee (note to Edinburgh H-D, there were free donuts too), the service manager came over to tell me the bike was ready.

I paid my $300-odd and went out to load the Trooper. I was a little surprised to see the Trooper has still filthy from yesterday’s rain. I don’t think I’ve ever had work down at a H-D dealer, where they didn’t at least give the bike a basic wash, even if not fully detailing it. That the Trooper hadn’t had a clean kind of summed up my experience of Tripp’s Harley-Davidson in Amarillo, TX – quite efficient but not very friendly.

But I was on the road earlier than I had expected, and my first destination was the Cadillac Ranch just west of Amarillo. When I pulled up by the ranch, the first thing that stuck me was the 20 or so cars and RVs also parked up. Looking over at the caddies, I could see swarms of people around them. Me and crowds don’t mix well, so I’d afraid I just snapped one distance shot and I was on my way. Personally, I think the Bug Ranch was much better, especially since Ed and I had it to ourselves.

From Texas, July 2013

Carrying on across Texas, all I could see to my right was mile after mile of wind turbines. Not only has Texas got oil, but they’re also apparently the biggest producer of wind energy in the US.

From Texas, July 2013

Around lunchtime, I reached the mid-point of the old Route 66. From there it is 1,139 miles to Los Angeles and 1,139 miles to Chicago.

From Texas, July 2013
From Texas, July 2013

Across the road from that sign is the Midpoint Cafe, and as I hadn’t had breakfast, I stopped for lunch. It’s a great little place with good sandwiches and friendly staff. They had a big party of Corvette drivers in on a Route 66 tour, but I didn’t wait long for my food, and a good sandwich it was too.

From Texas, July 2013

As I was preparing to leave, I offered to take a photo of a couple that had just come out of the cafe. They turned out to be a Finnish couple on a Route 66 trip by car. Ed had told me about meeting a Finnish couple in Tulsa, and it was the same couple. Small world. For the next few stops, we kept leap frogging each other and then seeing each other coming back from following the same dead ends.

Along the route there are more signs of the decline of the once prosperous businesses that used to serve Route 66 travellers.

From Texas, July 2013

I rolled into New Mexico around mid-afternoon and already the landscape was beginning to change. The flatness of Texas was being replaced by more and more contours. I knew I was getting close to one of the parts of the US that I love to ride in.

From New Mexico, July 2013

Around 5pm, I rode into Santa Rosa. If I hadn’t been delayed with the Trooper’s service in the morning, I had been hoping to make it all the way to Santa Fe. There was no way I was going to make that now, at least not if I hoped to arrive at a reasonable time. After an iced tea and a bit of internet time in the McDs, I decided that I’d look for somewhere to stay in Santa Rosa.

From New Mexico, July 2013

I found a motel next door to a bar and grill, so that ticked all my boxes for an overnight stay. The motel must have been a 50s or 60s vintage, and the fixtures and furnishings may well have been the same vintage too. These original motels may not have all the mod cons of the generic chain hotels that cover the US interstate intersections, but they are a darn sight cheaper and with buckets more character. I’d much prefer to stay somewhere like that – especially if they have wifi which this one did.

I ate in the next door bar and grill. The chicken burger was fine but it really wasn’t the most happening place, so I left after just one beer, and decided I’d do just as well having a tinned beer sitting outside my room.

When I got back to the motel, there was a party of 4 twenty-somethings unpacking their car into the room next to mine. I said hello, and their replies were in unmistakable French accents. It’s funny I’ve heard almost as many European accents on my stops along Route 66 as I have American accents. It made me wonder whether Route 66 wasn’t actually a European dream of what America should be like.

I asked my French neighbours about their trip. They had flown into Chicago, rented a car and had followed the Mother Road; but they were planning to deviate from it once they reached Flagstaff, and instead head up to Grand Canyon, then Las Vegas, Death Valley, Yosemite, San Francisco, before heading down Highway 1 to LA. When I heard this I recommended that they visit Zion, and possibly Bryce Canyon, National Parks in Utah if they had time. Zion was one of the most picturesque places I saw on my last trip, and I’m looking forward to taking Doreen there when she gets over in August.

When they realised that I had been that way before, I was bombarded with questions about route timings and things to see. I did my best to answer based on my 2011 experiences and then bade them good night.