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Riding in Utah  —  In the collective North American imagination, many men or women cherish one of two dreams: a road trip in a Volkswagen van or on a Harley-Davidson. Already great fans of stylized and performance cars, as well as of that iconic motorcycle, we opted for the latter with Utah as our final destination after crossing Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.

Since we could not enjoy an entire month-long break from our professions, we chose to fly to Las Vegas, where we rented our mounts. Our adventure in the deserts, mountains and canyons lasted 7 days and covered over 2,200 km, during which we travelled through four seasons and all types of altitudes.

Among motorcycle fanatics, there are those who worship speed, smells and the sensation given by sitting astride a 400 kilo engine. There are those who get intoxicated with the wind, panoramas and the sensation of openness to the world. There are others who simply love to ride on a long road, dreaming. For us, it was all of the above.

In order to make such a long trip on a motorbike, one has to be mentally ready to feel a bit low or down once in a while, especially when the heat or the cold are at their strongest and seem to be lasting and lasting.

Putting the sheer lunacy into perspective 

In Africa, one speaks of going on a safari to meet the Big 5. Here, rather, it is a safari in the Mighty 5. Five ecosystems are still alive, despite their apparent immobility: the Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Zion, to which we would add the Dixie National Forest and Glen Canyon.

In both cases, however, we mean a photo “safari.”

As a matter of fact, in Utah one could quite literally be driven mad by taking one photo after another without end. We challenge anyone to resist. It is so grandiose everywhere and anywhere you fix your eyes: right or left, up or down, close or far.

Even happier – or more reckless – are those who without hesitation walk or sit on the extreme limit of the precipice.

One thing is certain: distances and heights are so extreme that we quickly lose all sense of perspective. On a photo, a chimney or a red rock wall might seem to be close, but they are kilometers away.

Here is a quick overview of where words weigh very little in comparison to the images and overall the presence in situ.

Bryce Canyon, in the Southwest: 145 sq km of geological structures dating back dozens of millions years. Erosion on the Paunsaugunt plateau shaped conical colored rock formations and excavated large amphitheaters, creating arches and hoodoos, colorful pinnacles that rise quite high.

As for the fauna and flora: the forest provides a habitat for deer, pumas, coyotes, condors and falcons, hummingbirds, 45 species of butterflies, as well as pines and poplars. And flowers as well, especially irises.

Monument Valley: the site is on the Colorado plateau, part of the Navajo reservation. They call it the “valley of the rocks”. It is a cluster of monumental colored sandstone buttes called inselbergs. Twin ones are called “The Mittens” and another one, in the form of a giant finger, is called “the Totem Pole”. Other formations that evoke human or animal life have been named by the Navajos: “The Great Indian Chief”, “the Imperial Eagle”, “the Crying Eye” “the Three Sisters and the “Cowboy Boot”. The panoramas in the valley are spellbinding.

Zion, in the Southeast: profound canyons with colored rocks were dug out by the Virgin River along 583 sq km. Here, geological formations that date back 150 million years were given names by the explorers and settlers with religious inspiration: Angels Landing, Great White Throne, Three Patriarchs and Checkboard Mesa, without any religious links.
80 species of mammals, 300 bird species, 40 reptile species and 900 species of plants, from desert cactus to conifers of the mountains, live here.

Dixie Forest: the largest national forest of Utah, 8,000 sq km, where altitude varies from 850 to 3,450 meters. The highest zone consists of a plateau; the highest one in the country is Boulder Mountain, which is covered by many small lakes. It rains and snows here. The temperature goes from one extreme to the other: -34 to + 38 degrees Celsius… depending on the altitude. It goes without saying that the vegetation also varies: desert plants, pinyon pines, junipers and coniferous.

Capitol Reef, in south-central: this is a fairly narrow park that covers 160 km near the Fremont River and Lake Powell towards Pleasant Creekon on the Waterpocket Fold. The area was named after an alignment of white formations that look like the columns of the US Capitol building. Gleaming sandstone, with layers of stone and earth, domes, arches, cliffs and gorges form scenery full of contrast and colors.

Glen Canyon, in the Southeast and the South-central: here Lake Powell is a reservoir, created by a dam that also flooded part of the Glen Canyon. It is an important archeological site once occupied by Pueblo natives. A recreation area on Lake Powell allows for some nautical activities.

And other stunning discoveries

Landscapes and geography being what they are, Utah is of course a paradise for biking, rafting, horse riding expeditions and rock or ice climbing.

On excess land, many dare do parachuting or base-jumping, which is a bit like paragliding. 

Or the spectacular rope swing at Delicate Arch…

And no one regrets the minor few $10 that were spent to experience nirvana for an hour in a hot air balloon or on a plane.

Welcoming Natives and Pioneers 

Western America is home to native people, of course. The name “Utah” means “People from the Mountains” or “the highest one” and comes from the Ute nation, one of the five nations still present in the area. Other people are the Shoshones, the Goshutes, the Paiutes and the Navajos. It is even possible to visit a more ancient Anasazis village in the national park of the same name, where there is a museum. Coming soon: from May 14-16, 2014, Salt Lake City, Utah’s capital, will be hosting the Living Traditions Festival.

In 1847, Mormons became important pioneers in Utah. Today, they still make up 60% of the population. A temple and Mormon historical centre can be found in almost every city. The most important one, the Historic Temple Square, in Salt Lake City, plays homage to this page in history.

In the city

After becoming deliriously happy with nature, why not have a change in scenery in Moab to discover art galleries, boutiques, jewelry and restaurants? And around Easter, it is known for its Jeep Safari.

In Cortez, Colorado, apart from the Montezuma Valley, with its 6,000 archeological sites and Mesa Verde listed on UNESCO Heritage list, points of interests are vineyards, alpaca farms and orchards that are open to the public.

Night adventure

After so much change of scenery during the day, why stop? This region of the United States is full of accommodations of all kinds, some very eclectic.

The places known as Dude Ranches welcome women, too. As long as you want to play cowboy or cowgirl and learn how to guide a herd! Box C Ranch is one such authentic ranch.

At the Zion Mountain Ranch, the herd is made of buffaloes.

And we should mention the Sorrel River Ranch Lodge, near Moab, for its lovely wood chalets that are nicely furnished, its yoga sessions on the Colorado banks, where one can also enjoy the sunset over the canyon in the pool or Jacuzzi and end the evening in front of a fire camp.

Another interesting Navajo experience can be had at the Firetree Inn, in Monument Valley: sleeping in a Hogan made of juniper logs and sandstone with earth-packed floors and rather comfortable beds.

And why not spend the night in a yurt in the Goblin Valley State Park?

The Sunset Campground, in Bryce Canyon, is also a good choice with camping grounds for tents under the trees.
For a more traditional night, campgrounds and B&Bs are countless. And many Holiday Inns, Days Inns, Ramada Inns, Travelodge, Best Western, Courtyard, Comfort Inns, La Quinta Inns are available for small or moderate budgets.

Imagination, even for the palate

Honey is Utah’s main natural product – as a matter of fact the beehive is the state symbol -with “Friendly State” as its slogan (do you see the link between the two? – we are still searching). Melons from Green River and raspberries from Bear Lake are other kinds of noteworthy produce.

Signature dishes, however, mostly come from the human imagination and are out of the ordinary: a decadent pastrami cheeseburger, fries with “fry” sauce (a mix of tomato ketchup and mayonnaise) or the humorously named “Funeral Potato”, a potato gratin traditionally served at a reception following a funeral.

For desert there is a scone that is closer to a butter and honey doughnut than to the English scone, or the Aggie Blue Mint ice cream, a veryyyyyyyy rich blue mix with cookie bits and white chocolate shavings.

One last advice for the road

July is sweltering and should be avoided. May-June and September-October are perfect for travel on a bike. However, even in spring or autumn, since a trip to Utah will most of the time take you to different regions, at different altitudes, temperatures may easily fluctuate between 2 and 30 degrees Celsius.

Don’t forget to take light (in weight) clothes that may also take care of your needs whatever the temperature may be and whatever the month your stay is in: heat, sun, cool weather, occasional rain and even cold with snow in the mountains.
This is advice to be taken seriously since in Utah you can ski and play golf on the same day.

And since you can be 700 meters in altitude and reach 4,000 meters only a few hours later, don’t forget the necessary medication for altitude problems.

What about the Harley?

At one point you will have to decide where to return it. You can of course bring it back to your departure point or leave it at another service centre for the rental company – which means booking your return flight from a different airport.

Some may ask how much we paid to rent the “Beast.” We paid $165 a day or, depending on the model, around $1,000 per week.

It was a fabulous experience and a magnificent inroad into scenery that is among the most majestic, vertiginous and unsettling of America.

 

Alexandre Anissimoff
In collaboration with Sylvie Berthiaume

English version: Christiane Théberge
 

www.lasvegasharleydavidson.com
www.visitutah.com

Bryce Canyon

Monument Valley

Zion

Lake Powell

Rope swing at Delicate Arch

Young natives

In Moab, a few cowboys

Hogan at Firetree Inn

Yurt at Goblin Valley State Park

 "Aggie Blue Mint" cone

Harley-Davidson inVegas 

Photo credits:
Alexandre Anissimoff
Gerry Kouverianos


  

 

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