3 Brothers & A Buddy – Day 4

(click on map to enlarge)

Saturday, May 19

  • Torrey, UT to Flagstaff, AZ
  • Riders: Scott, Paul, Eric & Don
  • Distance: 394 miles
  • Highlights:

We awake to a lovely morning. I’ve slept well except for once again, waking several times during the night due to the ultra bright street light on the nearby bathhouse. We pack up, have breakfast across the highway where we had dinner and then head East to Capitol Reef National Park. This park contains a 100 mile long rift in the Earth’s crust and erosion of the tilted rock layers has, according to the NPS website, “formed colorful cliffs, massive domes, soaring spires, stark monoliths, twisting canyons, and graceful arches”.
Yes, the scenery is that awesome and worthy of all those adjectives but we elect to skip riding in the Park itself as we have many miles to ride today and we’re weary of park traffic. Besides, we can tell that the area will require a proper visit to truly explore and enjoy it vs. a cursory ride through it on a motorcycle. But we stop at the Visitors’ Center so I can purchase a pin for my vest before continuing East on Highway 24 into a truly desolate landscape.

The surreal landscape of Highway 24
(click on photo to enlarge)

The scenery is so striking that at times, it is difficult to keep one’s bike on the road. I’ve been thinking of mounting a camera on my helmet and hooking it up to a video camera in my tank bag so the kinetic experience of such landscapes can be captured and shared. But on this trip, the occasional still photo and my memory will have to suffice. Looking at the route in satellite photos from Google Maps reveals yet another remarkable point of view.

Hanksville, a tiny town at the junction of Highways 24 and 95, features an amazing gas station that is literally carved out of a 40 foot high, solid rock outcropping. It’s called Hollow Mountain Gas and Grocery and inside, one is actually walking through a cave with many rooms. We turn South on Highway 95 and continue through the high desert. The forested Henry Mountains, a popular hideout for bandits including Butch Cassidy, are to the West and the Canyonlands National Park are to the East. We cross Lake Powell at Glen Canyon and soon arrive at Highway 261, the road we’ve planned to take to Monument Valley. We make a right turn onto it but pull over immediately upon spotting a huge road sign that declares “10% grades, switchbacks, narrow gravel road, 23 miles ahead”. This is an interesting complication. What if this section of road is covered in softball sized rocks, steep as a goat trail, treacherous as hell for 4 expensive, scratch-free, road-only bikes? The FZ-1 I’m riding has enough gas to reach Mexican Hat, the town at the end of 261 but if we have to turn back because the road is too rough, the FZ-1 probably won’t make it. Logic and prudence dictates detouring East on Highway 95 for 33 miles to Blanding, Utah for gas. But this option bears risk as well since we’ve come to learn that a town on the map in the middle of nowhere doesn’t guarantee the presence of a gas station as where we can vouch for Mexican Hat having fuel. Nevertheless, the call of adventure is loudly sounding in my head and in this state of mind, there is little room for logic to get a word in edgewise. I recognize it as the same mentality that enables one to elect to cross the highest pass in the Cascades vs. the lowest while a storm front is parked over it so one has to ride along sheer cliffs and negotiate hairpin turns in 3 inches of snow instead of rain. But even with the benefit of such prior experience, one can’t help but be sucked into the adventure touring vortex. Our very brief roadside meeting yields nothing more than comments of “whatever” and “go for it” so into the vortex we go.

Satellite photo of the Moki Dugway & Highway 261
(click photo to enlarge)

We begin the 23 mile ride South on the juniper covered Cedar Mesa on the Colorado Plateau and it isn’t long before the adventure buzz fades and I’m sober once again. The serious misgivings start creeping in. I’m concerned about Don. I didn’t check with him during that brief pow-wow as to his comfort level with riding his nice BMW on a steep, dirt road. What if we do have to turn back and I run out of gas? What if one of us loses it on the dirt road? Realizing that I’m going to get what-iffed to death, I overpower my doubts by firmly declaring to myself, “Relax, stop worrying, and enjoy it!” Ok, got it. This is adventure touring and whatever happens will make an excellent story for the campfire and on the website. Besides, if I wanted an uneventful, predictable hobby, I’d be knitting socks at home, right?

So be it. We reach the spot where the road turns to dirt and plunges over the edge of the plateau. It is a series of switchbacks that traverse sheer cliffs and ridges, known as the Moki Dugway, to the desert floor below. It gets its name from the carved hand and foot-holds on the cliff faces created by the ancient Native Americans but we’re too intensely focused on the dirt road to notice any signs of ancient inhabitation. Thankfully, the road is well maintained and easy to negotiate at a slow, cautious pace. Of course, this doesn’t pertain to Pablo who is an experienced motocrosser and most likely exhorting us verbally in his helmet to stop riding like a bunch of grandmas. Anyway, we drop 1,100 feet in only 3 miles and it’s one of those roads where you can’t help but wonder how some road engineer got approval to undertake such a crazy project. At the bottom, we roll off across the desert with smiles on our faces and when we stop for gas in Mexican Hat, Paul confesses his delight that I opted to take a chance on this route.

The Moki Dugway
(click on photo to enlarge)

Refueled and rehydrated, we head off across the Navajo Nation and through Monument Valley. A big storm looms ahead of us and we put on rain gear figuring we’re going to get drenched but somehow we skirt it and ride all the way into Flagstaff with nary a drop falling on us. Thanks to Don’s local knowledge of Flagstaff, we dine at a wonderful brew pub and discuss where to spend the night. For simplicity’s sake, we opt to head back into the woods to the same spot we camped our first night out. Before doing so, we head to a big grocery store in town to stock up for the evening’s campfire festivities and now that we are back in Arizona, we find a nice selection of wine to choose from. Unlike last time, when we were virtually alone in the woods South of Flagstaff, we arrive Saturday evening to find the forest bustling with many camps of boisterous ATVers and we have to ride deeper into the forest on the dirt road to find a good spot to camp on. So much for my observation on day 1 about there not being many campers due to the lack of facilities.

Camp is setup, firewood is gathered, camp chairs are unfolded, wine is uncorked and cigars are distributed. Eric, the group sommelier, demonstrates proper wine pouring technique and good naturedly endures comments about his loafers while Don gives Scott a nickname, “Jacques”, as in Cousteau. Once we polish off the wine, we work on putting out the fire which takes what water we have, multiple urinations and copious amounts of dirt. We call it a night and head off to our tents while many of the ATV parties go on deep into the night but they are off in the distance and of no bother to us. Best of all, there are no street lights or lights of any kind for that matter and I blissfully doze off in utter darkness on my fully inflated mattress.

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