08/14/2001 Entry: "Ride West--Day Six (Saturday, Aug. 11)"
Begin: Bluff, UT
End: West of Cedar City, UT
Distance: 463 miles (21236-21699)
I started the day by backtracking about 20 miles down Hwy. 163 east towards Mexican Hat to the junction with Hwy. 261, which I took north to the Valley of the Gods. This was the first but not the last time in Utah that I wished I still had my R100GS. There is another route into the Valley of the Gods that is a dirt and gravel road just made for dualsports. Maybe another time. What I didn't realize when I headed up Hwy. 316 was that it turned to dirt and gravel for about 3 miles of the ride. I would have known this if I had read the map carefully, but then again I'm glad I didn't because I might not have taken the road otherwise. 261 takes you down to the base of a cliff. At this point, the road turns into gravel and continues several thousand feet up the cliff in a series of switchbacks, at the top of which there is a simply unbelievable view of the Valley of the Gods and Monument Valley. Even with the squirrelly handling of the K12 in the gravel, this is a route not to be missed.
Once at the top, Hwy. 261 turns back into a paved road and heads north in a series of rolling and sweeping turns to it's end at the junction with Highway 95. I turned west on Hwy. 95 and headed towards Lake Powell and the bridge crossing at Hite Marina. Hite isn't worth a stop unless you need gas, and you can't always be sure that they will have the grade you need there. I was fortunate in that they had only premium when I was there. Past Hite, the road continues up to Hanksville, swooping in and out of those red sandstone canyons of the type I've only seen in Utah and some spots in Arizona. At Hanksville, Hwy. 95 ends at the junction with Highway 24. I turned west onto Hwy. 24 and headed through the northern part of Capitol Reef National Park to the junction with Highway 12 at Torrey. Hwy. 12 is another of those not-to-be-missed routes. I headed south on Hwy. 12 through the Dixie National Forest, where I rode through one of those desert thunderstorms for a few miles. Given the heat of the day, I was happy to be a little chilly and wet for the 10 minutes it took to dry off.
After the Dixie National Forest and just past Boulder, Hwy. 12 enters Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in a most spectacular fashion. The road straddles a ridge just the width of the two lanes themselves with incredible views of the canyons on either side of the road. Then the road descends into various canyons and ascends to the ridge several more times before you reach the town of Tropic outside of Bryce Canyon National Park. I chose not to ride into Bryce as it's a dead end and I wouldn't be able to make it through Zion if I rode in and then out again. After the entrance to Bryce, Hwy. 12 climbs up to approximately 7600 feet before descending into Red Canyon, another one of those spectacular Utah sandstone canyons. Just outside of Red Canyon, Hwy. 12 ends at the junction with Highway 89.
I headed south on Hwy. 89 towards Kanab. At Mt. Carmel Junction, I turned west on Highway 9 towards Zion National Park. Zion was as overwhelming as I remembered from the last time I was there in the early 1980s, although I discovered that I had mixed up some of my memories of Mesa Verde with those of Zion and it was only after I was in Zion that I realized where the other memories came from. It's funny how things like that happen. Anyway, the only drawback to the drive through the park was how crowded the roads were. There was actual traffic on the roads and I even became concerned that the engine might overheat at one point. There is a very long and interesting tunnel on the road through the park that connects the higher east side of the park with the lower west side. Unlike the last time I came through, transit through the tunnel is now regulated and cars can only travel in one direction at a time. I wonder if I just don't remember this being the case last time or if this is really different? Anyway, the tunnel is quite long, over a mile it seems, and runs along the inside of a cliff. It is broken at irregular intervals by archways cut through the tunnel walls to allow the air to vent to the outside. From the outside on the west, you can see the archways cut into the side of the cliff.
Heading out of Zion, I continued on Hwy. 9 to La Verkin, where I hopped onto Highway 17 north through Toquerville and then got on I15 North for about 30 miles to the Highway 56 exit at Cedar City. I headed west on Hwy. 56 about 17 miles to Lou's uncle's house in the countryside, where I met up with my in-laws and Lou's uncle and his family to spend the night.