Sunday, September 15, 2013

Utah - Bonneville Salt Flats to Arches

Utah is one of the 4 corner states and as we found out, the most spectacular state of them all. It's also the state where a boy from Texas named Johnny Allen set a series of land speed records that eventually came to an absolute speed record of 211.4 mph in 1956. The records were set with various Triumph motorcycle engines in his famous Texas Ceegar. The most notable result of that achievement, some 57 years later, is that the Triumph factory still produces a motorcycle that's named after Johnny's efforts, the  same motorcycles we're riding halfway around the world. Riding Triumph Bonnevilles, we simply had to go there. But Utah has a lot more to offer than just the Salt Flats and speed.

Salt Lake City is, for me, a city like many others. Too many cars, too many people and too many roads. Still, if I had just a couple of weeks vacation, I would most likely fly to Salt Lake City and spend my vacation in Utah. "Life elevated" it says on the license plates, make that 'Living the high life'! The scenery this state has to offer is unbelievable. The State Troopers in this country have fancy cars. No little Astra diesel for these guys, their office is a fast Dodge Charger… They're behind me 3 times within an hour, come closer (to read my license plate I suppose) then drop back and keep following me for a couple of minutes. I guess they checked me for outstanding traffic violations? Last time I was in the US it was all 55 mph, now it's 75 and everyone is doing 85… Being suddenly on 3-lane highways was somewhat of a shock. The last 3-lane highway we had been on was in Anchorage… which was a country lane compared to this madhouse. Everyone seemed aggressive too. We longed back to the Yukon, Montana and Wyoming… Even the hundreds of roadsigns annoyed me. There were even huge billboards about things like breast implants and that I can have my mammogram made in 30 minutes… to top it all off there were billboards about 'friendly' undertakers… almost macabre.

We stopped at McDonalds for wifi and something that should have been a hamburger. For a country that invented the hamburger, the 2013 offerings are pretty poor. Loobman had sent me an e-mail, admitting his current chain lubing system doesn't work, but he is still not refunding me… he now wants me to test a new system he's developing. Sorry Dennis, I have better things to do, we can talk about this after you reimbursed me for three units you knew wouldn't work.
We camped just outside of Salt Lake City, In Tooele, where we stumble upon the Settlement Canyon Campground. The window of the toll booth was riddled with bullet holes… hmmm. Riding deeper into the canyon I realised we were the only campers too… hmmm. It's a beautiful spot but somehow gives me the creeps, yet we decided to stay… Somewhat later a cowboy trotted up on his horse. He came over for a chat and ensured us it's safe to camp here despite the toll booth having been shot at many times… right!

A couple more cars showed up, looked at us, turned around and went again… Don't know about this place, I said, maybe we should keep watch or something. Later that night we heard some strange noises, had a flashlight on the tent for a second before everything became quiet again. Jeanette's bladder dictated she had to go out. It's eerie quiet around us, suddenly two bright green eyes stared at her from the bushes behind the tent… they turned away and disappeared in the night. The eerie quiet takes over again, until a growling fight breaks out seemingly metres away from our tent between, what we think, are two big cats.

The next morning nothing had been stolen, we weren't shot at and all seemed well. When I asked the lady in the toll booth about the bullet holes she just shrugged and said it happened more than a year ago. Looking at the window made me realise non of the bullets had actually gone right through, meaning the council must have installed bullet proof glass… now why would they have done that I wonder?
We headed for the Bonneville Salt Flats. The scenery along the way is, well, flat, salt and a dead straight road. If you want to square off your rear tyre, this would be the place to do it! It's so boring that my mind wanders and my eyes look for things to keep me occupied… Along the road I see a very rusty barb wire fence. Why is there a rusty barbwire fence along salt flats, I wonder. Do they run some special kind of cattle here, cattle that produces salted meat perhaps? I have no idea, but the salt build-up on the thousands of posts makes them look like stalagmites you can find in caves. Still bored with the scenery I wondered how many motorcycle manufactures named there offerings to race tracks… Triumph has the Bonneville, the Daytona, the Thruxton… Norton had the Manx but that was never the official name Norton gave it as far as I know. Velocette also had a Thruxton and Greeves the Silverstone. The Italians named a Laverda after the Monjuic circuit and Moto Guzzi did the same for Imola and Monza. I punished the grey cells, but couldn't find any more names… still, it kept me awake on this boring road :-)

As we got closer to the Nevada border, I started to get somewhat excited… I could see the mountain range behind the salt flats. The mountain range I recognised from Burt Munro's World's Fastest Indian movie, which is another reason I really wanted to go to the Salt Flats. Burt Munro, the unbelievable Kiwi from the land of the Long White Cloud, set a land speed record here in 1967… and did it on a 1921 Indian Scout! Somewhat modified… by Burt himself. We saw the original bike earlier in the year in Invercargill, New Zealand. Now we were closing in on what Burt called 'holy ground'. We made photos of the Triumphs in front of the Bonneville Salt Flats sign and walked over the salt flats themselves. The actual Bonneville Speedway is a bit further on and was… flooded! Speedweek had been cancelled… bummer. The organisers said it might dry out over the next couple of days, so we took 'residence' on the local KOA campground in Wendover, just across the border with Nevada. One of the organisers was an older man, he didn't remember Johnny Allen but did remember Burt Munro, personally! He had all the major record breakers painted on his truck, and Burt was on there too! Burt's Record, from 1967, remains unbroken to this day. It seems to be jinxed as everyone that tried to break it failed. With the Salt Flats closed and no speed events to be seen, we created our own! We set a new land speed record in the class 'unfaired motorcycle from halfway around the globe with full camping kit' at 104 mph. Later when I pitched the tent, I found the spider we saw earlier that morning was still in! That had been doing 104 mph in a tent :-)

The border is just a line on the road in Wendover. On the east side of that line is Utah, where it's illegal to gamble, on the other are several casinos, as gambling is legal in Nevada.
Being in the USA, the shops sell an unbelievable range of products. It's terrible. Try to buy shampoo… they sell 100 different brands and each brand has a staggering amount of tastes too. Who cares if the shampoo smells like strawberries or sun ripened strawberries? I guess I'm lucky that I don't need conditioner as well… Anyway, I found later they should have called it 'McDonalds artificially sweetened strawberry sunday' because that's what it smelled like. Looking in the mirror after the shower, I'm happy to see my hair isn't pink… :-)

Jeanette and Mike come back from a trip to the local tourist info with… hamburgers! As the last McDonalds didn't agree with me they went to Burger King. Mike tried to be funny and ordered a large meal… Never order a large meal in the USA, it gives you a bucket of fries, a litre of Coca Cola and a burger so big you can't possibly eat it :-) At least it didn't give me the stomach cramps I had from McD, just a 'bit' of gas… :-)

When the weather forecast predicted even more serious rain, which had already set in when we were packing up that morning, we visited the track one more time, found even more water and decided to call it a day and return to Salt Lake City. The trip back was about as eventful as the trip up… dead straight road etc. We should have taken the Settlement Canyon campground again but decided to drive a bit further on. The next day we wanted to pick up tyres at RockyMountainATV in Payson and I'd liked to camp a bit closer to it than Tooele. That was a big mistake. A mistake that resulted in us driving at night, in the rain, and ending up on a noisy KOA near the highway. The KOA was potentially very expensive, but as no-one was around to collect our money when we arrived or left, it was in fact free :-) Why are KOA campgrounds almost always found in noisy places, like next to a major highway?

The reason we were out so late is that non of the campgrounds we had seen on the map were actually there, and when we arrived at the state park nearby we found it had closed as a precaution for possibly heavy rainfall.
That heavy rainfall came, not at night though but during the day when Mike and me were fitting a new rear tyre to his Yamaha… outside. Why not have it done by the bikeshop? Because we've had two flats already caused by tyre fitters that don't know how to fit a tube anymore. Being soaking wet already, I had no desire to pump yet another tyre with my little mountain bike hand pump and walked back into the shop, leaving a wet trail behind me, to get a little 12 volt compressor. The best buy ever for $12,-

From Payson we took the Nebo loop road into the mountains. A winding and at times steep road through a dense forest with lots of walking tracks. We stop at the viewpoint which overlooks 'civilisation' in the distance, we're high in the mountains and it's cold but the ride is great! Lots of washouts and landslides too, so I guess we must thank whoever closed it off the night before. As the campgrounds are open again we stayed on the Salt Creek one. A nice campground but unfortunately one of the 'take your litter home' variety, so there was no garbage bin, which doesn't work all that well for us as we're not going to be home for months. The same sign also says to lock food and garbage inside your car to keep bears away… which also doesn't work on a motorbike! High in a tree wasn't an option either as there weren't any tall trees (and never underestimate the canning squirrels!). In the end we decided that burning our garbage was the safest option.

The next morning I have no desire to get out of bed, of which Thermarest is partly to blame. Mike has the same sleeping mat and feels the same. Jeanette is already outside and rummaging through pots and pans. She's dragging her big motorcycle boots around, fumbles through plastic bags… grmbl. We need a tent that's soundproof! Zippers open and shut, more fumbling in plastic bags… she knows I hate it, so it must be deliberately… I give up and get out of bed!   

The Nebo loop joins up with the supposedly scenic 89 at Nephy. It wasn't scenic. I started yawning after 20 minutes and Mike actually started falling asleep… seriously he almost fell asleep while riding his motorcycle! Still, this road was the better option of the two. The other road we could have taken went right through the mountains, where the clouds were pitch black. Even if it didn't rain there, which I doubt, then we still wouldn't have been able to see anything. The only noteworthy thing along this road is a field full of donkeys… hundreds of them. Who needs so many donkeys?

The Interstate 70 was not on our map as scenic. It isn't scenic… it's stunning! We stopped at each and every parking bay to take photos. The landscape is amazing, full of colour and weird rock formations. The colours almost burn a hole in the black skies behind it, skies that slowly seem to follow us… Indians sell arts and crafts along the way, Jeanette is particularly taken by a beautiful Kokopelli necklace made from Alaskan black diamonds. What are Alaskan diamonds? Well in technical terms they are hematites, which is a mineral form of iron oxide. Doesn't sound all that well, does it? They are given as a sign of friendship and love which is fitting as by all accounts Kokopelli is in fact a romanticised womaniser.
While Jeanette looks at more Indian Art, I'm staring at a landscape made up of mountains, rivers and colours so amazing that I'm thinking 'and why would I want to go anywhere else?' Rainbows around us complete the colourful picture, but are unfortunately the result of rain that has been following us for days. When we pitch our tents at a state park called Green Acres… we were of course asking for it. Green acres need rain, and they sure got it that night… and so did we.
The next morning I'm sloshing through a soaking wet field to the toilet, or restroom as it's called in the USA and pass a sign that says 'Fire Danger High', funny man I guess. The same funny man that put a notice on Mike's bike stating he has to pay another 9 dollars for being an extra vehicle, I guess… I asked 'sign-man' to explain why we'd have to pay extra for a motorcycle that doesn't use the toilets or the showers, while 8 people could be on one site and pay less than us… he couldn't and gave up on trying to get more dollars out of us.

We left for Arches, another amazing ride with, unfortunately another drenching… Never knew Utah could be this wet. Of course the Arches NP campground is full. We should have booked via the 1-800 number, 8 weeks ago, the lady said. Booked out for 8 weeks… and we're not even 'in the season' anymore. Luckily the state parks around Arches offer campgrounds as well and we found one at the aptly named Big Bend. What we didn't know then, is that it would be our 'home' for almost 2 weeks due to a couple of microbes...