Two-Weeks, Mostly in Utah, Nevada & Oregon
June 2014
2989 miles / 4810.329 kilometres
 
Finally, we got back out on the road for a long motorcycle and camping trip! HUZZAH!

In December 2012, we bought a house - a first for both of us - and all of the improvements we needed to make to it, plus Stefan starting as a volunteer firefighter here in the USA at long last and going through all of the required trainings, meant no camping at all in 2013. None. We took only little day trips on our motorcycles, only for a few hours each time, squeezed in as we could (and practicing on gravel roads, for me, whenever possible).

Not doing what we love to do more than anything in the world has put a strain on us. I don't recommend it. Getting back out on the road was something we both DESPERATELY needed.

2014 Utah-RouteTouring Utah by motorcycle has been top of my list for travel in the USA, so my expectations for this trip were high - stupid high. I usually keep travel expectations in check, but not this time - they were through the roof and into the stratosphere. And that's a cardinal sin of travel. Don't do it. Not that I didn't have a great time on this trip - I did. But it was a very different trip that I had pictured, and it took a lot of time to get my mind around that.

At left is the route we took. No, we didn't make it to Monument Valley. We had a very good reason - which you will have to read the entire blog to know about. I've been to some of these places before, back in 1996. But after 18 years, I knew it would look and feel brand new to me (and it did), especially since this time I was on my motorcycle and with my husband, whom I love more than chocolate, fried chicken and Coca Cola. Stefan has been to most of these places as well - on his first motorcycle trip in the USA, an epic 6-week solo back in 2005. But he was really wanting to re-do it on his Honda Africa Twin (and with ME, of course).

The one thing that I did remember very much from my first trip to this area was Buster and Wiley, who'd been with me back then on my trip to this area. They were frequently on my mind on this trip, as was our dear Albi who, for the first time, wouldn't be there at home waiting for us after our trip.

In case you don't want to read the entire travelogue, but want some quick advice for your own motorcycle trip to the area, then here is a list of the very best of times, the absolute highest of highlights:
Live wildlife seen:
Dead wildlife and domestic animals seen: Oh Mighty Isis, it's THE WEST. We saw every kind of animal dead on the side of the road or mounted on a wall that you can see. Heart-breaking.

I tweeted from our trip at @jayne_a_broad. But as usual, I didn't blog from the trip, or post pictures during the trip, because I like to be fully present on our trips. We took a cheap tablet for the first time - we have always done everything via old-school maps and hoped to find a camp site on the day we need it, but we thought the tablet might help with reservations just before weekends, weather reports, and for maps we didn't already have in paper form. In the end, it pretty much helped only re: maps.  

Jayne CravensStefan had been saying for a while that I needed a mesh motorcycle jacket, for the incredibly hot weather we would encounter, and I had been resistant: it was an expense I didn't want, and because I gained all the weight back I lost in 2011, I didn't feel like I deserved it. But then someone on a Facebook group I'm on, for women that consider themselves ADV riders, said I would absolutely need a mesh jacket and it was the final push I needed. I got an unbelievably great deal on a Xelement 'CF-508' women's mesh armored jacket from Leather Up - $50 for the jacket, and around $20 for rush shipping. The jacket arrived the Thursday before our trip. I wanted neon green - I really, really like to be SEEN on my bike. I would have chosen light gray. But they had only one color: pink. I know, I'm just NOT pink. But there it is, at left, at Arches National Park. Hate the color, but the purchase it was worth it - I would have melted without it.

DAY ONE (Sunday)

We left early Sunday morning, a day later than we'd wanted, so that Stefan could participate in Oregon's first ever state cornhole tournament. He got knocked out in the first round, but gosh it was fun! We headed out before 10 a.m. and I had mentally prepared myself for a horrible time riding through the Columbia Gorge. I hate the Gorge. Oh, sure, it's pretty for about 30 minutes, but the rest of the time, it's usually a windy mess with crazed, speeding drivers and few places to easily pull over. Imagine our shock at the calm weather and light traffic we encountered almost the entire time! And my mesh jacket was already proving to be awesome - it's not cool to wear just standing around, not at all, but once you are out riding - wow, it's AMAZING in how it creates air flow!

We stopped for lunch at Charburger in Cascade Locks, which is quite the local institution. As we were leaving, I met an elderly lady who found my "I am not a backrest" t-shirt quite amusing (she rode a motorcycle in her younger days) and a guy came up to us to say he and his wife would be riding to Banff soon, each on their own motorcycle. I LOVE meeting people because of our motorcycles - they are almost always so dang nice!

campingWe road more than 350 miles that first day, trying to make it across the Idaho border for our first night out camping. Hated it - it's all work and no fun. We weren't quite at the border, but we were hot, tired, and ready to stop. But we'd seen no camping signs, and our maps didn't give us any indication that such was nearby. During our last riding break, we'd agreed that we'd camp at the first place that allowed such - otherwise, we'd have to stay at a hotel (sad face - never like doing that the first four days of a trip). Just as we crossed into the Mountain Time Zone (per the sign on I-84), we saw the sign for camping at Farewell Bend Oregon State Park. HURRAH! And affter we exited the highway and took the road for the park, we crossed BACK into the Pacific Time Zone.

As we waited to talk to the campground host (he was in his RV, talking on the phone), we met a delightful fellow from Canada, originally from India, who was on a sport bike and was on his way to the Salt Flats in Utah to see how fast he could go. Bless his heart, he was totally unprepared for the trip - no sleeping bag, no tent, no food, and about to run out of fuel. He'd imagined doing the entire trip by hotel and credit card. The camp host let him sleep in his car.

Oh, the camp host. Earl. LOVED Earl. He came out of his RV, looked at me and said, "I've been waiting for you! Where have you been?!" Loved Earl. We were also quite lucky: the campground had been completely full the day before.

We set up camp, for the first time in two years, and it was surprisingly easy; I figured I would have forgotten everything, but we fell right into our routine: we put the tent up together, I unroll the Therma-rests and let them self-inflate over the next couple of hours inside, we unpack the bikes and I organize the inside of the tent and get things ready outside to start cooking supper while Stefan goes off for beer and ice. The nearest town to the campground is no more: the gas station, hotel and other businesses have long closed up. The small town of Huntington is less than 3 miles away, but the only gas station/convenience store in town has very limited opening hours - Stefan was able to get beer (really BAD beer), but no gas.

As we unpacked, I realized what I had forgotten: my Teva sandals. ARGH! Sandals to wear around the camp site are a must. I had studied my packing list carefully before the trip, but I was probably actually wearing the Tevas as I was packing. We decided I'd buy some cheap sandals in Moab, since we expected to be there for 3 nights or so. The other things I forgot: finger nail clippers and my beloved Swiss Army knife, which I used to carry absolutely EVERYWHERE, all the time, before September 2011.

The mosquitoes were out in force, eating up Stefan. He has to coat himself in repellant every evening, and even then, he gets bitten. He should be studied by scientists, truly. And as a result of his attraction to bugs, I rarely get bitten.

Our Canadian friend joined us after dinner - I didn't realize then that he didn't have any food, or I would have insisted he join us. During our conversation, he talked about this really cool thing he'd been doing online: virtual volunteering through the United Nations Online Volunteering service. I nearly fell off the picnic table bench! I don't think he believed me when I told him I used to run it! (side note: PLEASE buy my book!).

We didn't stay up much past 10 p.m. The wind picked up a few times in the night, waking us up and making us wonder if it would rain and if we needed to put on the rain fly. The large pickups on US Highway 30 (Bus) to Huntington also kept us up a few times. But it mostly felt so wonderful to finally be sleeping in a tent again!

DAY TWO (Monday)

The next morning, we treated ourselves to scrambled eggs - for some reason, I cook them better over our MSR camp stove than at home. Our Canadian friend joined us later, and when I realized at last that he didn't have any food, I insisted he eat an orange we'd brought. Stefan also gave him some gas - he wasn't sure he could make it to Ontario, Idaho otherwise. Sadly, I couldn't share our coffee with him - he didn't have a cup.

What would make this and other state park camp sites oh-so-much better?
I write that on EVERY camping comment card, FYI.

We talked to some of the fishermen at the camp site who had won the recent carp fishing festival on the nearby Snake River, and then we headed out back onto I-84. We hate interstates, but if we wanted to spend a majority of our time on US Highways, state roads and county roads in Utah and Nevada on this trip, we had to be on such for the first two days, at least. Geesh but I hated it. We did stop again soon after starting that morning, at the official Idaho visitor's center in Ontario, because I really like to stop at those - they usually are well-stocked with brochures, and while we did bring the cheap tablet on this trip, there's just nothing better than a traditional, paper brochure. Added bonus: this rest stop was staffed by an oh-so-helpful volunteer! Tourism volunteers are THE BEST.

What can I tell you about that day's ride? Traffic, speed, heat. Ugh. And after lunch, some guy pretending he was really interested in our bikes but turned out to want to sell us something. I HATE THAT. I do not want to hear about your religion nor your nutritional supplements! I was pleased that Burger King has free wireless - made it easy to check the whether and what not. But not our email - both because of security and because we were on VACATION.

We eventually crossed into Utah, and then turned onto I-15. Going through Salt Lake City was WRETCHED - so much traffic, so much speed, five lanes of chaos, nothing to see from the highway and too much craziness to look at anything anyway. Hated hated hated it. Another day of well over 350 miles - I hate that kind of riding, but it's what you have to do sometimes early in a trip to get where you need to go so you can actually start ENJOYING the trip.

I'm not sure if I saw the billboards only in Idaho or also in Utah... but I saw these billboards that had wind mills on them. The first one I saw, I thought, of course, that it was a pro-wind energy billboard. But then I saw the words on another: "Wind Development, not the oldest profession, but the result is the same." Huh?!? Yes, that's right: there's some "nonprofit" out there, probably made up of two people (the Koch brothers), arguing AGAINST wind energy. Sigh... only saw one anti-UN sign, which was MASSIVE - the sign used to say something else (bowling alley? casino?). So sorry I didn't get a photo.

We camped that night at Little Cottonwood Campground inside Willard Bay State Park in the Fishlake National Forest. We picked a camp site, then moved to another when we realized just how close I-15 was. The camp site was quite empty except for a few other campers and one large group of folks near the water. I walked to the camp hosts site, and there sat the husband on top of a huge boat outside his camper. I said, "So, you're a Captain in search of water?" He said, "Hey, the tide IS coming in soon! Watch out!" I love camp hosts. The camp ground was blanketed in "cotton" from the cottonwood trees, and it was "snowing" every time the wind blew, but the camp host told me that it would get much thicker in a few weeks. Stefan went out for beer - and found that the nearby town of Bringham City does not sell beer. But another town did. And this time, it was decent beer - Shock Top Belgian White.

DAY THREE (Tuesday)

The next morning, it was back to the Interstate, where we parked almost immediately. Luckily, the traffic jam didn't last long (a truck ran off the road). And then, after more than 700 miles, at long last, we left the Interstate (and a very profound stink - I think there's a pig farm nearby), around Spanish Fork. We stopped at a stop light after leaving the highway, and Stefan looked over and said "The vacation begins NOW." We were onto the winding state road 6 and then 191, through Price, Utah, stopping for a very mediocre lunch at a Mexican restaurant. Price depressed me. I always wonder what kind of hopes and dreams the kids have in such isolated cities.

dirt roaddinosaur quarryThen it was on to Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry. It's less than five miles of EASY dirt and gravel to the site. And the site? I thought there would just be an information board and some brochures at the end of the road, with a map pointing at empty plains. WRONG! There was a very nice visitor's center and two BLM guys staffing the site who were beyond awesome: friendly, SO knowledgeable, and really happy to talk to us. It's so nice to encounter people that WANT to do their jobs! We had a nice conversation about Cosmos, John Day Fossil Beds, the horrific Creation Museum in my home-state of Kentucky (shameful!), and so much more. Sadly, we were just the seventh and eighth visitors of the entire day and just one hour until closing! The quarry is fascinating: it contains the largest, most dense concentration of Jurassic-aged dinosaur bones ever found. More than 12,000 bones, belonging to at least 74 individual dinosaurs, have been excavated at the quarry. How did the carcasses of so many animals end up in one place, and why are most of them meat-eaters? If you have ever seen Jurassic fossils in any museum in the world, it is very likely they came from here. In addition to the exhibits, there's terrific hiking all around. The only thing it needs is some handson activities for kids and a little film to watch. But otherwise, WELL DONE, BLM!! You make me proud of my country, again and again.

We left and headed back for Price for gas, and encountered horrific wind - the worst I'd ever had on the KLR. It was horrible. Little did I know that it was just a taste of things to come... At the gas station, I saw a guy pull into the parking lot on a totally tricked out motorcycle and that I thought had just had a horrific motorcycle accident - in fact, he has brain cancer. He's from Knoxville, had done an Iron Butt ride to meet up with a friend, and said he was "taking this trip to clear my head." Delightful guy - may he have a wonderful trip. I had been super whiny about pushing on to Moab, but after meeting him, I cowgirled up majorly and we headed out.

Moab campingWe were in Moab by 8 p.m., and it meant we had all of the next day to do nothing but explore! We ended up staying at the Moab Valley RV Resort and Campground. I had kinda wanted a cabin there, but that late and with no reservation, we took what they had - which was an uncovered camp site (others have large canvas awnings over them). And who did we see at the office also checking in late? Our Canadian friend from earlier in the trip! He had headed to Moab after going to the Salt Flats because we had said it was such a great place to visit!

The camp site was full, but ultra quiet that night, except for the traffic on US Highway 191 - there's no getting away from that. And what a view! No mosquitoes, but the midges filled in well to harass Stefan.

DAY FOUR (Wednesday)

Rain was threatening. We should have ignored it, trusted the weather forecast and scrambled to get out to Arches National Park as early as possible, but we dawdled over the weather uncertainty. By the time we realized there would be no rain and we got into Arches National Park, it was already 9 a.m., and very hot - and getting hotter. I also realized the park has no amenities - you have to bring in all of your own food and water. We hadn't brought any food. So we stopped at just a couple of sites, then drove all the way to the end of the park, to the Devil's Garden Trailhead, and hiked out to look at an arch. It was a nice hike - of course I gabbed with all sorts of folks, and we couldn't believe how much it all looked like Petra.

me on dirtWe came back to our bikes, drove out of the park and back to our camp site, where we loaded up on some food and more water, then went back into the park and to the 7.7 mile/12.4 km Salt Vally trail, which the park ranger at the visitor's center said we should have no trouble doing on our dual sport motorcycles. For more than two miles, she was right, and I was chuffed to be doing my very first real off-the-main-road motorcycling. But then we got to the Salt Vally Wash, and it wasn't just a short sand crossing - the sand went on and on. Stefan gave it a try, and I watched him slip a few times as he went off down the road/wash. I can't just put my foot down to keep my motorcycle upright on sand - if it slips, it's going over. So, begrudgingly, we turned around and headed back to the main road. It was threatening rain... but it never did.

You may notice in the photos from Arches and, later, from Canyonlands, that I wasn't wearing my biker pants. Normally, I am ATGATT - all the gear, all the time. But it was so incredibly, oppressively hot, that we decided to wear all of our motorcycle gear except for the pants - I wore my hiking pants instead. It's a tough call, but I didn't want to collapse from the heat or be so uncomfortable I couldn't move as necessary. Also, we would be going usually around 25 miles per hour only on these two days. If you want to judge me, fine - but don't bother with the email of judgement. I'll feel your disapproval through the Interwebs.

At one point during the day, I met people from Kentucky. I cannot tell you how freakin' rare this is. I meet people from all over the world when I travel to US National Parks and National Monuments, and I meet people from a lot of different states, but few from the South - particularly, Kentucky. And it depresses me - people from Kentucky just don't travel. So many think it's a waste of time and money - and have told me so, point blank. This couple from Kentucky was LOVING their cross-country trip. I was so happy for them.

Before supper, we managed to pop by the Dollar General Store south of town and I bought $6 flip flops, and met some terrific guys down from Canada on their motorcycles, staying at the economy motel across the street. We lamented later: why aren't those kind of people ever staying where we are? We'd so love to socialize with other motorcyclists, but it just never seems to happen much.

I also lamented having so little time to write in my journal. I don't write big long narratives when we're on a trip, but I like to write an entire page of bullet points, to help me write my travelogue later. There was rarely any time to do it - we were busy from sun up to sun down. I was hoping that, later in the trip, we'd have time to just sit out, relax, watch a sunset, and read or let me write.

That night, probably around midnight, we were awakened by six or seven fully tricked out jeeps that came in very late. It wasn't enough that they came in so late - they had to start various jeeps over and over to move them a few times, and in the morning, we saw why - they had set up hammocks between the jeeps, and they had to be parked "just so." They also talked and talked and talked - never mind everyone around them trying to sleep. Little did I know it wouldn't be the first time on this trip I hated jeep drivers... I just hate camping people that don't realize that we are all pretty much in one big bedroom. If someone listens to the radio, talks, cooks, even whispers, in your bedroom, you hear it. Plus, it's Moab: everyone is turning in early because they are going to get up super early to beat the heat for whatever it is they have planned for that day. ARGH.

DAY FIVE (Thursday)

It was a cooler day than Wednesday. Hurrah! After breakfast, we headed North on 191, and well before Arches, turned left on state road 279, towards Potash. The road runs along the Colorado River and the canyon, and has stopping points to view some really outstanding petroglyphs, some of the best I've ever seen, as well as dinosaur tracks - something I've NEVER seen before. Our goal: take Potash Road the back way into Canyonlands National Park, and then up Shafer Switchbacks.

I was nervous. This would be my most ambitious, longest, most-challenging off road ride ever. Stefan said many times, "If you feel it's too hard, stop, and we'll either turn around or I'll ride your bike over the hard part and you can hike it." And I took him at his word - but feared getting to a point where I couldn't simply stop, because the road was too steep and because I couldn't get proper foot placement to hold the bike up or there was no where to park and let traffic go by. But I also REALLY wanted to finally do a road that cars can't do - it's what my bike is built to do.

We stopped at Potash Boat Ramp/parking lot/picnic area, and while Stefan was in the pit toilet, I had a look at the info board. And there was a photo from the top of Shafer Switchbacks, which would be at the end of our route on dirt - we would be going up it rather than down it. The series of steep, dirt switchbacks climb around 1000 feet. Severe drop offs. And right then and there, I should have said "no." Stefan came over and I pointed to the photo. I guess because it's famous in the area, and an obviously well-packed road, that Stefan was so enthusiastic that I could do it. And as for why I pressed on - I can't really say. I knew I could say no, part of me wanted to say no, and I didn't.

red rocksAfter the picnic area, the road immediately became very difficult. First, a climb on rocks known as "baby heads," then red, smooth rocks that look oh-so-slick, and some turns that felt difficult to me. And then a mix - sometimes gravel, sometimes big, packed rocks, sometimes a little shale, sometimes rocks that were a bit like steps, and in between it all, smooth, red rocks. But somehow, I did it all just fine, and just when I needed a rest, a nice flat space would appear where we could stop and I could celebrate, as well as take in the gorgeous scenery of valleys and huge walls of red sandstone. Every time I road a difficult bit, I felt exhilarated. It was fun! Scary, but fun! But there was one question dogging me: was I successfully navigating this road through luck or through skill? That's been my question a lot lately, as we've tried various, more complicated roads. I've done them successfully, but I always wonder - did I do that right because I got lucky, or was it because of my abilities?

We passed the huge TexasGulf Potash ponds, which sometimes had spilled over and created a bit of mud on the otherwise dry road, but nothing I couldn't handle. In case you were wondering: potash means salts that contain potassium in water-soluble form. The word potassium is derived from potash. Potash, especially potassium carbonate, has been used since the dawn of history in bleaching textiles, making glass, in making soap, and in making soil fertilizer.

info boardI was shocked to see something called Thelma and Louise Point on one of the information boards, and then realized that the final scene of that beloved movie wasn't filmed at the Grand Canyon - it was filmed below Dead Horse Point in Utah. It was a thrill to see it in person myself, via my own motorcycle. Two four-wheel drive pick ups had caught up with us at the information board, both with women in the passenger seats, both of whom urged me on. We met up with them again at Thelma and Louise Point, and they were just as encouraging. I was NOT feeling unstoppable or invincible, not at all, but I was feeling confident. This is what I had been training for for more than a year.

JayneWe saw an ATV in the distance, and it's the only way we knew where to go next, as there was another road right along the rim (NO!). We headed over to where the ATV had been and kept going, then the road took a scary curve at a sheer drop off that Harlan back at the campground had warned me about - Stefan took a photo of it after we were well passed it. Oh, how I hated it. And how thankful I was that no cars were coming from the other way.

The road enters Canyonlands National Park not far from the White Rim Road. You are out in the middle of nowhere - NO WHERE - and there's a sign telling you the entry prices for the park. It feels surreal. There's also a sign telling you that only those under 18 have to wear a helmet, which, when I saw it, I thought, "Only a fool would not wear a helmet on this road."

We stopped at a gorgeous little overhang that allowed us to pull off the road to give others plenty of room to pass and to give us some shade. It was a perfect spot to hydrate and get mentally prepared for what was soon to come: the Shafer Switchbacks. We talked about what we would do after the switchbacks: go to the park visitor's center and then just do easy, paved roads for the rest of the day.

We started back up the road.... continued in part 2.

A few photos (Stefan will have far more later this week); sadly, I've had to switch back to Flickr. Still looking for a good replacement for photo hosting (I hate how Flickr looks like someone dumped a bunch of photos on a desk).

Also see: Return to the broads abroad home page

 
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