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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

Canyonlands National Park

Tuesday morning I awoke bathed in sweat. We'd slept in after the full-moon photography of the night before and I'd bundled up pretty well to fight the evening chill. It didn't take long, though, before the mercury began to rise once the sun had risen above the horizon. I was left tired and uncomfortable to greet the new day.

Despite that inauspicious start, my temperament quickly improved once we hit the road and began to push towards Canyonlands National Park. The park isn't quite as close to Moab as Arches had been but it was still a very manageable hop to get there. The way began as a cross-desert trek through red dirt country and finished with long climbs among the layered cliffs and rounded domes and scraggly trees that make this part of the country unique.


Arches National Park

Moab is an off-roading town. The last curve of the highway emerges from between massive red cliffs that reach a thousand feet in the air and it is impossible not to notice all the jeeps and 4-wheelers parked along the street at the edge of town. There are outfitters on every corner offering to take you crawling or dirt biking or even on a stretched hummer off-roading tour. When I first pulled in, my cruiser seemed a bit out of place among all the dirt bikes that buzzed up and down the main strip.

I met my friend who had ridden in from Denver and we caught up over an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet downtown (and we definitely came out on top of that deal) before heading back to the campsite to set up. It was great catching up but we had a lot planned for the following day so we wanted to grab what rest we could. For the first evening in many, the threatening clouds didn't even produce any rain.


Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park was another complete wildcard in my book. I really had no idea what to expect. On the ride in the day before, I'd seen the thousand-foot ridge line stretching to the horizon and knew that it was another macro feature of the Grand Staircase. The cliff towers over the many smaller mesas and canyons nearby.

I followed the road along the ridge, stopping at whatever features looked interesting. I was particularly tickled to see the famous Chimney Rock, another remnant, I suppose, from all those years of learning about the pioneers in grade school. The road passed through the arid landscape of orange rock and dry washes and strangely shaped outcroppings until it eventually led to the park entrance.


The Road to Capitol Reef and the Most Beautiful Place Ever

Route 12 didn't start out looking like much. Maybe I was already getting biased after what I'd seen over the past few days, but I wasn't terribly impressed when I started heading north towards Capitol Reef National Park. I rode for miles alongside small canyons, short mesas and lightly forested countryside under a dreary sky.

I slowly began to notice the smells. Anyone who's been reading for a while knows how important it is to me for a place to have inviting smells. Utah, up until that point, had been almost strangely devoid of any particular odor. Perhaps all that time spent out among the desert sands had overwhelmed my olfactory senses, but I definitely noticed it when we started getting into a more agriculturally inclined patch of countryside. It washed over me like a refreshing warm rain and immediately made me feel more connected to the land around. Shortly thereafter, the ride improved markedly.


Bryce Canyon National Park

I left Zion amidst intermittent bursts of sun showers. There is a long tunnel at the eastern end of the park which is like a wormhole to a very different type of scenery. From the sheer sculpted cliffs of the canyons before, you emerge into a landscape of sloped and shifting sandstone shale dotted with the few trees hardy enough to find purchase.

Once the shale had been left behind, the 90 miles to Bryce Canyon passed through some surprisingly green countryside. Cliffs and mesas of reddish rock, however, loomed ever closer on the horizon. The road finally turned and it wasn't long before I'd rounded a bend and found myself surrounded by minarets the color of a blushed tangerine, called Red Canyon. I stopped and scrambled up the fractured rock and dirt hillside for a better view of the strange spires. It was a neat and surreal world, where the towers looked like they would crumble to the ground at the slightest provocation, leaving nothing behind but piles of rubble.


Zion National Park

Several years ago, when the seed of the idea for this kind of trip had just barely begun to germinate, I already knew that I had to find my way to Zion. It's long held this sort of mystique as a hidden and mystical gem that people are more apt to describe with a shake of the head and a sigh than any particular turn of phrase. I would have been jittery and excited even had I not drank a 1/3 cup of coffee the morning I went to visit the park (a whole lot for me).

I awoke before dawn and hit the road, trying to get into the park and on the first shuttle bus from the visitor's center at 7am. Zion rightly attracts millions of visitors a year. I'd pored over TripAdvisor looking for the best ways to experience it and one consistent piece of advice was to get there early to avoid the crowds.


The Valley of Fire

I've been to a lot of national parks so far but I haven't had much time to check out the state parks along the way. Through pure random chance, it was recommended to me that I check out the Valley of Fire State Park on my way from Las Vegas to Zion. Boy am I glad I did -- if it was just bigger, I'm sure it'd be up for a national park designation. I figured I was just going to ride right through the park, which is in the middle of the desert and just a little over an hour outside of Vegas. I ended up sticking around for hours to ride, climb and photograph throughout its boundaries.

The first thing that struck me about the ride in were the rocks. I had yet to make it through Utah's red rocks country, so this was my first sighting of anything of that kind. Valley of Fire looks like some fiendish hand forced the bones of the desert up through the ground, leaving behind scarred formations of boulders and dirt colored somewhere between a deep rust and vibrant tangerine.


Death Valley to Las Vegas

The ride from Bishop, CA to Death Valley National Park began with a long, slow descent through a hilly valley flanked by tall, sharp mountains. When I got started at around 8am, it was cold enough outside for a neck warmer and a heavy fleece. An hour later, I had to stop to strip off some layers. The mercury had begun to rise.

The terrain was pretty desolate. Towns were few and far between and tended to cluster around the little creeks and washes that meandered their way down from the mountains to either side. The descent continued and the heat continued to rise. When I was already forced to soak my shirt at each stop and it was still over 3000 feet of elevation, I started to worry about the heat on the valley floor. Blasts of it occasionally fanned across the road, giving me goosebumps and causing me to blink dryly.


Yosemite National Park

I got a nice taste of life in San Francisco during my visit there and it took a lot of miles to bring myself back from Planning Mode to Exploration Mode. It didn't help that the last morning in the Bay Area involved an early-AM trip to the airport, a last-minute post office run, a car swap, and even some bike luggage repair. I think my hands were clenched a little too tightly on the handlebars (and only partially due to the terrible California drivers) almost all the way back to the the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

I finally began to settle back in my seat and breathe easy once I was again amidst the idyllic yellow hills and perfectly rounded trees of rt 120 heading towards Yosemite.


Initial Impressions of San Francisco

It would have been difficult to have had a less favorable impression of the city of San Francisco than my girlfriend and I did on our first excursion into town. We headed in looking for lunch and decided to stop off in the Mission, the first point of interest on our list of things to see. We started somewhere near 21st and Van Ness and walked up Mission Street looking for a nice cafe to sit down and grab some food but it became quickly apparent that we weren't in the right location for that. We wandered through several sketchy blocks and grabbed a hasty meal at an overpriced and underwhelming Mexican restaurant before jumping back into the car to see if we could find the awesome San Francisco that we'd heard about.

We drove for three hours, covering neighborhoods from the Marina to Sunset to Height. Every time, we managed to miss all the interesting stuff and only drive by the low rent or completely residential areas. I realized after a while that all I wanted to see were some bars to give some indication of life in a city that otherwise appeared to consist of nothing but homeless people or sterile rows of townhouses. I counted four bars in three hours. Needless to say, we were pretty discouraged by the end of it.