Breaking Out 2021: Leaving US-89

On Friday, the 23rd of July, we rose early. I drove back to Torrey for ice. We noticed that the gas station at the intersection of US-12 and US-24 had block ice, which lasts much longer in the cooler we bought in Salt Lake City.

US-24 through the Capitol Reef National Park turned out to be as scenic as the more famous US-12 had been. The Capitol Reef got its name from the sheer cliffs that made it impassable (like a reef to ships). “Capitol” is an adjective, which John C. Fremont used to describe the reef. It has been a national park for more than fifty years. The National Park Service does a better job with its website for this park than many others: https://www.nps.gov/care/index.htm.

We stopped at Green Spring to buy fresh melons at a roadside stand, then continued to Moab. Bike paths appeared everywhere as we passed Arches National Park on US-191. We checked into the Motel 6 after buying groceries at the City Market/Safeway. We dined in our room on takeout from the Arches Thai near the motel.

Saturday dawned overcast with spotty rain as we drove to Arches National Park. North of us, we could see the front moving along Interstate-70 eastbound. By 14:00, the sun came out, but the clouds persisted.

This was a day of hikes and wonder. My cellphone – indeed no camera – can do justice to the formations of Park Avenue, Sand Dune, Broken, Balanced Rock, Pine Trail and Landscape Arches. Arches National Park had been on my bucket list for years, but I had long given up on ever seeing it.

On our way out, I also photographed the Moab Fault where it hangs over the Visitor Center parking lot. This time, I remembered my credencial. In addition to the stamps of the many pilgrimage churches in Europe, I have stamps from pilgrimage-worthy places such as Yellowstone and Arches.

Arguably the most scenic highway to date was Highway 128, which snakes along the Colorado River from Moab to Interstate 70 near the Colorado state line. Deep valleys, vineyards, broad plains – it offered wonderful views at every turn.

At our first park in Colorado (James M. Robb Colorado River State Park in Fruita), the friendly ranger told me that all military can camp free for the whole month of August. Too bad we were so early, but the $31 fee included the showers and the laundry. With covered picnic tables, groomed gravel sites and clean facilities, the Colorado state parks are a good value.

We planned to take scenic Colorado Highway 141, but it was closed. We reached Telluride sooner than we expected using US-50 and US-550. I found Telluride kitschy and well-moneyed, though I was glad to refill my wallet at an ATM. Cheryl loved it for both its mountain quality and the memories. The scenery was stunning in a well-watered valley.

The summits rose to more than 11,000 feet. I was glad not to be riding the climbs as Cheryl described her adventure coming this way in 2013 on her first transcontinental ride. She often expressed her own amazement that she actually climbed those roads herself.

We returned to 4,000 feet in Rio, Delores and Cortez, then camped in the Mesa Verde National Park.

It rained most of the night. The facilities were inadequate for the number of customers, but unlike Yellowstone, the overload was not entirely caused by the post-pandemic cabin fever. In my opinion, the National Park Service should not be contracting out the management of its parks to civilian food service firms like Aramark. Such companies simply lack the expertise to do it right.

On Monday morning, Cheryl packed her wet tent. The Visitor Center and all the cliff dwellings were closed, except one by advance reservation, but, of course, there was no cell service to make a reservation. We drove roads, admired the sights and photographed them from the outside.

Park Point commands the Four Corners area from a single location, and the cliff dwellings are worth learning about. For a quick summary, start here: https://www.nps.gov/meve/learn/historyculture/people.htm. If you would like to get a feel for the place, bring up a map and read the novel, Ill Wind, the third Anna Pigeon book by Nevada Barr.

We were only 352 miles from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but I wanted to drive through Monument Valley, which added 90 miles to our trip. I was glad to see the iconic setting for so many Westerns, but the afternoon light created a disappointing situation for photography.

Unable to reach the Grand Canyon, we checked into the Hampton Inn in Kayenta, AZ, in the Navajo Nation. In the parking lot, I cooked our fish in the truck as the rain approached and started.

The rain blew through on Monday night. The 26th was a beautiful, sunny day. We drove to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, stopping in Cameron on the way. We were now back on the original route we had planned before renting the van. We were lucky to find a campsite in the Mather Campground in Grand Canyon village. After pitching the tent, Cheryl mailed books home from the Post Office at Market Plaza. We reorganized our load to return to bicycle touring mode and to take the truck back in the morning. I would return the truck to Salt Lake City to avoid the drop off fees and fly to Flagstaff while Cheryl visited the canyon and rode to Flagstaff.

I fixed bison steaks and salad for supper. It rained after we ate. The showers and laundry were closed for COVID. I did the dishes in the dark.

With a long day ahead, I rose at 04:30, excited to get going and to conclude our US-89 adventure. It was sunny and cool. On my way to the washroom, I saw a wild pig; she ignored me.

Cheryl reasonably wanted a shower before anything, but there was a long line at 06:00 when we arrived. I put out breakfast at a picnic table near the showers while I waited. She came out at 07:30. After eating, I took her to the hiker-biker site. The Ranger was happy to have her there, and gladly let her pay for three days.

“We have a soft spot for hikers and bikers,” she said. “There is always room for them!”

With Cheryl set, I posted two packages to Old Lyme, and left with my bicycle loaded for riding, but tied down in the back of the truck. It was 10:15.

I stopped at the Starbucks in Tusayan to call Groome Transportation and learned that it costs only $49 to take their shuttle from Phoenix to the Flagstaff Amtrak station (with the bike). Then I called the Hertz (national number) to compare the drop-off fees for Phoenix and Flagstaff. To my surprise, Hertz had discontinued drop-off fees; I could leave the truck at any Hertz location. I booked a room at the Motel du Beau and headed south.

By noon, I was turning in the truck at the Flagstaff airport. Hertz said I owed nothing. The REI was only 800 m from the motel, so on my way back from the airport, I picked up my new sleeping mat, three new bike bottles, and an X-tumbler for my mess kit. I wrote to Cheryl while the laundry ran.

On Thursday, the 29th, I slept in. That meant 07:30. I got a haircut and shopped for groceries. Lunch at the Wildflower Bread Company was not as good as I remembered from 2018. I streamed a pair of movies on Netflix (Shadow and Bone and Gunpowder Milkshake) until midnight.

Friday it rained. And rained. And rained. Cheryl surprised me by showing up about noon, having ridden 140 km in the rain and finally taken a lift with a Navajo in a pickup truck going to Flagstaff. She had not slept the night before. She booked herself in to the Motel 8. We had lunch at the Wildflower Bread Company, then rode to REI for things that she needed. We were now outfitted for the rides ahead.

On Saturday, the 31st, I rose at 06:40, which would be 08:40 in Chicago. Between the donation center across the street and the other campers in the motel, I was able to give away everything extra we bought for the truck trip. Nothing wasted.

Cheryl called me whilst I was loading out, and I joined her at the laundromat, where she was washing her much-abused tent. When it dried, we shopped for groceries for the train ride, then I washed my sleeping bag. I left my Arc’teryx rain jacket at the laundromat, which closed 45 minutes early. I taped a note to the door, but I did not expect to ever see that rain jacket again.

That night, we rolled our bicycles to the baggage car of the Southwest Chief and boarded the train at two in the morning.

As much as I had looked forward to the ride from Glacier National Park to Flagstaff on “the most scenic highway in America,” I was glad it was over. I would never recommend US-89 for a bicycle tour. When we drove it in 2018, we had not fully appreciated how little of the two-lane road built in 1934 had shoulders or graded climbs.

On the other hand, the motor vehicle operators were encumbered by the heavy traffic even worse than we were. There was no road rage, but no one was going anywhere quickly. Most drivers were courteous, even the clueless ones. The two most annoying things were the thick exhaust fumes and the constant need to adapt to altitude changes every day. Any acclimatization that we achieved was destroyed every time we climbed or dropped more than a thousand feet.

It had been a memorable adventure, and I felt satisfied as we curled up to sleep on our way to Chicago, and more adventure of a very different type.

Please come back and follow us from Chicago to Cincinnati, when we will cross Ohio on the Ohio to Eire Trail (OTET), then cross New York on the Empire State Trail.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

JT

1 thought on “Breaking Out 2021: Leaving US-89

  1. Pingback: Breaking Out 2021: Leaving US-89 — The Freewheeling Freelancer | Ups Downs Family History

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