Monday, November 25, 2013

Racing Mother Nature to Zion

Bryce National Park
We had been spending time in the Moab area like the good weather was never going to run out... and then the weatherman delivered the bad news that a snowstorm from up North was bearing down on Southern Utah and Bryce National Park... one of the places we were most looking forward to visiting in Utah. So we packed up and headed out of town, trying to make as much distance as possible before it became too cold to ride that evening. The sun set as we were buying dinner supplies in Blanding, Utah, and it seemed that the temperature dropped 15 degrees with it. With deer jumping out all over the place as though they were hazards in a video game, we decided to call it a day and set up camp at a nice secluded site in a nearby state park. We heated up a quick Uncle Ben's Rice and Indian Curry Meal and dove into the sleeping bags. 

The next morning, we dragged ourselves out of the tent early, intent on making a big day of it; if we were to see any of Bryce National Park before the snowstorm hit the next morning, we had to get within reach of the park by the end of the day. With a few hundred miles to cover, we made our stops at the attractions along picturesque Routes 95 and 12, short and sweet, opting to shoot short movies with the GoPros several times where we normally would have stopped off to take photos. 

Butler-Wash Anasazi Ruins
One of the stops we did make was at the Butler-Wash Ruins where the Anasazi American Indians had made their homes in the cliff 
walls around 1200AD. 
Natural Bridges National Monument
We stopped again at Natural Bridges National Monument, where the arches (called "bridges" here because they arch over waterways), were massive, but you couldn't really fully appreciate them without hiking down into the canyons, which, sadly, we didn't have the time for. We also had to skip Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods and some excellent dirt roads that we would have loved to ride, but with snow coming, we didn't have the luxury to see everything we wanted to without seriously risking getting stuck in the mountains. Oh well, always good to have reasons to return to an area like this.

Petroglyphs (rock engravings) in Escalante
We continued on, eventually riding through the majestic canyons, buttes and monoliths of Capitol Reef National Park and Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument. The road through Escalante is just as impressive as the land it leads through... In several places, the so-called shoulder was the only thing between me, my bike and a thousand meter drop that would end on unforgiving stones below. Usually, in such instances, I will just focus on the side of the road that is "safe," i.e., does not mean certain death. But in the case of Escalante, both sides of the road drop off to certain death... hence the squealing and well-crafted string of profanities that can be heard throughout my GoPro footage. Roel's going to have to find a good loud song to cover that up when he puts together the next movie. Oops. 

Capitol Reef National Park
We camped that night just outside of Kodachrome Basin State Park, atop a hill which was surprisingly warmer than the valley below.
Sand, everywhere
We fell asleep to coyotes howling nearby and I later awoke to soft footsteps around the tent. The next morning, Wile E.'s paw prints obscured the ones we had left the night before, but everything on and off of the bikes was intact. I don't mind polite little coyotes. 

Despite the brisk temperature, we were up and on our way to Bryce as soon as it was light enough to see. And though the sky was a brilliant blue, we were very aware that we only had 4 hours to enjoy the park before the snow was to begin falling. At the visitors center, we loaded up on information and water and had a quick breakfast.

Bryce National Park
We rode through the entire park, and stopped at the end for our first panoramic view of the other worldly hoodoos (columns of weathered rock) that Bryce is famous for.

We worked our way back to the beginning, stopping off at every pull-out to make pictures and gaze at the beauty that grew more and more bizarre as we neared the beginning of the park.
Throughout the South West, you will see a hoodoo here or there. What makes Bryce such an anomaly of nature is the sheer number of hoodoos. There appear to be thousands of these strange pillars of stone, weathered somewhat uniformly, standing together as an army... somewhat reminiscent of Terracotta Warriors, concealed in their canyon, laying in wait.

A handful of snowflakes fell as we got off of the bikes at the final look-out to enjoy the view of nature's army, lit up by the the few rays of sun that had
The hiking trail into the hoodoos
fought hard 
enough to get through the slate grey clouds that were closing in on the region. We took our cue, made our exit and descended a few thousand feet through the Red Canyon, leaving the ominous clouds in our rear-view mirrors. At the lower elevation, it finally got warmer and for the first time in 24 hours, I shut off my beloved grip heating. We rode into Zion National Park just as the sun was setting, and again, it was like we had landed on another planet...

Zion National Park
Instead of tall, well-formed hoodoos, the road through Zion wound around melted Hershey's Kiss-like mounds, then
through pitch black tunnels that every-so-often offered amazing views of the canyon through massive windows. We stopped at the visitors center to gather information for the next day, and fortunately met a Canadian couple who was also camping and kindly told us about the spot outside of the park where they were staying... for free : ) We followed them shortly thereafter, and pitched our tent in a "warm" valley. And by warm,
Weeping Rock
I mean for the first time in two months, I took my bike pants off to sit and eat dinner. It was delightful. Grateful to have made it through/to the pinnacles of our Utah park destinations, we enjoyed a "healthy" dinner of sausages, instant Idaho mashed potatoes and canned peas, enjoying the moonrise over the surrounding mountains before settling in for the night. 

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