Tuesday, June 4, 2013

TRIP REPORT: Southern Utah's national parks in 1,500 miles and 10 days on a R1200RT BMW

Salt Lake City south on I-15 to Spanish Fork.
Spanish Fork to Spring City on U.S. 89.
Spring City to Mount Carmel, U.S. 89.
Mount Carmel to Springdale, SR 9.
Backtrack from Springdale to Mount Carmel, then north on U.S. 89.
Take SR 12 east to Bryce Canyon National Park.
Bryce to Torrey on SR 12.
Torrey to Hanksville on SR 24, then Hanksville to Blanding on SR 95.
Blanding to Monticello on U.S. 191.
Monticello to Moab, U.S.191.
Moab to Helper, U.S. 191.
Helper to Spanish Fork, SR 6.
Spanish Fork to Salt Lake, north on Interstate 15.

Overnight stops and lodging
Spring City – The Osborne Inn B&B (1 night)
Springdale (Zion) – Canyon Ranch Motel (2 nights)
Bryce Canyon National Park – Bryce Canyon Lodge (1 night)
Torrey – Torrey Schoolhouse B&B (1 night)
Monticello – Runnin’ Iron Inn (1 night)
Moab – Pack Creek Ranch (3 nights)

By Julia Anderson
First things first. I'm not a biker babe.
I don't wear tight jeans, black boots with 3-inch heels or leather chaps. I don't ride without a helmet. I don't have breast implants, wear tube tops or have tattoos (OK, just one). Frankly, I thought riding on the back of a motorcycle with some guy would be BOHRRR-ING. Get it?
But when I met Ken, he came with a R1200RT BMW motorcycle. This is a really gorgeous machine.
So when he said, "hop on," what could I do? Now I have to eat all those snarky comments about women "riding bitch" (as they say) on motorcycles.
We've just finished our biggest ride... This one 1,500 miles in 10 days through Southern Utah's national parks. It ranks up there as among the best outdoor experiences of my life.
Maybe because I'm a long-time downhill skier, ride horses and have been on trails. I find being on the back of a motorcycle exciting and (yes) really fun. I'm not tired, I'm not bored.
Some people ask when I'm going to get my own bike? I say, "no way." I'm content to let Ken do the hard work of staying on the road, avoiding potholes and cows while I sit there with the wind whizzing by looking at the scenery and enjoying the road. You do have to pay attention to the road on an R1200RT. You know...lean into the curves, be prepared for a change in speed, all that.
Our ride around Utah started and ended in Salt Lake City.
Honestly you don't have to be on a motorcycle to enjoy this trip but you do get a sense of freedom and the Great Outdoors that's way beyond a car trip behind a windshield. Throw in a few good watering holes (translation: bed & breakfasts) and some off-beat day trips and you’ve got a rewarding itinerary that avoids Interstates and never leaves Utah.
We did this trip in May when daytime temperatures still were mild in the 70s and 80s and the summer tourist crush had yet to kick in. Although there were plenty of people inside the national parks. Spring does have challenges. Temperatures can be a biting 37 degrees at certain high-elevation viewpoints while Moab -- the launching point for Arches and Island in the Sky National parks – may see 90-plus degree mid-day heat. And did we mention wind? Forty mph gusts on the run between Bryce and Monticello made staying on the road or standing on un-fenced precipices looking into deep canyons a bit more interesting, if you know what I mean.
Our journey included 1,000 miles of point-to-point driving and another 500 miles of park exploration. The route gave us maximum scenery on sweeping two-lane paved country roads. (BTW: the 1200RT seat warmer is nice).
Here are suggestions that made our trip more interesting:
-  Spend a night in Spring City at the two-story brick Osborne Inn B&B. Now an artists’ haven, this quaint mostly restored town offers a backward glance into Utah’s early Mormon pioneer life.
- Plan two nights at Canyon Ranch Motel in Springdale to access the wonders of Zion National Park and surrounding area. The “Watchman” hike in the park was a favorite but make sure to spend an afternoon getting  to Lava Point. The ride takes you into beautiful high alpine country where aspen groves, rocky points and wildlife reward you at every turn. The panoramic view from the point is un-crowded and spectacular.
- Stay a night at Bryce Canyon Lodge for its ready access to canyon views at sunset and a morning trail ride (by horse or mule) into the canyon.
- Don’t miss an overnight at the Torrey (Utah) Schoolhouse B&B -- a luxurious gem in the middle of nowhere. Great breakfast.
- The Runnin’ Iron Inn, eight miles north of Monticello, may not look like much from the outside but owner-proprietor Bob Muscleman makes this place a must-stop for his great steak dinner, superb accommodations and his Western banter. BYOB. This is Utah.

- Pack Creek Ranch out of Moab with its individual well-appointed cabins, outdoor pool and indoor hot tub and massage facilities gets you away from the craziness of town where mountain bikers, off-roaders and marauding tourist buses clog main street. Take time to visit the Needles district inside Canyonlands National Park for roadside petroglyphs and a fascinating short hike on Cave Spring Trail.

Most wacky stop? Moqui Cave, a combination tourist trap/geology lesson near Kanab, Utah on U.S. Hwy. 89.
Best stops? All national park visitors centers for their uniform quality, video overviews and in-depth information. Bryce was our No. 1.
Best food? Lunch at Mount Carmel Junction’s Thunderbird Restaurant famous for its “Ho Made” pies. Second bests? Breakfast at Torrey Schoolhouse B&B and Bryce Canyon Lodge for dinner.
Worst food: The Bit & Spur in Springdale.
Best overall experience: Three nights at Pack Creek Ranch with day trips to Arches and Island in the Sky National Parks. Worst experience: Afternoon headwinds out of Blanding.
Helpful Web Sites:
Southern Utah Park Info:  http://www.fiveutahparks.com/
Utah History: http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah

Travel guides:
"Roadside Geology of Utah" by Halka Chronic
“Scenic Driving Utah” by Christy Karras.
“Hiking from Here to Wow: Utah Canyon Country” by Kathy and Craig Copeland.
“50 Best Short Hikes in Utah’s National Parks” by Ron Adkison
“Lonely Planet Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks”
“Frommer’s Utah”
“Motorcycle Touring in the Southwest” by Christy Karras and Stephen Zusy.

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