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C2C Day 19: Zion July 20, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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Another spectacular ride today from Las Vegas to Kanab, Utah.  I am holed up in the biker-friendly Treasure Trail Motel with a great wifi connection (relative to most of my experience this trip), newly washed clothes, and time to relax, blog, and plan.

True to my late decision last night, my body woke me up 5 minutes before the 3am alarm.  Of course my Vegas hotel did not have coffee in the room, presumably so I’d be forced down to the casino faster.  It took time, a lot of water, and a shower to finally get me going.  I packed up my gear and headed down to check out, glad (but not surprised) to have my room comp’d after yesterday’s marathon o’gambling. 

Walking out to the bike at 4:20 am, the heat was already oppressive.  It had apparently rained not long before, so the humidity was up as well.  I had parked the bike in the employee’s level of the valet garage (a special priviledge offered to their motorcycling patrons given the rash of Harley thefts of late).  I was relieved to see mine still there. 

The bellman was volunteering motorcycle movie recommendations as I packed the bike, and went so far as to xerox the cover of the movie he was watching that morning (a Tarantino film called Hell Ride).  After getting directions to the nearest gas station, I headed out onto the streets of Vegas.  I had been to Vegas many times before, but almost always travelled by cab or limo, and mostly just up and down the strip, so I had never really seen the side streets of Sin City until now.  Interestingly diverse olio of businesses…

It was still a bit before sunrise when I got myself back on I-15 heading north.  As dawn broke, I could see the sunlight just illuminating the tops of distant storm clouds.  To my right, an active storm system (probably the one that left Vegas in a muggy morning state) was giving a lightning show in the pre-dawn glow.  The alien landscape, flat desert with not too distant mountians, lay on either side of me as I sped along.  It was getting to be full light as I approached the tiny town of Glendale on the far side of the Moapa River Indian Reservation.  I stopped for a coffee and to ditch my reflective vest.  The gas station convenience store looked like a converted double-wide, but had the basics.  Coffee was free if you brought your own cup.  I paid $1.14 for the cup.  

Moving on, I started passing the border casinos/resorts assuming their main customers to be folks from Arizona or Utah who wanted to drive as little as possible to gamble, or those who decide they want just one more night after leaving Vegas.

I-15 just nips the northwest corner of Arizona running northeast, so I was able to get my ABC pics for Arizona and Utah in short fashion (though under the worst illumination, shooting straight into the rising sun).  The little jaunt through Arizona was really beautiful.  I-15 winds through the narrows of the Virgin River and though Sullivan Canyon in the Paiute Primative Area.  The stark canyon rock under the low angle illumination of the morning sun was breathtaking.  The sheer faces and dropping ravines run so close to the interstate that you really feel the sense of being cacooned within the canyon, like walking through a maze.

After a quick stop in Saint George, I got off I-15 onto SR-9 which took me through several resort towns en route to Zion National Park.  The landscape kept getting better and better.  I really wanted to pull over and spend some time in these little towns, but didn’t know what to expect for heat in my upcoming ride, and wanted to make Kanab early.  I did pull over in Springdale for gas.  I didn’t really need to, but really wanted to get a picture of the peaks lining the west side of the town, and ditch my jacket.  It was really tempting to spend more time there with all the lapidary shops and tourist traps.

At the park entrance, I again uttered my regret at not buying an annual pass for the national parks, paid my $12 and rolled in.  The Vistors Center is right near the west entrance and was my first stop to collect my National Parks Passport stamp.  Parking was quite full; the park is a mecca for hikers, photographers, and nature enthusiasts.  I was amazed by the diversity and proximity of the wild life just walking from my bike to the visitors center building.  In the parking lot, I passed a young deer nibbling on a sapling; I walked past him (her?) as close as your eyes are to this screen right now.  He just looked at me with the sapling branch sticking out of the side of his mouth chewing away as if he were hoping I had food, but assuming that I didn’t.  Riding out after getting my passport stamp, I was stopped by a ground squirrel who really seemed intent to go the way I was blocking.  He fidgeted a couple of feet in front of my bike, then finally gave up and headed for the long grass beside the lot.

Getting back out onto the road, I remembered my Yellowstone experience with slow-moving RVs and tourists, and set my “mood switch” to “patient” in advance.  However, the scenery was so beautiful, so magnificently stark and diverse, so close to the winding road, that I found myself going 5 mph under the 35 mph speed limit just to take it all in.  One of the things that really sets Zion apart from my other park rides is the intimacy.  The road runs through the canyon and very close to the steep faces.  From that vantage point even the same face of rock or towering cliff becomes a different entity with new character and composition every few seconds.  That is one thing I love about mountains:  how they change with every different view; and here at Zion that is a continuous flow.   After seeing the enhancement of so many places, I continue to be so struck how the landscape can be so beautiful in ways that I hadn’t seen or imagined. 


In the middle of the park is a narrow tunnel cut into the rock.  Completed in 1930, that tunnel is 1.1 miles long and unlit.  That was cool stretch of road (literally and figuratively), with the low rumble of the Harley resonating off the surrounding rock as I idled along.  Periodically, the tunnel was cut out to the side of the mountain, providing blinding flashes of scenic views as I rode throught the darkness.


Leaving the stunning vistas of the park, the highway continued through wonderfully rugged mountian countryside on to Kanab.  I had made really good time with my early start, arriving near noon despite my casual pace, and half thought to just press on to Mexican Hat, Utah.  But as I rode up and down the streets of Kanab, I felt the temperatures were getting much warmer and I don’t really know what the afternoon climate will be like dripping south into Arizona en route to Mexican Hat (and I do NOT want a third bout of heat exhaustion).   Besides, I had laundry, sleeping, and blogging to get caught up on.

Outside the wind has been picking up and thunder has been clapping for the last couple of hours.  It is now raining pretty steadily (I covered the bike at the first sprinkles).  I was hoping to hop on the bike to check out the only bar near town a little ways down US-89A, but this weather has me reticent to even venture a block down the main street to see what that offers.  I wonder if they have pizza delivery here in Kanab… 

(UPDATE: They don’t.)