"Nobody goes up the mountain anymore," laments Bob, my newfound, 76-year-old friend. "Everybody takes the highway. You got to go up the mountain!" Since this local character clearly has had much time to collect wisdom, I decide I best take him up on his advice.
Encounter in a Small Town
A short time earlier, I stopped at the information center of Monticello, a pleasant, little town in eastern Utah. Bob was riding past on his Honda 750, and in his sidecar was his longtime, canine companion, Ginger. Ginger, of course, is the reason I got to know the unusual couple, as when you're out on a tour, taking photos, a man with a dog in his sidecar is not the kind of thing you let pass by. The rather dignified yellow Lab was peeping out of the sidecar as if it were the most natural thing in the world - I just had to take a photo of her.
By way of explanation, Bob recalls, "I got her as a puppy in California. When a deer ran across the road, she jumped out in front of me, rolled a couple of times on the road, but was fine. Since then, she rides with me wherever I go." Bob offers to accompany me up the mountain and I take him up on it. When we stop to get his helmet, I glimpse both a motocross race-bike and a small dirt bike for single trails, sitting in Bob's garage. Seeing him jump around, I have no doubts that he still puts miles on both of them. I'm guessing that living here in Utah's mountains must keep residents extraordinarily fit.
Together we ride up the Abajo Mountain on a beautifully winding road: Bob and Ginger in the 3-wheeler sidecar and me on my 2009 KTM 990 Adventure. My guide was absolutely right about the need to go up the mountain. Along the next 20 miles, we encounter not a soul. About halfway up, we stop for a fantastic view overlooking the mesas and valleys of the Canyonlands National Park, our next destination. At this time of year in late September, the view is all the more spectacular. At the bottom, Bob shows me Newspaper Rock, a large petroglyph panel on the red rock created approximately 1,500 years ago by numerous, ancient cultures. Here we part ways, as Bob and Ginger head back to their beloved mountains, and I continue on towards the nearby Arches National Park. As luck would have it, my timing is just right. In the low evening light, the Arches are a stunning display of beauty. Riding through the towering, freestanding rocks and sandstone formations, for which the park is named, is like moving through nature's wonderland.
Motorcycle & Gear
2009 KTM 990 Adventure
Helmet: Shoei Hornet DS
Jacket: Rukka APR 3
Pants: KTM Collection
Gloves: Rukka GTX Xtrafit
Boots: Meindl hiking boots
Luggage: Rackpack by Ortlieb, tankbag and aluminum panniers by KTM
Taking some more of Bob's advice, I travel south along the Abajo Mountain Loop Road, which leads over a pass of 10,300 feet, towards Blanding. But before reaching town, the Recapture Reservoir lures me for a break and some swimming.
Where the Gods Are at Home
If the gods had lived anywhere on earth, then it must have been here. The well-maintained gravel road through the Valley of the Gods dips right into a maze of mesas, buttes, and freestanding rocks. My guidebook describes this place as the Little Monument Valley. For me it's much more. First of all, the impression of this totally lonesome place differs dramatically from the big tourist attraction a little further south. From afar, I already can see where the road appears to lead, but as I draw nearer, the way into this labyrinth of red seems mysteriously elusive, and I wonder how I might get in. After many miles, I finally arrive, and I'm completely stunned. The view overlooking the valley is incredible. Hoping the gods don't mind having a new neighbor for an evening, I pitch my tent and enjoy the absolute silence, while watching the crimson sandstones glow in the sunset.
The next morning awaits me with another kind of excitement. Highway 261 leads directly toward a straight red rock wall. It seems impossible that there is a way up. But there is. Signs warn that the road is not suitable for trailers and that there are gravel switchbacks - or hairpin turns. Sounds great - but in fact, reality is even better and exceeds all of my expectations. The road climbs boldly to an almost vertical drop. Some switchbacks are asphalted, but most of the time, the road consists of gravel until I reach the Moki Dugway. This road construction was "dug out" (hence the name) in the 1950s, to provide a route for ore haulers from the mines of Cedar Mesa, to the Mill near Mexican Hat.
Once reaching the top, I immediately turn left. Craig, the Manager of the Twin Rocks Café in Bluff, where I previously had stopped for breakfast, advised me not to miss Muley Point. There are no signs, but after a couple of miles on a rough sandy road, I end up at a place well worth my endeavors. From high above, the San Juan River shimmers in the light, while the distant towers of Monument Valley stand prominently in the horizon. The San Juan is the longest entrenched, meandering river in North America. Twisting and turning for six miles towards Lake Powell, the 1,500-foot-deep river cuts its way through the rock right in front of my eyes.
Temperatures increase considerably as the route advances down into the canyon toward Lake Powell, but soon I spot a signpost for lake access, and my spirit rejuvenates. A dip in the water would be a perfect respite from the now 100-degree, blistering heat. I follow the access road for three miles through White Canyon, struggling over rocks and through deep sand only to discover that the road is washed out just before it reaches the lake. It's impossible to go through. Miserably hot and disappointed, I'm forced to turn around and repeat my efforts. Finally a couple of miles later back on the highway, I see another sign: "Farley Canyon Lake Powell Access 3 Miles." Clearly the gods are smiling down upon me, as this road ends at a beautiful little bay that can only be reached by an off-road capable vehicle - so I have the whole place to myself.