Monday, September 23, 2013

Utah - Canyonlands National Park

Our first visit to Canyonlands was in the rain. In between the downpours we saw the magic Canyons against a black and heavy sky. Between the heavy rainfall it was beautiful to see. The sun brightly illuminating rocks against a black backdrop was beautiful. But, we also wanted to see it in bright sunlight. Only one day later our wishes were fulfilled. Canyonlands in beautiful weather is not to be missed!

The moment I asked the lady in the National Park toll booth about the condition of the dirt road, I realised I had made a mistake. Without having the faintest idea which road I meant she said it was fine and totally dry. We had seen running water on it the day before and it's a dirt road so it can't be fine nor dry. Must be good to go through life unhindered by any form of knowledge. We decided to play it safe and leave the dirt road for last, to give the sun some time to dry it from yesterday's heavy rains.

There is plenty to see in Canyonlands anyway and we weren't in any hurry. 
It's bizarre to see the difference a bit of sunshine makes on a landscape. Yesterday Canyonlands was a dark and inhospitable place, threatening and heavy. Today it's majestic, light and it looks so much bigger. The viewpoints into the various canyons are impressive. It's a weird place, like mother earth had been hit by something big and cracked open. The clear skies mean I can look for miles and miles into beautiful canyons and to majestic mountains. These canyons are deep and there seems to be hundreds of them just about everywhere you look. The Grand View Point is arguably the best viewpoint of them all, but certainly don't miss any of the others!

The route back, from the 'Island in the Sky' (don't you love the American names?) to the bottom of the canyon is a dirt road of about 18 miles. National Parks warned us that it's only for 4WD vehicles with high ground clearance... Our Triumph Bonnevilles don't have high ground clearance and aren't 4WD… so that should be fun :-)

Leaving the 'Island in the Sky', the road immediately drops about 2000 ft along a vertical cliff, no protection, no safety barrier and switchbacks all the way down… Magic! The views are almost indescribable!

When I bought my Triumph in 2009 I had no idea I would be doing this with it, and yet I wouldn't like it as much with another bike! It's a great road. The views are unbelievable and once down at the bottom it's just heaven on earth. Before this I had never been at the bottom of a canyon before and it's a beautiful experience. Being surrounded by these huge red cliffs, rocks and mountain ridges is breathtaking. Mike made a video of us riding through the canyon which can be found in the video gallery on the right. It took us all in all about 3 hours to do this road, because it's so beautiful that we stopped a lot to make photos. To be honest I had no idea Mike had been filming while riding too! Going down the narrow track along the cliff, with a steep drop on one side, ruts and cracks in the surface and slippery switchbacks to boot, was dangerous enough. When I later saw that he had been riding it with one hand as he had his video camera in the other… I looked in disbelieve. Like I said we need a helmet cam! A direct link to this video is at the end of this post. 

We took the turn-off to the Potash road, to get back to Moab. The Potash road was in many ways more difficult than the Shafer trail. The Potash road took us through river beds, rocky plateaus and rough crossings. We met a 4WD that had a hard time and a couple of boys on motocross bikes looked somewhat surprised at us. As soon as they saw that a woman was riding here too, they gave Jeanette a big thumbs up! Hitting the ground a couple of times, as the ground clearance of a Bonneville is not the greatest, I was happy Jeanette had traded her SE for a T100 before this trip as the SE has virtually no ground clearance at all!
Almost at the end we found a section of about 30 metres of the road flooded (remember the lady in the toll booth saying everything was fine and dry…!). There was no option to ride round it as to the left was a big swamp and on the right a big metal fence. Walking to the edge of the water I felt my boots already sinking in the mud, which made me not real keen on trying to ride through it with a loaded and near enough 300 kg motorcycle plus rider.

The only option was the right hand side, along the fence. Hanging on to the fence I walked to the other side. Boots sliding like I was walking on ice, I was wondering how I was going to get a motorcycle through this. I also realised that if the bikes would slid to the left, we would end up in the muddy water (of which we couldn't see how deep it was), while a fall to the right would be in the fence… Mike went first, his bike being the lightest, while I followed him on foot just in case he fell. The Distanzias made short work of the mud though, unbelievably they just pushed it away and found grip somehow… Mike said later "these aren't tyres, they're shovels!" As I walked back to my bike I slid almost flat on my face… My Bonneville was next and again the Distanzias did their job perfectly well, not even a hint of sliding.
After that Jeanette's was easy, just follow the track the previous Distanzias had already made. At the end of the trip I was pleasantly surprised with the Bonnevilles, they took this trip in their stride and never gave any hint of being 'over-asked'. Higher ground clearance would perhaps have been nice but apart from that no issues at all. The Yamaha did it even easier of course as it's more setup for this kind of work, although the 21" front wheel with it's narrow tyre has proven to be a disadvantage for a dual sport as it 'sinks' in to easily. We all were impressed with the Distanzias though. We already knew it is a very good wet weather tyre but this was something else. Mike and me loved every minute of it, Jeanette wasn't that keen but is quietly proud she had done it… I think.

The next day starts with a maintenance session. Since I've stopped using spray type chain lubes and switched over to gearbox oil, dirt no longer sticks to the chain. The oil simply washes it off, imagine how much easier my life is without frequently cleaning 3 chains… Cleaning the chain after a trip like yesterday is a matter of brushing off the loose dust and lubricating again (see the link to our movie on lubricating a chain with gearbox oil at the bottom of this post).

Problem with Arches NP and the whole Moab area is that there is too much to see. Too much when you also want to go to Argentina! We could have easily spend a month there and still only seen a small part of it.

Leaving Moab, heading for Mesa Verde, we met an English couple with a LandRover going the same direction we are. We agreed to stay in touch so that we could possibly share a container in Panama, going to Colombia. 
For now we had a much simpler trip planned: towards Mesa Verde and camp somewhere along the way. 'Somewhere' became Naturita, just over the border in Colorado. Campsites for $12,- it said on the door. 'That's scarily cheap' I thought, but Jeanette decided to check it out anyway. The campground is operated by a tall and spindly 90 year or so old man who talks so slowly that… any… con… ver… sa... tion… with… him… takes… a… long… time… A very nice guy though and to our complete surprise we saw him later driving away in his pretty fast HotRod…! As it turned out the campground had good and clean showers included in the $12 too. The Tourist Info is next door and provided free Wifi! Naturita is a small country town with country hospitality, friendly people and a good campground.

Links: Riding through Canyonlands