Monday, April 30, 2012

Red Canyon on to Bryce Canyon, but not all the way

I woke up from my first uncomfortable Utah campsite. The warm-ish nights in unquestionable locations made me lax, and I curled up on a tarp instead of setting up my tent. After the cold night, my sleeping bag was fairly well covered in frost, with a matching skin of ice in my water.

Because I was camped in a fairly ambiguous spot(It appeared to be a driveway, actually...), I didn't wait around for the sun to come up. Wet gear goes in, gloves go on, and I head back to Hatch, hoping to find some food.

No luck in Hatch. One tiny C-store doesn't open until 10am(It's 7am), and the others look to be shut down for good. Guess I didn't need to eat all that bad... on towards the Red Canyon it is. An easy, pleasant ride, quickly done. There are a few trails going off into the BLM land outside the more developed area(Developed by Utah standards. It has a visitor center.), but I'm dumb so I don't investigate them.

Wonderful bike trail through the Red Canyon area.

I pulled off into a trailhead area to change out of my greasy sweat-in then slept-in clothing. By this point it was sunny and warm again, at least into the mid 70s. Took a rest at the Red Canyon Visitor Center to recharge and refill a few miles later, then onto the bike trail. It's very nice - 5 miles of well maintained trail. For the most part it parallels the road. It looks like they keep people in designated campgrounds here, but I doubt it would be problematic to camp off the bike trail where it diverges from the road. The smell of Juniper and Ponderosa is strong here, green sharp against the red rocks.

The ride eastwards is a gradual climb. Even with a steady headwind, it's fairly undemanding. Still, it goes on a for quite a while and as the land flattens out at the end of the trail, I saw what I was expecting: An elevation marker, indicating the top of a climb. Few of these seems to actually be marked on my Utah state map. No complaints here. The rock formations quickly vanished and turned to ranchland while I rode along reading about Edward Abbey's funeral on my cellphone.

I've still got that nasty, slick-under-the-clothes feeling from marinading in my chilled sweat last night, so I treat myself to some hostess cupcakes and a $2 shower at a C-store RV park on the way to Bryce Canyon. I had to wait while the showers were cleaned, by there was a friendly cat to keep me company and cupcakes to eat, so no problem.

This last bit of road, two miles or so to the tourist zone outside of Bryce Canyon, I'll have to backtrack tomorrow. I'm not sure if I even want to go into the park(No shuttle running yet, no hiker biker sites, $12 entry, only one way in and out...), but there is free camping in the Dixie National Forest right outside the entrance. Every time I go into the Dixie National Forest, I'm enchanted. The patchwork of land encompassed by it is beautiful conifer forest.

After a stop into the inevitable overpriced tourist grocery giftstore(I'm really treating myself, today..) for a can of corn, a top off of water, and a half hour of battery charging by the shuttle stop, I find my forest service road. There is so much evidence of camping it feels a bit like a very spacious, clean campground back there. The roads are very rideable hard-packed black dirt. Maybe I'll just explore them a bit, tomorrow, instead of going into the Park.

German serious-business vehicle parked in tourist-land.

To those of you reading, I hope you take my cynical tourist comments with a grain of salt. I'm pretty much okay with most of the stuff done in the name of tourist revenue. Everything humanity does is pretty destructive these days, and tourism is less so then most. And as with everything else, the people involved are just people, most of them pretty decent.

Once I'd set up my camp down a forest service road a ways, one of the hotel employees came cruising through on a golf-cart(Goes to show just how nice these roads are) and chatted for a bit. I can't remember her name, but I believe she was from the east coast. She offered to give me a ride to some property owned by the hotel(They have a lot of it) where there is a wonderful view of some Hoodoos and a waterfall. Now I have a few shots of the iconic Utah Hoodoos, just in case I don't go into Bryce tomorrow.

This'll probably be the view from a hotel window someday, but, hey - it's not yet!

A very comfortable free campsite, on the doorstep of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Long ride to Hatch, UT

Out of the canyons and desert for most of today. I've mostly been riding by small farms and pasture, bordered by mountains and canyon terrain. The procession of tiny towns, Mt. Carmel, Mt. Carmel Junction, Orderville and Glendale was nice to ride through. So far, these southern Utah towns are much more welcoming then anything I saw in Arizona.

Orderville had several rock shops - I stopped in the most eye catching of the lot and ended up buying half a pound of Quartz/Amethyst/Tourmaline pieces, to be made into something interesting down the road. Not sure when I'll get around to using them, but they where only $5/pound and half a pound more weight isn't really worth mentioning.

For the first time in this state, I had a bit of trouble finding a good spot to camp. If I'd been less picky, there where a few places I could have stopped, but instead I kept going. I ended up in more agricultural land, and on top of that there were steep slopes on both sides of the road. I was picking up elevation and as the sun went down it actually got pretty cold.

The cold makes me crave a snack, but when I finally arrive in Hatch, everything is closed. Everything, of course, means a selection of two tiny C-stores. After straining my eyes in the dark for a few miles, I found what may have been a BLM road of some sort. Very cold, by this point, but I don't want to set up my tent or cook on the uneven, exposed ground so I just eat some Nutella and roll up in my bag.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Kanab, Hwy 89, Peekaboo Campsite

I'm getting used to waking up early, again. The sun comes up, it's warm, I'm on my way. It's only 15 miles to Kanab, and a nice easy ride. The GSENM Visitor Centers seem to all be elaborate affairs, and I stop at the one in Kanab.

I meet another cyclist in Kanab, who warns me against Hwy 89. He's planning a route through 80 miles of rough dirt track and mud, to avoid it. He also warns me to stay well away from all offroaders, who are a destructive and untrustworthy bunch. In part I tend to agree, having seen some of the damage they do the desert, but near this tourist town I'm just as likely to run into families and kids on ATVs, on guided tours or staying on trails. As far as the warning about the road... After running the gauntlet every day among some of the worst drivers I've ever experienced in Quartzsite, I'll take the risk.

In Kanab, it's unmistakeably spring. The entire town smells like lilacs. There's a beautiful memorial garden, where I spend some time experimenting with my new camera. There's a nice grocery store, too, but I don't need much after stocking up in Page. With some trepidation, I leave town on Hwy 89.

Memorial Garden with a pond and fountain in Kanab.

Now, I'm sure the other cyclist has valid reasons for his opinion, but experience vary greatly. To my eyes, Hwy 89 was pleasant bordering on wonderful. The first mile or two out of town was narrow, with offroaders often riding next to the road, throwing dust and gravel around. Most looked to be ordinary enough people - some were riding with kids. None where speeding or being intentional obnoxious. After that, the ATV trail went elsewhere and the road widened out. Most of it had a decent shoulder. It was pretty steep, but that's to be expected. Climbing the staircase, and all.

Hwy 89 just north of Kanab.

Further along Hwy 89.

Part of a big piece of property along Hwy 89. Inside was a building constructed into the mouth a huge cave, a private pond(small lake, depending on how you look at it) with a dock, and a tall spiral staircase leading up into a high rock wall. The whole place had a kids club-house like feel, as if various people went to work building fun stuff. A sign on the wrought iron fence implied that it used to be open to the public, but is no longer on account of vandalism. I never was able to find out more about it.

The highway passes the Best Friends Animal Shelter, which is apparently the largest no-kill shelter in the country, or something like that. If I'd known just how far off the road it was, I might have gone down for a tour. My life has been lacking in cats, lately. I'd like to visit some. I was more driven to find a place to camp, though, as this had been a somewhat longer day then my last two - a whopping 30 miles, but most it had some pretty good climbs, and I'm still getting used to being on the bike.

Around 5pm I found a nice staging area for ATVers(Do I -ever- listen to advice? Seriously.) with picnic tables and fire rings. Another group was camped in a tight cluster of rvs, but I didn't see much of them. Had myself a tuna-corn-hashbrown sandwhich, then read for a few hours before bed. No need for a tent, again. It's in pretty rough shape after the wind in Quartzsite, so I'm going to try to avoid using it any more then I need to.

One of many roadside flowering cactii.

Peekaboo Staging Area campsite.

Friday, April 27, 2012

In the General Direction of Kanab, UT

No reason to hurry for a while. While I am on a schedule to get into Minnesota by June 18, I'm not going to start rushing yet. I'm not really looking all that forward to Colorado. Better to prolong my time in Utah.

The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is massive, containing some of the last places to be mapped in the United States. I'll be riding in and out of it often over the next several days, as my route on Hwy 89 and Hwy 12(National Parks Byway) sort of wraps around the monument. There are no paved roads in the interior of the monument.

After a mostly flat ride, with a few brakes at trail crossing, I decided to call it a night at the western edge of the Monument heading towards Kanab. Tomorrow I go north instead of west, then eventually east again, a few steps up on the 'Grand Staircase'.

Making use of some found cattle bones to keep my grill stable.

It's warm and dry into the night. No need for a tent, here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Journey Resumes - Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

There is a very nice visitor center near Big Water, Utah. I'll consider this the beginning of my day. From here on in, I can look forward instead of riding along wondering what the hell I'm doing. And, oh, Utah is making it easier - just keep your head up and see how beautiful it is. Anyway - the visitor center. Very helpful, water, electricity, a ranger on hand to tell me 'Ignore all the restrictions on the map. You can camp anywhere' and sign a free permit.

Stormclouds skirted the bit of road and desert I was riding on. The wind felt full of rain, but nothing fell on me. I stopped at a trailhead(Toadstools) for lunch, descended into a canyon and started climbing out. It was a very short day riding day. I saw a short track curving away from the highway, behind some smooth red rocks, and found a place to camp back there. Broken glass, highway noise and all, it was one of the prettiest campsites I've found yet. There is a steep-sided wash, or a narrow canyon below, with shallow caves on the other side. It finally rained, briefly, and I climbed down into one of the caves and read until dark.

First nights campsite, at Catstair Canyon.

Where I've been, where I'm going.

Late in the month of November, I arrived in Quartzsite, Arizona. I'd marked this as a place to rest for a time, in a town well-equipped for and accustomed to long term travelers.

I rode into Quartzsite on a unseasonably warm night, and found a place to camp, east of town, between a towering Saguaro and a scraggly mesquite. I stayed here for three weeks, each day spending more time in town and meeting people. The hitch hikers, tramps and vagabonds told me it's easy to find work setting up for vendors, here. The old men who sit in MacDonalds all day said everything is going to hell and good luck getting a job. The vendors said "wait until more people show up".

Two weeks in I was offered $9/hr to clean a couple of motorhomes "Before the boss and his crew get here". Motorhomes clean, boss arrives, and kept me on for five days sorting beads and setting up tables. A week after that ended, I had season-long work at D&D produce, a rather large seasonal produce stand. I spend most of the winter re-packaging nuts and candies. At this time I was also given a notice to leave the two-week limit BLM area I was camped in, and moved north two and a half miles north of town to the Tyson Wash long term visitor area. I stayed here, in a pretty spot between a tree and a wash, until March.

Second Camp. Later on, in the endlessly windy spring, I made a covered outdoor oven of Crysacolla and Quartz.

Quartzsite was very cheap to live in, ideal for saving money for the next leg of my adventure. Being without a vehicle, no one ever checked my LTVA permit. I paid my $40 fee once, and let it expire after two weeks. Nothing happened. There is a church, Isiah 58, that serves a free dinner every evening. It's also the only free shower in town. I never had any compunction about using the shower(The "cheapest" shower in town is $6. The truck stops are $12), but for a few weeks I persisted in making my own dinner - various combinations of tuna, pasta, and potato. By the time I was working at the produce store, I'd rush there every evening after work to get a meal before 6:30. That, and the MacDonalds, where my social centers. Most people camp in groups, but I was far out of town and no one really knew were I went at night.

As soon as I was certain I had a long term job, I got to go shopping and replace my tired, worn, dull "bicycle clothes".

I've not had much luck explaining Quartzsite. A google search brings up tales of wild west politics(very true), and mostly puts Quartzsite off as a dying snowbird town(I have doubts). The experience of being a transient worker there was a bit different then what'll come up in a Arizona Times article. Among the retirees and tourists there is a incredible, colorful, group of travelers - artists, crafters, free spirited wanderers. I learned to make my copper jewelry, here, from three fantastic teachers.

The feet of my friend and teacher, Kellilee. Also, Ganesh the special puppy.

I also met Karl in Quarzsite. I'm not how much I can, or want to, explain about him, but he the only person there I never had to put up a front with. The old liar's club at Macdonalds gave him hell(Mostly behind his back) because of me. I'm sure every day people looked at me, with jealousy or disgust, thinking I was "involved" with a much, much older man. I didn't care. Not one bit. Normally that would mortify me, but I've never met anyone like Karl and his friendship was worth a town full of rumors. Being the sort of person he is, I doubt Karl cared either. He certainly has a lot of experience being reviled in ass-backwards small towns.

I'd worried about getting too attached to a fairly stable life in Quartzsite, but when it came time to go, I couldn't wait to put the town behind me. Once most of the visitors clear out, it gets a great deal less friendly. The fun, open-minded people vanish, leaving the bitter and genuinely crazy. The produce store shut down for the season. My long time hangout at MacDonalds become unwelcoming. Loitering tickets became a concern. A few days later, Karl and I left in his 70s Oldsmobile, my bicycle in the back, without saying a word to anyone. 'till next year.

After leaving Quartzsite, we drove for three weeks. We saw the London Bridge, Las Vegas Strip, a snowstorm just outside of Reno, and Mono Lake. I left Karl in Shoshone, Ca for three days while I explored the southern half of Death Valley on bicycle, and tried to come to terms with being on my own, again. We made our way to Paige, Az. At the Wahweap Marina Campground, on Lake Powell, early in the morning on April 26th, we parted ways for a longer time. I'd feared this moment for weeks, and delaying it would just build the tension. It was time to go.

I know Utah will be special. I hope it will be enough to ease my way back to being a solo traveler. Watching Karl's car drive away was harder then leaving home, but now the separation is behind me and I can look ahead. I'm back to doing what I'm good at.

Please, Utah. Be Special.