Carving Canyons in Utah

Text: Robert Smith • Photography: Robert Smith

Torrey would be an unremarkable small town in Utah but for two things: the soaring crimson cliffs of the Capitol Reef National Monument that overlook it, and Highway 12, which ends there. Arguably the most exciting motorcycling road in the state, it's a 100-mile continuum of fast, open bends, head-spinning switchbacks and wriggling canyon curves. So, I'm not surprised to see the town's general store surrounded by motorcycles. More than usual as I learn because it just so happens I've stumbled upon a relatively new Torrey tradition, the biannual BMW Sport Touring event known as the "un-rally."

Friday: I arrive in pious Utah through a portal of improbable contrasts via the sin cities of the southwest desert. Collecting an FZ1 from Yamaha Motor Corporation in the L.A. suburb of Cypress, I push north against a searing desert wind on I-15. I swelter in interminable traffic through Vegas, awed by the surreal, super-sized ziggurats swamping the skyline. In the wake of visiting the Guggenheim Art of the Motorcycle show here in 2001, what I remember most are the sad, sleep-deprived Mexican children thrusting call-girl flyers at me as I walked the Strip. I have no desire to linger.

I cross into Northeast Arizona at a garish gambling-guns-and-gas complex - its flashing neon hustling liquor and slots - and ramble into the Virgin River Gorge, a desolate chasm crusted in muddy pink. At the Utah border near St. George, I pull into the information station to ask about accommodations; but it's closed, as these places always seem to be when you need them. There's a custodian, though, and as he hands me a pile of tourist brochures, I ask if this is a "dry" county.

"Usually," he replies, "though we've had a lot of rain..."

I stop him, "No, I'd like to buy a bottle of wine." For that, I need to go to a government liquor store, a surreptitiously anonymous brick building on the edge of town. I skulk in, seconds before the store closes, at 7:00? They probably turn off the streetlights by eight. Regardless, the liquor store is packed with weekend partiers who seem to be stocking up for The Flood, hoisting wine boxes and 40-pounders of Scotch. Reckon I shoulda picked up my Pinot Grigio back in Nevada.

Saturday: I head east under glaring sunshine for Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon through the town of Virgin, just a post office-cum-junk store and a cartoonish, roadside, faux-ghost town. The scenery in Zion ( entry for motorcycles) varies from just plain spectacular to the topographically outrageous. Fluted crimson mesas the size of Vegas hotels shoot up from the valley as my route winds up the side of a mountain. The road I've been climbing is laid out below like a Hot Wheels track.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the September/October 2005 back issue.