"Let's go through Sedona!" Glenn Bartels
It was the last thing I wanted to hear after an epic 600-plus-mile day through Wyoming and western Colorado to get us to Monticello, Utah. Why? To get to a good starting point the next day for one of my favorite rides in the world: SR-95 through Utah, followed by Capitol Reef National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and sliding past the edge of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. Sedona, Arizona, didn't fit into that plan.
For those just joining us, I was on a trip from Sturgis, South Dakota, to Los Angeles with two of my older brothers (Glenn and Scott Bartels) and one newly adopted brother for this trip (Leo Hartog). Before the ride ever started, I sent a number of possible option routes (via Google Maps) through everywhere from Idaho to New Mexico, and I probably sent one or two too many. Just two days before Glenn's decision to reroute us through Arizona, I'd painstakingly picked Monticello as a perfect spot to begin a near-flawless 450-mile ride across southern Utah. I'd never pulled it off in a single day before, always either taking too long to get started in the morning, or simply timing it wrong and doing part of it at night, which misses the awesome scenery and occasionally almost impales you on the local wildlife.
So perfectly positioned, up early in the morning, at one end of the road, 800 miles from home doesn't happen very often, but I folded anyhow. I shouldn't even be complaining, since the ride we did do that day through Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley, Flagstaff, Sedona, and finally Jerome was spectacular, and a good, restfully short 350-mile day after a couple of hard-charging days. But I'll get to that in the next episode. For now I'm going to focus on the ride I didn't do with my brothers.
As it happens, just two weeks prior I'd done the eastern section of the ride (Utah SR-95). As on so many of my trips through this area, I didn't get started in time. I had done a photoshoot in western Colorado, which was followed by a late lunch in Monticello. It was probably 4:30 by the time we headed south on US-191 to catch SR-95 just south of Blanding, Utah. On this trip, I was with another virtual brother, Brad, who you've doubtless seen on these pages either on Mike Calabro's Hell Ride or on his custom Street Glide which graced the cover awhile back (June '09), and Brad's riding buddy, Michael.
Brad and I had been down this stretch of road in reverse on the Hell Ride, so it was old hat...albeit a very, very nice old hat. Utah's SR-95 is one of the unheralded great roads in the country. Its whole length is very sparsely populated, with no power lines or other hallmarks of civilization. From the east it starts off in rolling hills covered with little piney sagebrush, which in itself is pretty, but the whole scene changes once you drop into Fry Canyon. Fry is a wide canyon carved by one of the Colorado River's many small tributaries, surmounted on both sides by soaring red cliffs, and bisected by a fairly deep gorge. The road stays between the southwestern bank of the stream and the rock wall. It's not particularly twisty, but very scenic. The town of Fry Canyon is the only habitation, a former uranium boomtown turned ghost town when the ground water was discovered to have unacceptable radiation levels. The Fry Canyon Lodge is again in business (trust us, it's safe!), but we stayed elsewhere.
As Fry Canyon yields to the spectacular White Canyon of the Colorado proper, the road gets more entertaining...or scary if you're not into twists and turns. The colorful walls grow nearer as the road approaches the northern end of Lake Powell. The Hite Crossing Bridge that SR-95 crosses marks the northern end of the huge man-made lake, and the continuation of the Colorado River to the east. Dropping down between the red walls that had so far just been flanking us from afar was impressive, but so was the view from the bridge a mere 200 feet above the massive lake.
By the time we'd gotten across and began climbing the north side, we hadn't gotten our fill yet, so despite the late hour, we stopped at the Hite overlook which was well worth it to us. The overlook has a panoramic vista of the river and the lake, and includes a false cliff that makes for some fun pictures.
The ride changes again after the lookout, ascending a tight canyon wash that twists its way up to the plateau above. With its shade and water, it's almost lush with greenery by Utah standards. Soon enough though we popped out of the canyon into flat desert, and then Hanksville.
We had some hard decisions to make in Hanksville...and thankfully we had the cool interior of Hanksville's famous Hollow Mountain gas station to work it out in. The storm clouds we'd been dodging all day (see the pictures) had coalesced in to the west. Plus the sun was about to set. The full-on chicken-out would be to take the flat, straight SR-24 northeast to I-70, but nobody was that worried about the dark and rain. Besides, that would take us an additional 67 miles out of our way, though it would've probably been quicker. My preferred route would be to take SR-12 as it's headed the right way and has some spectacular twists, turns, and scenery. But since it was going to be dark, it really didn't matter much. Plus it's chock full of deer even in the daytime, so it would be hazardous as well. The compromise route was west through Capitol Reef, then zigzagging southwest to I-15 on less-twisty roads. In the end, we did what anybody in the government would do when faced with a hard decision: we put it off!
The first part of our decision to ride west though Capitol Reef was the best thing we did all day. And in this part of the country, that's saying a lot. Unlike most national parks, the Reef is free to traverse and bask in its glorious rock formations. The fading sun perfectly lit the towering rocks and glowing domes.
Once past the park, the sun went down. Continuing on SR-24, we climbed out of the isolated farm and ranchland that came after Capitol Reef, and the temperature started to plummet. It was no big surprise then that along the sides of the road there was snow (in August!). Though we weren't crossing any obvious mountains, clearly there had been some elevation change. The sign at the top of the pass read somewhere north of 9,000 feet, so the snow was understandable, but it didn't make it any warmer, especially on a day that topped 100 degrees at lower elevations.
Getting to the crossroads of SR-24 and SR-62 in exactly the middle of nowhere, we had a little argument over direction. Mike (the Beemer guy with the GPS) said Richfield and I-15 were about eight miles up the road (in the wrong direction). Since there was a steakhouse that I really wanted to get to in Panguitch 80 miles to the south, and I hate going out of the way, I immediately vetoed the move and decided the group should go south on SR-62. Brad didn't give a crap, he was just happy to be out riding.
We went south. But before too long, lightning strikes started happening in the direction we were going, still way off, but in our path. They became more frequent, almost constant, and rain started to fall. I stopped after nine miles, and turned us around. Mike now argued vociferously that we keep going, but he lost the argument, as Brad and I knew what could happen in serious weather like this storm seemed to be (see Mike Calabro's Hell Ride, Parts 2 through 4). I may never know for sure what caused Mike's change of heart, it was either that he was really just not that into backtracking, or that he knew full well that his earlier "8 mile" statement was completely false.
Thirty-nine miles later we pulled into Richfield, cold, soggy, and still with another 290 miles to go to our lodgings for the night in Las Vegas. It was about 10:30 p.m. After drying out and warming up at McDonalds, we saddled up and rode into the night.
Not wanting to repeat this debacle is why I planned very meticulously just a couple weeks later to be in a position and at the right time to make it all the way across with my brothers (and Leo). This time we wouldn't miss the high-altitude twistiness of SR-12, and there wouldn't be huge detours to ride the interstate; nothing but back roads and beauty for 400 miles. But it was not to be. And the replacement ride through Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley, and Sedona was damn nice as well. I'll show you next time.