- Plan A Travels: Spain→Andorra→France
- Duration: 3 weeks
- Status: ruined
- Cause: coronavirus
- Plan B Travels: Colorado→Utah→Colorado
- Duration: 3 weeks
- Status: completed
With gas stops factored in, our travel day from Grand Junction, Colorado, to Escalante, Utah, would be at least five hours long, so a side-trip to Goblin Valley State Park would break up the journey nicely. To get there, we needed to travel Utah’s Highway 24, the first part of which stretches 40 miles from I-70 to the town of Hanksville.
Now, we’ve been on some remote roads in our day. We’ve even driven the full length of the official “Lonliest Road in America.” It’s Route 50 across Nevada and we have the You Survived the Lonliest Road certificate to prove it. (Please don’t ask me to go looking for it. Instead, I’ve provided this nice photo as verification.)
But now that I’ve been on Utah’s Highway 24, I can state with certainty that if Route 50 ever wants to take a sabbatical, that desolate, easternmost stretch of 24 can step in and take over with ease. It is The Lonliest Road’s shorter Mormon cousin.
The route took us near the entrance to the San Rafael Swell, so the husband was able to show me the starting point for the solo bike packing
disaster adventure he had had the year before. Seven miles beyond that, we were at Goblin Valley. It was full of hoodoos, yet nothing like Bryce Canyon National Park, whose identically-named rock formations look quite different. The park was like nowhere I’d ever been before, and it left me feeling like Smurfette and gave me a powerful urge to eat sautéed mushrooms.
The next surprise was on scenic Highway 12. We’ve been on this road going both directions several times before, and it’s always had signs saying “open range.” It appears, however, that the cows are now able to read the signs, because they were everywhere.
Once situated in furnace-like Escalante, we explored the greater area over several days . . . well, just mornings actually, since it was too hot to do anything in the afternoons except find some shade, sit perfectly still in a torporific stupor, try to read a book, and pretend you weren’t sweating out of your eyeballs.
First up was an 8-mile round-trip hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls (Go on a weekday. Go early.) where we marveled—as we often have in the southwest—at the fact that a place so sizzlingly hot could have a water feature so painfully cold.
We returned to the Calf Creek parking lot the next day—a Saturday—so we could park our car, unload the bikes, and cycle up Highway 12. It was around 8:00 a.m. and we got the very last parking spot. I’ll say it again: Go on a weekday. Go early.
The entire ride was only eight miles, but that amounted to four miles of continuous climbing followed by a hair-raising four-mile descent. Thankfully, my bike has disk brakes, there were few cars and even fewer motorhomes, and the ride was as scenic as I was sweaty.
Another day, finding it too sweltering to contemplate hiking, we drove the Hell’s Backbone (rough and) scenic loop in our blissfully air-conditioned vehicle.
Turns out cows are literate in this remote region as well.
Escalante, never a hopping metropolis in the best of times, was something of a ghost town in the pandemic summer. On a Sunday night, the town’s only open restaurant was one that, the night before, had quite literally given us the slowest service we’d ever encountered. Unwilling to repeat that experience, especially given the mediocre food, we drove 40 miles to the town of Tropic, just outside Bryce Canyon National Park, which was the closest place to find food. The meal in Tropic was perfectly mediocre, too, but at least the views on this empty stretch of road were heavenly.
Back at the campsite, we had been enduring poor wifi and zero cell phone service for our entire stay, yet so suffocating and joy-sucking was the heat that I went to heroic lengths (driving a half mile further into town where signals were stronger) to make contact with our next destination—a campsite in Ouray, Colorado—and see if we could come a day early. We could! The next day we packed up and enjoyed the most beautiful road in the country one last time as we made our way to cooler pastures . . .
- Plan B Travels: Cycling the Colorado National Monument
- Plan B Travels: Hiking & Cycling in Southern Utah
- Plan B Travels: An Unexpected Adventure in Ouray, Colorado
- Scree & Talus & Boulders, Oh My! Climbing Colorado’s Mount Sneffels
- Plan B Travels: In the Dumps in Fairplay, Colorado
- Three Summits for the Price of Four: Hiking Colorado’s DeCaLiBroN
- Plan B Travels: Wrapping It Up in Estes Park, Colorado