“Where God put the West”

John Wayne is reported to have quipped about John Ford’s favorite region for filming Westerns in the central region of Utah, dominated by canyons, arches, buttes and geologic features that capture the imagination.

I crossed Glen Canyon and the Colorado river at sunset. The deep red hues of the rain saturated rocks resonated with the color tones of sunset like a visual symphony. I awoke to the excited squeals of young hikers at 6am. I stopped at a picnic table on my climb out of the Colorado River valley. I made quick time to Hanksville, UT and Blondies’ Restaurant’s luxurious Grasshopper milkshake. I camped at the RV park there, grateful for the laundry and  power outlets. The next day the ride up to Capitol Reef National Park featured some of the most lunar landscapes I have ever seen. Massive hillocks of grey sediment, devoid of any vegetation for miles. Nearby I understand the Mars project operates, experimenting with technology and workable strategies for future human settlement on Mars.

Climbing Boulder mountain was an ego-crushing experience requiring two days to summit the pass, but I was pleasantly greeted by a Forest Service station at the top with biscuits and coffee. When I reached Boulder, Utah at the bottom of the pass, I was surprised to meet two cyclists on different tours. One long-time cyclist Craig, from LA and another young guy like me, Node, on his first major tour cross-country. There was no campground near Boulder, but the waitress recommended National Forest land just beyond the town cemetery. Node and I set camp there and had a wonderful conversation about Dostoyevsky’s Idiot and life on the road. The following day as I waited out the thunderstorm on Hogback ridge, I was greeted by a charming young French woman on vacation with her mother. They were having a fantastic time and were enthusiastic about Utah’s canyon scenery. I was sad to see them drive off in their silver car, and hoped I would encounter them again at a restaurant or stop along my way.

The canyon that surrounds Escalante River and its tributaries is unlike any canyon I have seen. The geologic layers  and formations span bands of color and types of rock rarely found together in other canyons. Locals and tourists even have their own term for climbing and hiking the region: canyoneering. At my night’s stop in the town of Escalante, I set camp at a very busy Escalante Outfitters campground, and made my way to Sacramento Dave’s recommended Cowboy Blues Restaurant. There I met Mike, on a motorcycle sabbatical trip. We had much in common. He was passionate about helping orphans and had helped setup two orphanages in Mozambique. I told him all about Services of Hope, its mission and operations in Texas, and he bought my dinner. My dinner also happened to be the best burrito I have had in years:  A Green Chile pulled pork special with extra Serrano peppers. I hiccupped and sniffled through the entire spicy meal, happier than words can say.

On the road the next day after several hours of afternoon riding I turned into a local store in Cannonville, only to recognize after passing, that silver car with Therese and Aliya who invited me to ride to Bryce canyon with them to see the sunset. I was so happy to get the chance to visit with them more, and learned Therese had first visited Bryce Canyon 30 years earlier, and had a great affection for sunset at the rim. When we arrived, I was breathtaken at the view of Bryce Canyon, as unique and beautiful as the Grand Canyon is vast. So many shades of Orange and Pink, with shapes and structures I had only ever imagined before in dreams. Riding back to town I asked if I could hike in the Canyon the following morning with Aliya, and they happily offered to pick me up in the morning. Up the hill a few short miles, I  rode my bike to Tropic under the fading hues of sunset. I camped next to Dave and his family from Boulder Colorado, who was in his 50s, but starting a family for the first time with two young children.

He was full of humor and good cheer, and reminded me it is always easier to travel and try things in youth. I drifted off to sleep manifestly grateful for the people I had met this week, and for the opportunity to have such an adventure, bicycling across the country through a most spectacular land.

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