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.
Motorcycles & Gear
Helmets: AFX FX-39, Bell MX-9 Adventure
Jackets: Acerbis Adventure, Tourmaster Trinity 2
Pants: Acerbis Adventure, Acerbis Matrix Air
Gloves: BiLT Air Pro Mesh (both)
Boots: Bates Tactical Sport Side Zip, M2R Nordic Waterproof
Arriving at the visitor center, Kris and I stretch our legs and enjoy a hike on the two-mile Watchman Trail before grabbing a bite to eat. In the parking lot we meet up with fellow motorcyclists, some of whom have come from the East Coast to enjoy the riding in southern Utah. With its stunning prehistoric vistas and seemingly endless trails and attractions, it would be easy to spend two or three days exploring all that Zion has to offer. Kris and I, however, must move on.
Recommended Lodging: Quail Park Lodge
Operated by the Canyons Collection, the retro-themed Quail Park Lodge is situated at the western edge of Kanab and serves as a great base for touring the area. U.S. 89 lies just outside the door and is a pipeline to and from breathtaking scenery and incredible riding. Restaurants are within walking distance, but the motel offers guests the use of bicycles for those seeking quicker transportation downtown.
The hotel features an outdoor pool and fireplace. Rooms are well appointed with Wi-Fi, cable TV, a mini fridge, and a work area to plan your next day’s adventure. Manager Ladd Bunting and the rest of the staff go the extra mile to ensure a great stay. Find it at 125 N 300 W, Kanab, UT, (435) 215-1447
Exiting the park, we continue west through Springdale and other small towns before picking up UT-59 in Hurricane. Dipping down into Arizona, we pass through the secluded and rather infamous polygamous communities of Hildale and Colorado City. In 2015 a flash flood claimed the lives of more than a dozen women and children here, once again bringing the area to the attention of the world. Back in Kanab, we reflect on the day over dinner at Houston’s Trail’s End Restaurant.
Neither Rain Nor Sleet Nor Snow. Wait. Snow?
With the weather forecast calling for scattered showers, Kris and I head north on U.S. 89, passing postcard-perfect farms where white picket fences are backdropped by rugged cliffs. Massive mechanized sprinklers irrigate their fields. Quaint towns and roadside attractions claim the spaces between. Cutting west on UT-14 we begin a gradual ascent into the tall pines of the Dixie National Forest. Before long droplets of rain begin to appear on my windscreen. Just beyond the “blink and you miss it” town of Duck Creek Village, the rain becomes a steady but light shower. With the sky only occasional peeking out from the dense forest, it’s hard to tell what’s ahead.