Oakland to Chicago – Great Basin National Park to Blanding, UT
Denis Kertz, ©2001
I got up shortly after 7:00, in no hurry because the café in Baker didn’t open for breakfast until 8:30 and I needed breakfast because I was out of food. Fortunately, it was the weekend, the only time the café served breakfast during their winter hour period.
It was an easy 8-mile downhill cruise to Baker. I got at the café just after 8:30 and ordered an omelet since they didn’t offer pancakes. Shortly after that something happened with the electrical system and they had to turn some folks away since they were unable to cook. Later a retired couple from Santa Rosa, Jerry and Mary Ann, showed up and ordered non-cooking items. They asked about my trip and were interested, as they had done some supported touring in Europe. An interesting conversation that prolonged my stay.
So I didn’t get off until 9:30, which was essentially 10:30 since the time zone changed as I entered Utah in a few miles where the road also changed to Utah 21. If Nevada US 50 was the Loneliest Road in America then Utah 21 was beyond lonely as it had much less traffic. 21 was also a bit rougher road with some coarse gravel asphalt. It also didn’t have rumble strips so its entire shoulder was useful although it wasn’t needed with the light traffic.
21 went down the valley and for a while the west side of the road paralleled a ranch with a fair number of cattle. Around noon, I road through the Mormon Gap. I expected a following descent but the road kept an easy gradual climb to Halfway Summit at 6,155’ although I wasn’t sure what it was halfway to. It certainly wasn’t halfway between Baker and Milford.
After a nice descent I started the climb to Wah Wah Summit at 6,439’, about a 1,200’ climb. This was pretty easy too and I began believing my conditioning was kicking in. My past experience has been the first two weeks of touring saw the most improvement in conditioning with some more improvement in the third week and I was now two weeks in the tour. The final part of this climb was scenic, between two mountains with yellow grasslands and dotted bushy trees.
At the pass I took a break shortly after 3:00, thinking I was now going to coast into Milford. When I descended I had a great view except something was wrong. The road went across the basin and up into the mountains. Then I realized I had misread the route profile. The last and highest climb, 1,450’, remained and I was picking up a headwind. As I started the long climb I heard some thunder rumbling as clouds were gathering over the mountains. It was a long climb and my legs were tired so I had to go slow. So much for my conditioning. All I could see was the road going straight up the mountains but then it began a 90° left turn. Usually I just grind out these climbs and get it over with but I had to take a quick break about half way up.
Starting up again, my legs were dead but they warmed up a bit. Further on I thought I was getting close to the summit but had to take another quick stop. As the 90° turn began it looked like I could be close to the top but I remembered my map showing that it had to turn right again before the summit. I heard a few more rumbles off to my right and finally reached the summit. I drained the last of my water bottles and could have used more water but I was too tired to tap my water reservoir in my water bladder that was buried under my tent and sleeping bag. It was now about 5:45.
From the top it looked like I might be able to cruise/coast the 14 miles to Milford. Initially, I coasted at about 20 mph but my neck and shoulder were cramped from climbing so I couldn’t really enjoy the descent. Mercifully the wind seemed to be a benign crosswind. I did have to do some easy pedaling towards the end but that probably wasn’t bad for my toasted legs.
Then about 2 miles from town I felt a few sprinkles and the crosswind really picked up. I picked up my pedaling, hoping to make town before all hell broke loose. I pulled into town and stopped at a food mart for refreshments, downing a 32 oz Gatorade in record time. I had planned to check out the RV Park but the weather and rapidly approaching dark nixed that idea. The only motel in town was right behind the food mart. It was a bit expensive at $38 but I didn’t have much choice and the room was pretty nice. I ate Chinese food at the adjoining restaurant and called it a night.
Although I entered a new state today that looked much the same as the previous one, I did notice one difference. Periodically, road signs warned about cattle presence with a picture of a cow in a diamond shaped sign. In Nevada these signs were usually peppered with bullet holes but they were relatively untouched in Utah.
I got up at 7:30 but that was Mountain Time, which I wasn’t adjusted to yet. I walked the block to Hong Kong Café that I was told was the only place open for breakfast and it was actually open 24 hours. My short walk along the main street suggested Milford had seen better days. The nice brick Milford Hotel was boarded up and three eating establishments were closed. That made it seem strange that a café was open around the clock. Later I realized the reason must be because the Union Pacific terminal was nearby and probably supported the 24 hours.
I had oatmeal and pancakes, which was a big breakfast. The oatmeal was a large bowl and the pancakes were not miniatures. I wondered if this breakfast would have gotten me through yesterday’s ordeal in better shape.
After breakfast I walked back to the motel, packed up, and was off by 9:00. My AC map took me to Minersville via the back way on Country Road 1002. This was a little longer than taking 21 but nice and quiet. Most of the way was farming area with the rolling irrigation system in use.
In Minersville, after 16 miles, I stopped at a food mart for refreshments and picked up a sandwich. Then I took off on 130, continuing the long climb that began just outside Milford but at a slightly higher grade. Then the grade increased and snaked up the hill, never getting really steep except for one short section. Near the top the grade actually eased and I reached the top after about 26 miles, almost half of the day’s trip.
At that point I wanted to take a break but a threatening cloud hung overhead so I decided it was best to get off the top. A little later I stopped and devoured my sandwich as I heard some thunder rumblings. As I started again I felt raindrops and hoped it wouldn’t develop into real rain.
The descent was modest and as the grade eased I picked up my enemy - the headwind. What should have been a fairly easy run into Cedar City became a chore. And for a while the dark cloud seemed to be following me. I wondered what I had done to deserve this.
Off in the distance I could see what must be Cedar City and was frustrated with my slow pace due mostly to the headwind although there was a gradual climb that contributed as well. As I neared Cedar City the climb increased somewhat making progress even slower.
Finally, I reached the outskirts of Cedar City and stopped at a food mart for refreshments. I continued past the I80 intersection on into town. When I got to Center St I turned west and found the library and bike shop but they were both closed as I expected on a Sunday. So I retreated to the main street looking for inexpensive motels. I found one for $27 that was somewhat of a dive but I took it.
After cleaning up I ate at a Pizza Hut and got some information on the upcoming 5,000’ climb to Cedar Breaks. I was uncertain how to attack this climb. I considered resting a day and then attacking. However, there was a campsite about halfway up so I decided I might want to do half of the climb tomorrow and the remainder the next day. Much would depend on how my body and mind felt in the morning, after two fairly hard days.
I slept well and didn’t get up until 7:30. I walked to breakfast and had an omelet and pancakes. Later, I discovered I should have walked further and I could have had a breakfast buffet for $4.50.
After breakfast I walked to the library and got there about 9:15. I was able to get on the Internet right away and take care of my email. Back at the motel I took my time since I didn’t have to be out until 11:00. My legs felt really tired when I got up so I was in no rush.
I did a little shopping and decided to check on a campground halfway to Cedar Breaks. That’s when I got the bad news they were shutting off the water in the campground today. Given that I figured I’d better learn more about the water situation so I looked up the USFS. It was near where I would take 14 so I stopped at the office and found it locked. Checking the back of the office building I found a sign saying they had moved. So I had to bike a couple of miles north of town. There I learned that Cedar Breaks itself had water. I asked about the stream on my map that paralleled 14 up the canyon. The receptionist said she had never seen it dry so I figured I was OK since I had a water filter.
I picked up a few more grocery items to last me two days and then headed back towards the southern end of town. I stopped at a Subway for a sandwich. It was noontime with a fair line but an efficient group of four workers were doing a good job filling orders. That was until the two women just ahead of me dumped about 6 orders on them, which always happens when you are in a hurry. When my time came, I ordered a foot long sub, ate half, and saved the other half for later.
Finally, at 1:00 I left with already 9 miles on my bike from messing around. The route went up a canyon that was quite scenic. An early sign warned of an 8% grade the next 15 miles. I also saw water in the stream along the road so I was happy.
Initially, the first 7 miles weren’t that steep and I was doing about 6 mph with problem and felt fine. Then the road grade increased and for 4-5 miles I was in my two lowest gears but still feeling OK. Along the way a police car with flashing lights passed. A little later I found it at a scene with a boat laying along side the road in the ditch. I couldn’t imagine how the boat could have slid off a trailer while heading downhill. There was also quite a bit of traffic and a lot of it was cement trucks. However, due to the grade of the road the trucks were going slow and posed little danger even without any real shoulder.
I took a short break around 3:00 at about the halfway point to Cedar Breaks in fine cool weather. Shortly after I started again I saw the sign for Cedar Canyon Campground to the left. It was a bit before the actual turnoff appeared. Then I got to thinking that I was feeling good, I was halfway to Cedar Breaks, and it was only mid-afternoon so I just continued.
It was steep at this point but there were some nice views. At one point a vista opened up on a bowl area with patches of changing fall colors. A notch in the bowl revealed some spectacular land formations in the distance that was Mt. Zion National Park. A gorgeous view.
Shortly the climb eased and then I started a gradual downhill into a big meadow area. Here I had to give up the run out to turn on 148 to head to Cedar Breaks. I started some more climbing but the traffic that was fairly heavy on 14 dropped off to almost nothing. It was only a few miles and I entered Cedar Breaks National Monument. A mile further I stopped at the visitor center, paid the $3 fee, and saw the incredible natural rock amphitheater that plunged 2,500’ and was more than 3 miles in diameter. At one time this was called the Circle of Painted Cliffs. Certainly worth climbing 5,000’.
I continued a ½ mile to the campground and set up for $10. An uncertain day turned into a big surprise when my body responded with only needing a ½ day to make the 5,000’ climb after feeling so tired the previous two days.
I got up at 7:30 and ate a good breakfast. By 9:00 I was packed and on the road in my tights and jacket on a cool morning. The road followed the rim of the Cedar Breaks amphitheatre for about 4 miles with a couple of scenic turnouts for views of the breaks from different angles. The road was up and down and my legs felt it every time it was up.
After 4 miles I turned right on to 143 to take me downhill to Panguitch. On some of the initial descents I was quickly in the 30 mph range and hit 40 mph once but I was a little careful since the road was a bit rough. At the high elevations where I started at over 10,000’ the fall colors were in almost their full glory. So it was a scenic descent with the aspen mixed with cedars in the meadows. The temperature was cool and crisp as the sunlight flitted through the trees along the road. An almost perfect descent setting.
At Panguitch Lakes I stopped for a quick break and continued to Panguitch. It was 13 miles to the lake and another 17 miles to town. The road got flatter as it neared town and required more pedaling. Except for the very last mile or two it was a quick descent. Panguitch sat in a valley with the mountains rising again in the distance.
In town I stopped for a sandwich at an Arby’s attached to a food mart. After eating I wanted to get some chain cleaner fluid so I inquired about the bike shop and was disappointed to learn that it had shut down about a year before.
I headed out of town about 1:00 on 89. There was a lot of traffic but the very wide shoulder made that no problem. It was easy pedaling for 7 miles until I turned east on 12 towards Bryce Canyon. I started climbing moderately and entered the picturesque Red Canyon. I stopped at its visitor center and met another touring cyclist who was with a group on a two-week tour from St. George to Grand Canyon, Mt. Zion, and Bryce Canyon. The receptionist at the visitor center gave me some idea of what to expect in Bryce Canyon. She said it would be similar to what I saw in Cedar Breaks and Red Canyon so she didn’t necessarily recommend taking the 17-mile dead end road through the park. She recommended taking the first left, Fairyland Point, just before the park entrance booth to get a good view.
I continued on and started climbing more seriously. After several miles of climbing the road reached a plateau and it was easy sailing the rest of the way with some tailwind. At the turnoff on 63, I immediately started seeing a series of signs for Ruby’s Inn, somewhat reminiscent of seeing signs for Wall Drugs in South Dakota. I stopped and checked out the grocery store and found my favorite ice cream cookie sandwich.
Continuing towards the park I found the road to Fairyland Point and found a spectacular view. In contrast to Cedar Breaks, which was wide and deep, Fairyland was more intimate, being smaller and not as deep. In addition to providing views of numerous spires and hoo doos it afforded long distance views of the breaks many miles to the east. It was hard deciding what pictures to take.
After my senses were saturated, I returned to Ruby’s Inn and secured a campsite at their campground for $17. It was a combined RV Park and campground but they did a decent job of segregating campsites from RV sites. I set up camp and walked “to town” for food, at most ¼ mile. The restaurant looked packed so I nuked a couple of burritos from their grocery store.
All in all a relatively easy day with some exceptional scenery starting and ending the day. My only regret was not linking up with the touring group that camped somewhere in the park.
I got up just before 7:00 (sunrise was 7:14) and started to pack. I wanted to get breakfast before the crowds hit. I cycled the short distance to town and saw a sign showing the temperature was 36° at 7:30. The maitre d’ set me at a table and mentioned a cycling group was on the other side. As I was getting settled he talked to the cycling group and got me invited to sit with them. They were a group of 7 with 2 tour guides on a supported week tour of Bryce Canyon and Mt. Zion from St. George. One couple was from San Diego, another Atlanta, and a single guy from Philadelphia but I didn’t catch where the third couple was from. We had an interesting conversation, especially with the Atlanta couple. They were retired BellSouth employees living in Norcross. Today the group was on their way to Mt. Zion, driving part of the way before riding the rest of the way since it was over 100 miles. It was an enjoyable breakfast but I stayed on after they finished to get my money’s worth from the buffet.
The nice thing about leaving Bryce Canyon was I left the zoo-like atmosphere behind. Ruby’s Inn was just too commercial for my tastes even if the breakfast buffet was great. Then when I got back on 12 heading east, the traffic was considerably less than yesterday as I left the main attraction.
It was downhill the first 16 miles to Henrieville. The descent was into a valley with farms and irrigation equipment in the fields. Two very small towns, Tropic and Cannonville, showed the effects of being close to a popular national park as they had motels and restaurants beyond their means.
After Henrieville, the road climbed about 1,400’ but it was almost unnoticeable. I guess after Monday’s 5,000’ climb nothing seemed big. That is until the last mile of the climb when the road went sky high on a very steep climb. I was thankful it was a little less than a mile long although the climb did reward with a nice view of the Table Cliff Plateau. Even better was the 36 miles to Escalante that was almost all downhill. The first 10-15 miles saw me cruising at 20-30 mph.
Just outside Escalante I stopped at a Forest Service location to check out the area. As I was preparing to lock my bike to the bike rack, the lawn sprinklers turned on. Had I been a little earlier, my bike would have gotten soaked along with the lawn. The receptionist was pretty knowledgeable about the area, in contrast to Cedar City, giving me the low down on the climbing to come. She noted that Calf Creek Campground was the only place to camp between Escalante and the next town, Boulder Town.
I continued in to town looking for a place to eat. I found a little deli café on the outskirts of town that was great. I order a ham sandwich and sat outside on a patio with sun protection. It was so nice and peaceful I lingered for a while.
Finally, I decided around 3:00 to head for Calf Creek that supposedly was all downhill according to the receptionist. That was not true but the climbing was very modest. Then about 10 miles out of town I came upon an expanse of various rock formations – some thing I was unprepared for. The rock was various shades of white and red as far as the eye could see. It was a stunning vista and the road descended about 500’ quickly in a twisting, curling descent. Taking advantage of the bike, I stopped numerous times to gaze at this wonderland.
Continuing, I rode a few more miles and then encountered the Boynton Lookout, an equally stunning view of a canyon of red rock formations. The road descended sharply into the canyon and suddenly I was riding within the cool, red canyon walls. A short distance later I turned off to Calf Creek Campground and got an immediate shock from a sign – Campground Full. There was no turning back to either Escalante or riding ahead to Boulder Town even if I wanted to because there wasn’t enough daylight left. As I rode through the small campground of 13 sites the campground hostess caught up with me and led me to an open site. I was relieved but she implied that they would have found a spot for me if a site hadn’t been available.
Obviously, this was a popular site and it was easy to see why. It was a great setting, down within the dark red canyon walls, quiet and serene. They also apparently were having drinking water problems as they had a water tank trailer in the campground for drinking water and the normal water faucets were locked.
I quickly set up camp and cleaned up with a sponge bath next to the stream. The sun went down quickly, around 5:45, due to the canyon walls although the temperature remained very pleasant for the evening. However, the morning would likely be cool, as it would take some time for the sun to climb above the east canyon wall.
With this peaceful setting, all I had to do was keep my mind off tomorrow’s 4,000’ climb that would start the day.
I was in no hurry to get up since it was going to be a while before the sun would rise above the canyon wall but I still got up around 7:30. By the time I ate breakfast and packed up, it was 9:00 and the sunlight had worked its way down the west canyon wall and was creeping into the campground.
Today was going to be a tough day with over 4,000’ of climbing and it started immediately as I left the campground. I even had to climb to get back to the road from the campground and then the road immediately climbed steeply. I climbed 365’ in the first mile but I was rewarded with great views looking down into the canyon where I camped and beyond.
After about 5 miles I reached the Hogback. It’s claim to fame was a short section of road, maybe a third of a mile, where the width of the road was the width of the hill with a sharp fall off on both sides. I had heard about this from multiple sources but it was not particularly dangerous, unless one had imbibed in excess spirits.
After surviving the Hogback, I climbed some more and then descended to Boulder Town at about 11:00. Just outside Boulder some horses ran across the road but I managed to avoid them. I stopped at a food mart for refreshments and a burrito. I had thought Boulder would be the halfway point of the climb but was dismayed to find it was only about a third of the way and I still had 3,000’ to climb.
Taking off at 11:30 I started a 78-mile constant climb at about 5 mph. The road never looked like it was much of a climb but my legs told me differently. In contrast to the earlier dramatic scenery, this part was more conventional hills and fields with evergreens and aspen. Nevertheless it was nice scenery, especially with the fall colors of the aspen.
Then the road turned into a serious climb. For the next 5 miles or so the climb was difficult, especially for a 2-mile stretch where I was hard pressed to make 4 mph. Then it eased occasionally which helped a lot. Early in this big climb there were some cows on the other side of the road. As I passed them they looked like they were baiting me but I stared them down so they wouldn’t make any sudden moves across the road. Near the top several lookout points gave dramatic wide panoramic views of the breaks. It was a little hazy but you could see for many miles.
Finally, around 2:45 I reached the summit at 9,400’ after 4,425’ of climbing. It was a tough day and now all I wanted to do was coast into Torrey but that would not be. It was 26 miles to Torrey, further than I thought. There were several campgrounds along the way but I was short of food and needed to get to town.
It was a big descent to Torrey, losing about 4,000’, but there were short stretches of climbing. These were modest climbs but not insignificant after climbing all day. There were also some dramatic descent stretches where I exceeded 40+ mph. At one point I was on target to break 50 mph until a curve in the road materialized and my hands squeezed the brake levers without waiting for any conscious commands.
I finally struggled to the intersection of 12 and 24 and I headed to the first eating establishment I saw – a Subway. I devoured a foot long sandwich and then an ice cream cookie sandwich. Fortified somewhat, I started thinking of camping. There was an RV Park at the intersection and conveniently located but it was just an open field. I considered it momentarily only because I was so tired. However, next to the Subway was an information center where I learned about two other possibilities, 1 and 2 miles further west. I decided my legs could carry me at least another mile so I started riding. I rode through Torrey and found Sand Creek Campground on the other side. It had decent sites and was reasonably priced at $10. It also had a hostel for the same price but I decided to stay with the tent and privacy although I would have been the first one in the hostel for the day.
After setting up and cleaning up, I headed to the office for refreshments. There I met a motorcyclist from just over the border in Canada. He had come down through Idaho and Nevada to Las Vegas, through Mt. Zion and Bryce Canyon, and was now on his way back home. He was staying in the hostel so it turns out I wouldn’t have had the hostel to myself.
It was an exhausting day but some fabulous scenery. I just hoped that tomorrow’s ride through Capitol Reef National Park would be more relaxing.
I got up at 7:00. It was a bit chilly since the sun didn’t come up until 7:20 and it was fairly windy. I packed up and rode the short distance to Capitol Reef Café. It was fortunate that the café was close by because the early morning sun was murder and I could barely see even with sunglasses as I rode into the sun. I had buttermilk wheat pancakes and bacon and the pancakes were the best of the trip so far although they could have been larger. On my way out, I checked the place’s book collection and picked up a book called Desert Time, A Journey Through the American Southwest, by Diana Kappel-Smith.
I started on my way and was helped with a good tailwind although I didn’t need it because the route was almost all downhill. I stopped at a mini-bike shop a few miles outside of town on 24 but they didn’t have any chain cleaner. The guy, after hearing my travel direction, advised I could get some in Durango.
Four miles outside of Torrey I entered Capitol Reef National Park and the next 15 miles went through the park. There was outstanding scenery through the park starting with dark red hills and gradually changing to pale red and then white. Initially, the huge hills were on the north side of the road but eventually hills filled both sides of the road. On the west side of the park the hills were majestic with myriad shapes such as chimneys and castles or whatever your mind could imagine. Towards the east end the shaped changed to dome shaped limestone and petrified sandstone. These domes were responsible for the Capitol in the park name.
At the east end of the park I climbed a short 10% grade on a side road to supposedly get a view of the waterpocket fold, a stretch of rock that extends over 90 miles south and catches pools of water when it rains. Somehow the expected view never materialized.
Leaving the park I had 30 miles to Hanksville, the destination for the day. The ride through the park was outstanding not only for its scenery but also its easy downhill grade. After yesterday’s hard day, this day of active rest was just what I needed, probably even better than total rest. The road continued easy most of the rest of the way with only a few short climbs that were miniscule in comparison to yesterday.
The scenery continued to be outstanding after the park although the landscape opened up some and was not so in-your-face. There was so much dramatic scenery that I continued to wear out my camera.
About 8 miles outside the park I passed Sleepy Hollow Campground, appropriately named, as there were no vehicle or signs of life. A few miles later at Caineville a motel was similarly devoid of life. However, a mile later I spotted life at the Luna Mesa Café and stopped for a ham and cheese sandwich, the special of the day. I was waited on by a young girl who was followed around by a precocious 3-year-old sister. I didn’t really need to stop but I had noticed the morning’s tailwind had changed to a modest headwind. So I thought it best to fuel up a bit in case it developed into more than a cooling breeze.
After Caineville, the scenery calmed down to where I could do some mindless easy cycling the rest of the 18 miles to Hanksville. I arrived in town just after 3:00 but this was the stopping point because the next services were 50 miles away at Lake Powell, tomorrow’s destination. I stopped at a grocery store as I came into town. Like every place else the last couple of days, I was unable to find any good bread like bagels that was useful travel food. I did find some WD40 that I later used to clean my bike chain, preferring to try it rather than waiting until Colorado. In “downtown” I stopped at the Redrock Campground and secured a tent site for $10 and cleaned up. I ate at a nearby restaurant.
Back at camp, I couldn’t write my notes outside due to the mosquitoes. The campground restaurant didn’t have a bar area so I walked to another restaurant, slapping and murdering mosquitoes along the way. When I entered the restaurant I discovered it was non-alcoholic but they had a nice country band playing so I made myself at home and wrote my notes while listening. Then after about four songs they quit at 7:30. I guess it was just time to call it an evening.
I got up at my usual time and packed up. Then I ate at the campground restaurant and had oatmeal and pancakes, a little on the small side and just an OK breakfast. Back at my campsite I met a guy from Ohio who had pulled into camp late last night with his wife. They had toured and backpacked through Colorado and were on their way to the Grand Canyon. He was interested in my trip and sounded like they would do some cycle touring some time in the future.
On the way out I headed southeast on 95 to Hite Recreation Area at Lake Powell. The road started as a long gradual climb in the 8-9 mph range. I was almost relieved that the only significant scenery was the Henry Mountains ahead on my right. I was able to focus on them and not worry about what else I might be missing all around me. The other thing I was able to focus on was the traffic, that is the boat traffic. Almost every vehicle seemed to be towing a boat on a trailer on the way to Lake Powell. Obviously people were in a hurry to get to the lake as the boat traffic died down as the day wore on.
About the first half of the route was a gradual uphill. When I reached the point where I would begin descending I met two young women, Chris and Christie, from north of Seattle who were coming in the other direction. We stopped and talked about our trips. They had take the month of September off and starting in Wisdom, Montana, had toured through Yellowstone and down through Colorado. They had taken a bus to Durango and were now doing my trip in reverse to Bryce Canyon where a friend was meeting them and driving them back home.
Christie had a Trek mountain bike and Chris had a Terry bike. They seemed to be having a great time on their first trip but I felt a little sorry for them as they had some serious climbs on the way to Bryce Canyon. We probably talked for close to a half hour before parting ways. They were planning an afternoon rest stop in Hanksville before continuing to Cainesville.
Continuing I started my descent to Lake Powell. As I got closer I entered a canyon with huge dark red walls. Just a few miles from Hite I stopped at the Hite overlook that gave a great view of Lake Powell from several hundred feet in elevation. Of course this was only part of Lake Powell. The Glen Canyon dam that creates the lake is actually just over the border in Arizona and the lake extends 185 miles back from the dam. Hite was 140 miles from the dam.
Although I was only a couple of miles away as the crow flies, it was quite a bit longer as the bicycle goes, having to edge around the lake to reach a couple of bridges. Just across the main bridge I turned right to reach the services area, just before 3:00. It had become quite hot and I quickly downed a couple of cold refreshments.
Then I was in a bit of a quandary. Tomorrow’s logical destination was Blanding, 79 miles away but almost all uphill with 4,000’ of climbing. There was another place 24 miles further up the road with some services. If I could make that today that would leave a much more reasonable 55 miles to Blanding. But it seemed to be getting hotter by the minute and the steepest part of the climb to Blanding was the early miles. So discretion finally got the best of me and I stopped for the day.
I found a campsite away from the beach/landing area that was a zoo of vehicles. After setting up I walked to the beach and went for a short swim in the comfortably warm lake to cool off and clean up. Earlier when unpacking my bike I discovered my right front rack’s vertical stabilizer bar had broken where it connected to the bottom of the rack. This explained the clicking noise I thought I had heard earlier on the ride. I used some duct tape to re-establish the connection, hoping that would serve at least as a temporary fix.
Then I walked the ¼ mile or so back to the grocery store only to discover it closed at 5:00 and it was now 6:00. Then I fed 4 quarters in one of the two vending machines outside only to find they were completely sold out and I didn’t get my money back. So I resigned myself to drinking warm water the rest of the evening.
Later I took the time to cut my fingernails. Since this was the first time on the trip, the clippings were substantial. This apparently impressed some ants around my tent. I saw several of them congregate around one of the largest clippings. Then one asserted himself and started dragging the clipping away, not an easy task as the clipping was much larger than him. I hope the effort was worth it.
I got up at 7:00 but in no hurry because the grocery store didn’t open until 8:00. I stopped at the ranger station across from the store and filled my water bottles. Then I bought some milk so I could have real milk with my granola instead of powdered milk. I picked up some more food for the day including some pita bread, the first packable bread I had found in some days.
I was off by 8:45 climbing back to the main road and then a steep one-mile climb away from the lake. Initially the views were very scenic and then the road took to winding along the base of a mesa dotted with junipers. The road climbed 3,000’ on a long gradual climb with an occasional dip in the road. As I was riding along side the road, I caught a glimpse of something shiny. I stopped and found a pair of sunglasses that I started wearing. My regular sunglasses were so dark that I couldn’t use them with my camera. These were lighter and provided a better view. They were also apparently a woman’s model as they were oversized but that didn’t bother me since I was more interested in function rather than fashion.
After 24 miles I reached the Fry Canyon Lodge that I had considered trying for yesterday. It took three hours so I could have made it except for the possibly debilitating heat. However, the lodge had only a one-hour window for serving breakfast and dinner. Beyond that they had little so I settled for an ice cream and refreshments and filling my water bottles.
Continuing the road crept along the base of the mesa and eventually reached the top of the cedar mesa. After 46 miles I reached the Natural Bridges Monument turnoff and was faced with a decision. I could continue another 35 miles on to Blanding that included a 2,000’ descent and another 1,000’ climb or stay at Natural Bridges, which had a campground and probably the only water until Blanding. Since it was only 3:00, I was pretty confident I could make Blanding since I still had four hours of daylight and two full water bottles. However, in the end I decided to stop at Natural Bridges and see the sights.
From the turnoff it was 5 downhill miles to the visitor center where I got the lay of the land and filled my water bottles since there was no water in the campground. I paid a $3 entry fee, half the vehicle charge, and $10 to camp. The campground was almost deserted so I made sure I picked a site with junipers for shade protection from the evening sun during this unseasonably warm time.
At 6:00 I started the 9-mile loop tour of the natural bridges. This was the first time on the trip that I rode without my panniers. While the bridges were viewable from the parking areas, I imagine they would have been more impressive viewed from their hiking trails. The second bridge was an example of sandstone that was worn through by water hitting it from two directions. In effect, it never had a chance to be anything but a bridge. The last bridge came up just as the sun disappeared. It was hard to see from above since the rock background camouflaged the opening. I completed the loop and returned to camp just as darkness set in.
The morning was pleasantly cool as I got up, packed, ate breakfast, and left by 8:30. The climb from camp back to 95 was a modest 5-mile climb. On 95 it was another modest 5-mile climb to reach the high point at 7,000’. Then it was a nice 10-mile descent with a couple of 40+ mph sections.
The descent bottomed out at Comb Ridge. Comb Ridge was a long ridge perpendicular to my direction of travel. However, there was a gap in the ridge and a fairly steep climb transversely along the ridge led to the gap followed by a U turn after the gap. Some more modest climbing ensued and then there was a steep 1.3-mile climb that was no fun. This was followed by another short, steep climb. On these climbs I oscillated between just under and just over 4 mph. I couldn’t help thinking these climbs would have been real killers yesterday had I continued to Blanding. I’m sure I would have made it but it would have been quite a grind at the end of a long day.
Finally the climbing eased and farms and civilization appeared. I rolled into Blanding around 12:30 and stopped for refreshments. Then I stopped at the county library that doesn’t open until noon. I was able to check my email for the first time in a week.
After checking email I continued through town, scouting out prospects. I stopped for a well-deserved vanilla shake, mailed a paperback novel home, located the Laundromat, and secured a motel for $25.
After settling in I did my laundry for the first time since my layover in Ely. Then I stopped at a Subway for dinner. I was lucky. There was no sign of life when I walked in. Then a helper appeared. Then it seemed like half the families (4) in Blanding showed up with their kids. Had I been 10 minutes later I would have gone some place else.
Blanding, a town of 3,000, didn’t have a bike shop but I found a hardware store that had Simple Green, a non-toxic biodegradable cleaner, that I have used before to clean my bike chain. The WD40 I used last week seemed to have made my chain dirtier and the chain looked much better after I greened it.
Then I retired to my motel for a relaxing evening. It was another hot day although I missed much of the heat by arriving before 1:00. The weather forecast reported possible record temperatures for tomorrow and relief wasn’t in sight for this unseasonable warmth.
I had been planning a rest day once reaching Blanding. However, the next logical destination was Dolores, Colorado, 80 miles away including a 1,000’ climb to Monticello. So I was thinking of riding the 21 miles to Monticello tomorrow morning and leaving a more reasonable 60 miles to Dolores the following day. This wouldn’t give me a complete day off but I thought two shorter than normal days would equal a rest day.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 2001. All rights reserved.