• 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.)

IMGP3906 (2)
Humans cycling Nevada’s Lonliest Road in the middle of summer – not at gunpoint but out of free will!

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.

Utah, Escalante

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.

Utah Cycling Highway 12 (2)

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.

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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 . . .

43 thoughts

    1. Thank you. The bike ride would have been super scary, but disk brakes make all the difference – I can squeeze the brake levers to my heart’s content and never worry that they’ll fail from heat/overuse. Of course, my hand muscles can cramp up from all that squeezing, but over four miles it was no problem. I wish the husband would agree to more 4-or 8-mile rides!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I like the idea of driving along desserted roads like this but I have two problems – obviously the first one would be that I cannot drive. Secondly, I would always be wondering if my drive along the middle of nowhere would be the beginning of some kind of slasher movie! Looks flipping nice though!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a fellow survivor of the Loneliest Road in America (multiple times), I’ve been looking forward to this post! You’re right about the open range cows: they’re everywhere, and always seem to congregate when you’re in a hurry to reach your destination.

    The desert landscape would be a lot more palatable if it weren’t so hot…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Awesome post!!!! Having been in Southern Utah around the same time as you, I can personally attest to the heat. It was absolutely overwhelming at times!

    You hit two places that I still have on my list for Southern Utah, so I am jealous. Goblin Valley looks every bit as cool as I have heard. The hoodoos look very similar to the ones in Devil’s Garden in the Grand Staircase. Speaking of the Grand Staircase, the Lower Calf Creek hike is SO high on my list and your pictures look incredible. I will have to keep your go on a week day and go early advice in mind.

    Thanks for sharing your adventure!! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I am hoping international travel will be an option next year. I am going crazy not being able to explore new locations abroad. However, a short trip back to the Southwest is always on the table 😁

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Well they got the name of that park right, they look like goblins or as you say Smurfs! Nature is incredible. What is it like biking or driving on a 15 grade road? It sounds like our mountain bike trails not a paved road! So we drove the loneliest highway in Nevada too although we didn’t know it at the time. It almost became the ‘let’s take a nap while driving road’.


  5. Great blog. Inspired by the experience of cycling you shared in the blog and far more helpful that you shared the trails, route and the time duration which gave the clear picture on how to plan the cycling trip to Colorado national monument


  6. Once again, absolutely incredible pictures!!! I especially loved the ones of Goblin Valley! They made me even more excited to visit in a few weeks. Such a pretty place! And FYI – I can personally attest that your characterization of Highway 24 in Southern Utah is 100% accurate. It’s like your driving thru no-man’s land.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “…Feeling like Smurfette”… Haha! I love seeing some of my favorite roads and natural spaces through others’ eyes. We revisit this part of Utah every couple of years, even if it’s just a detour on our way home – for short stops/single overnights/ the incredible scenery out the car window.

    Liked by 1 person

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