Text: Brian Shaney • Photography: Brian Shaney, Kris Shaney
It’s a beautiful late spring morning as Kris and I prepare for the first of four days exploring southwestern Utah. It’s no secret the state has some of the most fantastic scenery and roads this side of anywhere, and we are more than eager to get underway.
Kris astride her Kawasaki Versys and I aboard my Triumph Tiger 800, we head west out of town. Destination: Zion National Park. It’s a short 30-minute ride to the eastern entrance, and along the way we encounter very little traffic. With Zion being one of the most popular national parks, we are prepared for the possibility of hordes of travelers and a long wait; thankfully, neither proves to be the case, and after a brief chat with the ranger at the entrance we begin our descent from the forested plateau to the Zion Canyon floor.
The winding two-lane takes us past the petrified sandstone mountain known as Checkerboard Mesa, its distinctive crosshatch pattern of cracked earth and cone shape exuding an otherworldly feel. Gradually the white rock changes to red, and we travel through the first and shorter of two tunnels in the park. Further on traffic increases and slows before coming to a stop. The mile-long Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel—a fantastic display of man’s ability to overcome even the greatest of obstacles—lays just ahead.
Completed in the 1920s, a time when large RVs and busses did not yet exist, the narrow tunnel now only allows for one-way travel. The delay is short and as the oncoming traffic clears, we are waved through. Inside, the roar of our motorbikes makes for some fantastic music, and the “windows” in the tunnel offer incredible views of the outside world.
As we emerge into the light, a series of switchbacks leads us down toward the park’s main entrance and visitor center. Enroute, we stop to take in the landscape at one of the many pullouts.
Established as a national park in 1919, Zion has since received more than 88 million visitors. Along with the traditional holiday traveler, it is a haven for hikers, bikers, and climbers alike. As we sit roadside surrounded by majestic towering cliffs, Kris notices a group of climbers making their way up the sheer rock face of one particularly dizzying precipice. We both stare nearly speechless at what appear as tiny dots dangling hundreds of feet above the ground.
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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the January/February 2017 back issue.