Today felt like a real adventure. It’s the first day that I need to be careful about my provisions because I’m headed out into the desert and the next grocery store is 125 miles from my start. No option for calling a cab or picking a cute B&B to hole up in.
I made sure to stock up before I left with a trip to the grocery store where I laid in supplies for the next 48 hours. Also I have a spare 2 gallon container for water that I usually just use at my campsite but I put an extra gallon in that too. So leaving town I was as heavy as I’ve been the whole trip.
After leaving town I turned out into the desert and was enjoying perfect temps and overcast skies. It could be a lot hotter than it was today but that was no issue and for that I’m very grateful.
After 10 miles or so I made a short climb to a huge cut in the rock. As I approached this gap I couldn’t believe that a highway engineer would cut such a huge gash in solid rock – the chunk they took out of the hill was over 150′ deep, and not just any old hillside – this was close to solid rock. But the deed was done and I went through it and out into an amazing valley. Turns out the rock the highway cut through was part of a long canyon wall on the edge of “Combs Wash”. I was on the lookout for it because I knew I had a 2000 ft climb that started there.
The climb was long and slow and the vast open beauty of southern Utah kept me entertained for the next 20 miles or so. Then I had a tough choice. My intended destination tonight was Hite, which is basically just a gas station on Lake Powell. That would be a 75 mile day which is about right for this terrain. But at mile 36 I came to the turnoff for Natural Bridges National Monument. I’d seen it on the map but put off the decision whether or not to visit to now. There’s a campground at the park but it’s 5 miles off course (10 round trip). In the end I couldn’t resist taking the detour to see the bridges.
After getting to the visitor center it became apparent that if I was actually going to see the bridges, I’d need to stop for the night. They aren’t just sitting there at the visitor center and it’s a 9 mile loop to see the three main bridges. So I set up my tent and went to explore the park, knowing that tomorrow I’ll either 1) have a 50 mile day with dinner from a gas station + Clif bars or 2) I’ll need to put in a 95 mile day tomorrow to make it to Hanksville where there are hotels and restaurants and other trappings of civilization. We’ll have to figure that out tomorrow but my money’s on the long day with a hotel at the end.
I only had time to hike down to one bridge but I could see all three from the loop. The hike to the bottom of the canyon was harder than I thought after my big climb this morning. But being right under the bridge gives you a much better impression of how big they are. The one I hiked down to is called Sipapu and it’s 220′ high and 268′ across the span. That’s huge!
The name of the park is almost unfortunate because it puts all the focus on the bridges. But the canyon itself is huge, multicolored, and has these beautiful curved sandstone sides that might be an attraction itself, without the bridges.
After climbing out from the hike down to the first bridge, I opted to just see the other two from the road. At the second one the breezes kicked up and the sky got that dark hue that only means one thing in this part of the world. Seems that I didn’t leave the monsoons behind in Colorado. Today I have the luck of being on a bike, riding up a hill on the day when the park gets half of its annual rainfall.
When the first few drop fell I put on my jacket and then the skies let loose for real. The quantity of water in the air for a few minutes there was simply unbelievable. I was soaking, but not too cold. Once again I felt like today its my job to make everybody feel warm and cozy in their cars. I just kept plugging along and even stopped to see the third bridge, Owachomo, in the pouring rain. As I was drenched and pedaling slowly uphill in the downpour I began to have second thoughts about adventure, but even at seemingly low points there is incredible beauty around and I was able to find the “one who enjoys the rain.”
And then, just as soon as it started, it was over, and the blue skies return. So here I sit, mooching electricity off the visitors center and trying to dry out with the remaining hour of sun on my back.