Day 44 – Friday 16th August 2013 – Blanding, UT to Torrey, UT
The next morning we grabbed coffee and a donut from the gas station with the faux beer and sat on the floor outside to mull over the route for the day. Whoever said life on the road was glamorous?
It may not be so glamorous, but it is an adventure. Not being sure what sights, sounds and people you’ll encounter is all part of the anticipation of the day’s journey. Sometimes where you land for the night in a dry town, but I wasn’t going to be fooled again. The next place we stayed would definitely serve a cold beer – I’d already made sure of that. Utah has some strange alcohol laws, but its generally not completely dry. Utah is one of those states, like Oklahoma, that limits the alcohol in beer to 3.2% – unless it’s brewed in Utah in which case it can be a whole 4%, I couldn’t make sense of that either.
Our first destination of the day was Natural Bridges National Monument. Those American signs were knocking me out again, as we rode straight past the turn off, only beginning to wonder where it was when we were 15 miles further down the road. I’m actually becoming thankful for GPS on this trip. Whilst not using GPS Sat Nav on the dash to actively navigate, the GPS on the iPhone when I stop is a blessing. It showed us immediately that we’d gone too far, so we turned the Trooper around and hoofed it back.
We caught the sign this time. Not far on the approach road to the park was an information board, so we pulled over since I like reading those things. My son, Brandon, and even Doreen to some extent, gets terribly frustrated with me whenever we visit anywhere that has information boards. If someone was written something about a place we’re visiting, I’ll usually stop and read every word. All Brandon wants to do is get on and see stuff, and not to have to wait for me to read shit. I think it’s an age thing – I grew up with books, he grew up with the internet and a Playstation.
At this particular information board, there was another Harley parked up, so we said hello. Peter was from Cologne, Germany and he was on an rental Road King from Las Vegas. He’s a lively 67 year old, who seems to come over to different parts of the US every year and rents a bike. He said he was even an honorary of a HOG chapter in Washington state. It sounded as if Peter had travelled more of the US than I had. He’d also been to Scotland, and when he heard that that was where we were from, he broke out in to a rendition of Flower of Scotland, and he did know all the words. A German singing Scotland’s national “anthem” to us in a national park in Utah. How bizarre is that?
We met Peter again at the visitor centre, where we paid our $3 each to ride the loop around the park which takes you past the 3 natural bridges. There was a warning sign at the visitor centre warning people to keep away from chipmunks and other rodents in the area, as they had been found to carry bubonic plague.
There are 3 natural bridges in the park – Kachina, Owachomo and Sipapu, all Hopi names. They were formed by water erosion in the river canyon. Most of that erosion occurs during flash flooding, but the canyon looked pretty dry when we were there, except for one small pool.
We bumped into Peter again at every stop in the park, but at the last one, we bid each farewell. He was heading for Moab, while we were going to Torrey.
The ride to Torrey is shrewn with amazing scenery. We had paid for entry to Monument Valley and to Natural Bridges, but riding along the open road in this part of Utah, you can’t help but encounter breath taking vistas around almost every bend. Southern Utah is full of the most wonderful stone formations, where with a little imagination you can see chairs, arches, columns, spirals, gargoyles, faces, and organ pipes. At least that is what Doreen said. I was watching the road, and only had half an eye on the scenery.
The ride took us over the Colorado River again, and we discovered one of the rivers that joins the Colorado is the Dirty Devil – great name. This area is at the lower end of the Canyonlands National Park, and the scenery is most impressive. The roads are fun too, with gentle curves taking you through the brilliant red rocks. The bridge shown in the photos below is the Hite Crossing Bridge, below it is the ghost town of Hite, submerged when the Glen Canyon Dam was constructed to create Lake Powell.
After the National Bridges and the southern end of Canyonlands, you’d think we’d feasted our eyes enough for one day, but there was more. The road up to Torrey also passes through part of the Capitol Reef National Park. Capitol Reef is so named because of the domes of Najavo sandstone were thought to resemble the roof of the Whitehouse. Doreen thought it looked like a walnut whip. Me? well I thought it looked more like a teton than the Grand Teton itself. You can decide for yourself which it really looks like.
Now, as I said, I wasn’t going to be fooled again. Before leaving dry, bland, Blanding, I had already booked our accommodation for the right, and as we pulled into the Rock Rim Inn, I saw a sign that had my mouth watering.
The Rock Rim turned out to be a fantastic place to stay, great views from our room over the valley, views of the “rock rim” at the front, and only a short walk to the bar.
After Blanding, this place was paradise. It had been a hot ride all day, so we made a bee-line for the bar as soon as we had checked in and dumped the bags. It was still a little early for food, I just had the notion of a cold beer on my mind. I was really glad to find out that the bar had local brews from the Utah Brewers Cooperative, which we’d drank first in Vernal, UT in 2011 – with beers named Polygamy Porter, they tend to stick in the mind. Dark beers are more Doreen’s thing than mine, and she did re-try the Polygamy Porter later in the evening, but her first choice was the Hefeweizen. Mine was the Chasing Tail Golden Ale.
When we ordered our beers, we mentioned to our server that we’d be eating later, but first we just wanted a couple of beers, and to chill and enjoy the view. Our server then ever so subtly suggested that some chips’n’dips would go extremely well with the beer. We agreed. It took me a couple of minutes to realise what she had done (and it wasn’t just up-selling). I remembered reading about some of Utah’s alcohol licensing laws, and that some bars/restaurants are only licensed to sell alcohol with food, and that needs to be food purchased, not bar snacks given out free by the bar. Our server had guided us to make it legal for her to serve us a beer, without us even realising it at the time. Whatever Utah’s silly liquor laws, I had a cold beer and my mood here was such a pleasant contrast to my mood in Blanding, as I’m sure Doreen would agree.
We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed several of the fine beers. There were dark clouds gathering to the west, and after a time, we did have to take shelter under the canopy for a while. The rain reminded me that the last time I had been been Torrey had been after a couple of days of persistent rain in Utah, which culminated with the drenching and coating in red mud I received in Monument Valley. It seems it rains a lot in southern Utah in the summer, or perhaps I just always bring the Scottish weather with me.
The craft beer continued to flow, and we ordered the house speciality – pizza. The bar soon began filling up with folks from France, Germany, Texas and a couple from Salt Lake City.
The Americans in the bar were friendly as ever, and we chatted to the Texans for a while. They were touring Utah like us, but they were travelling by RV, although they said they had motorcycles at home in Texas, so the common biker bond was there, and they recommended a few rides around the Austin area, but I doubted we’d have time to try them, as by then we’d be trying to eat the miles quickly between visiting friends and family.
The couple from Salt Lake were regulars at the Rock Rim. They came and stayed here every 3 or 4 weeks, and it wasn’t just for the views, it was to hunt for petrified wood. Mike would take it back home and polish it up. He said it was for his retirement fund. He figured he had tens of thousands of dollars worth in his yard. He went on to tell us that he was a coal miner, but that was no longer the well paid job it had been when he had started 30 years ago. His father and grandfather had both been miners, and when he had started, he had been earning $15 an hour – which has about the same buying power today as $42. Instead, Mike was earning $25 an hour today. The fortunes of miners in the US, as in the UK, had been heavy hit by the global economy. It used to be that miners both here and at home, were fairly well paid for doing a dirty and dangerous job. My uncle had been a coal in Scotland, but the bloody-mindedness of two people, Margaret Thatcher and union leader, Arthur Scargill, irreparably damaged Britain’s mining industry in the 1980s. It sounded as if the fortunes of America’s miners weren’t a whole better. Mike had had to move around various states chasing jobs as the different pits he had worked at closed. That’s how he had ended up in Utah. And it was still dirty and dangerous work. Mike had seen many a colleague killed on the job – a handful of miners had died recently, not at Mike’s pit, but one near his.
Somehow the conversation turned away from mining, and onto music. Mike’s wife and our server where both big concert goers. Their favourite band was Aerosmith, a band I have never seen live, but would really like to. It’s one of the bands, along with Kiss (another band I have never seen, but grew up listening to), that I had checked for tour dates in the US before leaving. If I could have, I would have tried to work the route of the trip to coincide with a concert, as I had done with Iron Maiden. But the only date Aerosmith were playing in US that summer was at the 110th Harley-Davidson celebrations at the end of August. That date would have coincided with Doreen’s trip, and I thought it far better to give Doreen the best trip possible, rather than hacking back up north to another biker event.
After Mike and his wife left, another guy who had been listening to the story of our trip pulled up a chair at our table. Jeff was now retired, but at one time he had been a teacher, and had lived and worked in various places across the US, Australia, and even Corsica, of all places. But in another indictment of our modern world, he’d realised that in order to retire comfortably, he’d need a lot more money than he was ever going to get from teaching. He put his Chemistry background to use, and took a job with a nuclear power laboratory in Idaho. And that job must have paid well enough, because he was now retired, and was touring the country in an RV with his wife.
With all the good craft beer and the friendly folk in the bar, we had a much better evening at the Rock Rim Inn than we had in Blanding.