How Beautiful Southern Utah And Northern Arizona Is?
Article & Photos By: J. Ken Conte
Originally Published In The December 2016 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
I have been through Utah plenty of times. I’ve ridden on the Bonneville Salt Flats, visited friends and family in Salt Lake, and, at 18, mountain biked the famous slick rock of Moab. But I have never experienced it like I did this spring on a new Indian Chieftain. I had logged several hundred miles, heading up the west coast with a friend, but now was the time to push it, see what it could do, and explore the southern part of Utah. I left Long Beach early in the morning, the Chieftain packed to the gills with gear, and I had my trusty decadeold T-Bag for a backrest. Getting out of LA can be brutal, but on this day I seemed to sail through traffic, and, as I left the sprawl of LA, I was bound and determined to I take the least amount of highways possible. I had a destination in mind—Kanab, UT—where a close friend and riding buddy lived with his wife. I decided to head through Death Valley. As I hit the epicenter of the heat I realized the bike was performing flawlessly. All I had to do was put gas in it, and it kept eating up the miles. I knew I had some picturesque roads in my future, but today was a test of endurance, and all I had was my thoughts and myself. I climbed some small passes, but mostly it was desolate as I weaved my way east. I ducked around Vegas and through Henderson, ended up in St. George on the highway, where I exited toward Kanab. I hit the daylight just right as I rolled east: the grass was glowing, the bike was moving and my thoughts were all mine, not to be shared with anyone or anything but the wind.
I arrived at Dave and Theresa’s house after dinner, but they obliged me with a hot meal and good companionship. Dave took the next day off work and suggested we hit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We left after a quick tour of Best Friends, where he and his wife work. If you get the chance, go see what they do for animals—they have an amazing swath of land and are most famous for providing a therapeutic environment for Michael Vick’s fighting dogs. The ride into Arizona and the North Rim was cool and green. I was starting to see why one would want to live in this part of the country; there was a glorious variety of terrain, colors and vegetation. The white and blue of the cloud-studded sky contrasted nicely with the green-and-brown terrain, and it felt, at times, like the clouds were parting for us—being with a close friend always makes a great ride even more memorable. After a brief stop at the world famous Jacob Lake Inn for a warm cup of coffee and some German Chocolate and Lemon Raspberry cookies, we hopped back on our bikes, and headed for the North Rim. It is a spectacular site: the expansive views are awe-inspiring, and it really made me realize, once again, the vastness and beauty of the southwest. The vistas and graceful turns along the route were expected, but a wolf in the middle of the road was not. I can already hear people saying, “There are no wolves in the Grand Canyon.” Well, then, it must have been an apparition.
At dawn the next morning, the temperature was just above 40 degrees. I hooked up my Tourmaster heated vest and tried it out. It was very warm at the lowest setting, and it helped me shake off the early morning chill. I mapped the day with the help of Butler Motorcycle Maps best roads. Even the ride by Bryce Canyon had to be done. Luckily, I needed gas in Escalante and so ran into the Desert Doctor (name unknown). He politely introduced himself and asked me how I liked the Indian Chieftain. He recommended I hit the Escalante staircase to the Burr Trail. “There’s some dirt, but you should be fine,” he said. “I just had some German tourists go through there on Harleys and they did great.” That recommendation was the best I’ve ever received, and I encountered one of the most amazing desolate paved portions of back road I have ever ridden. I saw very few vehicles, and the towering canyon walls and sweeping turns were a rider’s dream. Once the pavement ended, my dirt skills were quickly tested on the Burr switchbacks. I should have taken a right when I got to the bottom, but I went left and ended up riding dirt for longer than I cared to. That being said, the low-slung seat felt good, and the very balanced Indian Chief handled it just fine.
I passed through Capital Reef, a lonely bright-white expanse, and ended up in Hanksville. The road along Glen Canyon National Park (which is includes Lake Powell) is a great wide open road with plenty of scenery, bridges and water. I wanted to make it to Grand Junction that evening, so I kept motoring, then hit some weather. I waited it out in Monticello, sipping coffee and watching the lightening. But I could only wait so long. I suited up in my Tourmaster Full Riding Suit (heated vest on low) and headed out on the damp pavement. I kept dry, even when I hit 6 inches of hail just outside Monticello. The day started to warm up as I headed north through Moab and took the scenic way on 128, along the Colorado River. The river ran fast, and my throttle hand tried to keep up, powering me through the winding narrow road, wondering what I’d find around each corner. As I left the great state of Utah, I knew there was so much more to see, more roads and more amazing views, but I was content with what I’d ridden. For now.