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