Hatch to Zion - Cedar City to Flagstaff 1987 - CycleBlaze

August 10, 1987

Hatch to Zion

Biking to Zion

At a truck stop in Mount Carmel Junction.  I didn't get a chance to complete my log yesterday because a 4th grader from Dallas, TX named Collin interrupted my pie revery to ask "What's it like to travel on a bike?".  I spent about 15 minutes with him, showing off all of my stuff - gear, tools, etc. - and trying to answer his question in a way that might make sense to him.  By the time we were done it was starting to get late and the sky was looking menacing, so I hurriedly headed south to hunt for a tentsite.  

There weren't many choices - this is mostly rangeland with barbed wire lining both sides of the highway - but I finally found a marginal spot up a side road a few miles out of town, not too long after the rains commenced.  It was a pretty location, overlooking the colorful ridge east of the basin.  The modest rainfall I endured while striking camp was mde more bearable by the rainbow gracing the valley.  I was about a mile up this side road so it was wonderfully quietand peaceful.  Its only drawback was the pronounced lumpiness of the ground.  This proved to be the least comfortable spot I have chosen in ges.  Probably I would have taken more time and looked harder if not pressed by the rain.

Oh, well.  The bright side of selecting an uninviting bed is that it encourages one to arise early.  I was eight miles down the road this morning before the sun broke the horizon.  During those miles I was rewarded with cool air, three mule deer, a golden eagle, and a full moon setting over the western hills.  This entire morning's ride was picturesque, peaceful and leisurely.  I picked up  modest tailwind that eased me over the summit between the Sevier and Virgin river valleys, and then I mostly coasted all of the way from the summit until Orderville, 17 miles away.  Altogether I covered a very easy 28 miles by 9 AM - just in time for breakfast.

My morning meal was highlighted with an hour-long visit with a colorful retired traveler from Ohio who stopped to chat as I was locking up in front of the restaurant.  He had much to say, almost all of which was interesting - about his travels with his son when both were younger, mostly - his description of their guided raft trip down the River of No Return was especially entertaining.  He was on his way out to the west coast to visit his other son and was inspecting the major parks along the way.  He was lonely though - he couldn't get his wife to come along, and he didn't enjoy sightseeing alone as much.  I sympathized - it isn't the same to see an indescribable spectacle and have noone next to you to share it with.

The road from Carmel to Zion crosses a modest pass before beginning a long descent through the Checkerboard Mesa country and into the park.  I'm not going to make much of an effort to describe this area - any attempt by me to portray the unparalleled beauty and drama of this landscape wuld be hopelessly inadequate.  Suffice it to say that I was in perpetual awe for the 24 hours I spent here.

East of Zion
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Navaho Sandstone, east of Zion
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On Checkerboard Mesa, approaching Zion from the east
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In Zion

(Note that you can't legally ride into Zion this way any more - bicycles are no longer permitted in the tunnel, for safety reasons.)

The approach to Zion from the east involves a rapid 2000 foot descent through breathtaking territory on  a narrow, switchbacking road.  I had difficulty forcing myself to stay focused on safety when I wanted to look up and around constantly.  This approach also involves a ride through a 1.1 mile long tunnel.  The tunnel trip, for bicyclists at least, includes the escort of a park ranger who drives behind, illuminating the road with his headlights.  It is a great ride - cool, downhill, with three or four windows through the stone wall along the way that hint at the grandeur ahead.  After five minutes in near darkness, the road suddenly opens out into a stunning panorama of color and magnificence.

POW!  Only a hundred yards out of the tunnel, my front tube exploded, blowing my tire off of the rim.  It was the loudest blowout I've ever experienced.  The heat from the road and the brake friction became too much, I guess.  The rims of both wheels were quite hot to the touch.  As I sat on the wall by the side of the road, congratulating myself on my excellent choice of location for a flat (not inside the tunnel, for instance), I noted with curiosity that my ranger was pulling cars over several hairpin turns below me.  A few minutes later he pulled up next to me, his lights flashing, and asked if I had heard a gunshot.  I said no, but that I had heard a very impressive blowout; at which point he burst out laughing and got on the radio to call off the alarm.

I biked next out to the north end of the park for a hike into the Virgin River Narrows.  This trail is paved for about the first mile, after which it ends at the river itself.  Warning signs abound cautioning against continuing the hike further without consulting a ranger to assess flash flood dangers, and describing steps to take is one arises.  Among other options it suggests scaling the wall to above high water mark - which can be readily seen by the mud and other debris clinging to the sheer cliffs for about 20 vertical feet. 

It is a beautiful area, but one drawback of the canyon is that it concentrates tourists and traffic.  It was not quite as bad as being at Lancaster Mall, but had a similar feel to it.  Throughout the day the air in the canyon was filled with the incessant noise of traffic.

Later in the day I was inspired by the crowds and decided to take a sundown trip up one of the hiking trails.  It was perfect - after the first half mile I felt like I had Zion to myself.  The trail (actually, it is a stone and brick walkway) steeply switches up the side of a cliff face toward Angel Point.  It is a colorful path, held against the cliff by natural looking red brick retaining walls.  In spots you can look nearly straight up and view the path meandering upward into the sky.  The last part of the trail is definitely hazardous - it consists of nothing more than footholds carved out of the stone, with a cable handhold provided for secrity to prevent the careless from abruptly descending 500 feet.  I ventured out about 100 yards of this section before turning back in the dusk.  The view was phenomenal.  The entire canyon was visible in all directions a thousand feet or so below.  Massive peaks towered gloomily on all sides in the shadows of sundown.  From below, the headlights of the cars on the road snaked slowly toward the exit from the park.

The hike down was appealing as well.  The creatures of the night - bats, frogs, crickets - gradually emerged, but generally it was extremely quiet.  Descending the stone walkway in the dark, plastered against the mountain, I felt very close to the earth.  My imagination transformed my walk into a very primordial experience.

As fine as the hike was, the night was perhaps even better.  I had left my bike in a clearing near the river at the base of the trail, and when I returned to it I unrolled my sleeping bag and tarp there.  It was a delicious night - warm, arid, with a variety of soothing natural sounds - the Virgin River yards away, the strong wind rustling the birches, the crickets chirring.  Best of all though was the sky and the night light.  It was a perfectly clear evening, and for a few hours the sky was filled with stars - until a full moon cleared the mountains and cast its glow onto the cliffs all around.

My most memorable spot for chaninf a flat, ever
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In Zion National Park
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In Zion National Park
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In Zion National Park
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In Zion National Park
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In Zion National Park
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Wading in the Virgin Narrows
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Sundown ascent to Angels Landing
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Overlooking Zion at sunset from Angels Landing
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Today's ride: 67 miles (108 km)
Total: 182 miles (293 km)

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