A Toast To Utah!
Story by Bruce Hansen
Photos by Sharon and Bruce Hansen

Icy Utah air hit my wrist at the gap between my glove and jacket. A bug made a TICK as it ricocheted off my helmet. The sun sent golden rays blasting off the jagged tops of grand cliffs towering high above us. Sharon squeezed my waist as if to tell me “Holy Cow! Look at this amazing sunrise!” Suddenly the cliff faces on the other side of the canyon turned the most amazing colors of liquid gold as the sun finally made its way above the canyon rim.

This journey began when I heard a fellow biker tell me a story. A story about a place with fabulous roads and amazing photo opportunities.

Utah: this seemed a like a extraordinary motorcycle destination. Then I heard the second story. An ancient, mythic tale of a race of bad animals. Animals so bad, that Coyote changed them all to red stones.

Now the red stones fill whole amphitheater-like canyons like thousands of rock spirits. Maybe this trip would be a journey of great roads, terrific scenery and stories from the past. In truth, it’s what happened, but not the way I expected.

The last time I was in Utah, 30 years ago, I came in on an international flight from Germany with a case of fine wines I was bring home to help family and friends celebrate my engagement to Sharon. We met as teachers in Department of Defense schools.

My plane touched down in Utah to clear customs before going on to its final destination: San Francisco. Grim faced, anti-alcohol Utah agents confiscated the whole case over my loud protestations. Sharon cleared customs in New York, and she got to keep all of her wine. For 30 years I carried around antipathy for the way Utah did things. Would the people in Utah be friendly this time?
We needn’t have worried. Much has changed since I was last in Utah. A guy can order a beer in a restaurant (Polygamy Porter, Yum!) and not need to go to a special wall or room to get it. Everyone we met treated us with the utmost respect and kindness. The culture has changed, but one thing that hasn’t changed much in 40 million years are the geological wonders. Ancient sea beds from 144 million years rose to high plateaus that eroded into geological fins and hoodoos—fantastic shaped pillars of rock.

Today, these rocks, stained in yellows, reds and peach colors, seem all gathered in canyons and amphitheaters just to entertain travelers like us. The scenery is so stunning and immense, that hiking in Bryce, it’s possible to just expect amazing gatherings of hoodoos instead of being surprised by them. The best views are only accessible by foot, so bring some boots that can serve as hiking shoes, and try to see the spirits of bad animals in the profiles of the hoodoos.
Other gear you might want to bring is a serious jacket that will keep you warm at 7,000 to 8,000 feet, but with generous vents for when you drop down to 3,000 feet in Zion National Park. We took our Harley FXRG leathers and electric jacket liners. We also took our ultra-light Harley FXRG helmets. Since no helmets are required in Utah, we saw riders without any protection, but we like keeping frigid air and bugs from our heads. We rode these highways in May, but you should plan for very warm temperatures in the summer months.
We stayed at the Stone Canyon Inn (www.stonecanyoninn.com) in Tropic, a tiny town near the opening of Bryce Canyon. We arranged to meet old friends, Pat and Alice, and share the rent of a comfortable newly-built Stone Canyon cabin as we explored the area. Alice, a long time friend, had introduced me to Sharon. The four of us had discovered Europe together and played an on-going spades card game. Pat and I couldn’t understand how the girls usually won. Would they win on this trip?
We left our car-bound friends, Pat and Alice, and Sharon and I blasted off on our beautiful Valkyrie. Local bikers spoke in hushed tones of the terrific roads on Highway 12 going north toward Escalante. Yes to this pretty ride. Nice pavement, little traffic and lots of turns. A definite thumbs up.
Later we began the journey south to Zion. This ride took us through stunning Red Rock Canyon, deep forests, high breezy plateaus and past colorful eroded canyons. The small towns along the way are set up for tourists and have abundant services to offer. Once through the gates of Zion, we noticed an instant change: ancient sandstone mountains aggressively shoved their deep chests in front of us.
The pavement quality went down and the sweepers tightened into taut, energetic twisties as Hwy 9 changed into Zion Mount Camel Highway. Cruising through this area at three in the afternoon also gave us a chance to see just how crowded these roads can be. Every time a big trailer goes through one of the long tunnel, traffic is stopped. Park rangers told me that motorcyclists should not zip up to the front of the line when there’s a long wait—it’s not part of the park culture. Later we would return at dawn to have the road to ourselves.

Bryce has an uncrowded rustic, away-from-it-all feeling, and Zion, which means refuge, feels like it’s working as hard as it can to avoid being surrounded by tourists shops, tee shirt vendors and motels. Shrugging off the differences, we splurged on a beautiful room at the Desert Pearl Inn (www.desertpearl.com) in Springdale, just outside the park boundaries. Within walking distance of our motel we ran across absolutely excellent Mexican food at the Whiptail Grill—located in a former gas station. Another thumbs up.

Early next morning, my thumb hit the starter button and the big Valkyrie roared to life. Sharon and I were going to ride the Zion twisties with no other traffic.

We were going to witness the renowned orange sunrise from the saddle of a bike in a 40 degree lean angle. The motel parking lot was full of bikes whose riders were undoubtedly still asleep. They missed so much that day.

We saw nearly no other traffic as the big bike gracefully swooped through the wonderfully twisting corkscrews that make up the park road. Unlike riding these roads on a hot day, the black tar strips were not slippery and my turn lines held true.
We blasted out of the park going north and about two fabulous hours after leaving our motel, stopped for breakfast in the wooded resort community of Duck Creek Village, just off Hwy 89. What a ride! This one we must repeat.

Our last night, we reconnected with Pat and Alice. After a fabulous dinner in the Zion Park Lodge’s restaurant: The Red Rock Grill (www.zionlodge.com), Pat and I finished defeating the girls for the fifth game in a row. Outside, the Valkyrie waited eagerly for the home trip. We poured a last glass of local wine and toasted the fair state of Utah. Following the clinks of the glasses, Sharon pointed out that we’d only explored the roads around two of the five national parks in Utah. Before bed that night we planned a return to friendly Utah.