We planned our time riding together so that we would start and finish at the same hotel in Washington. We would leave my extra gear and my wife’s suitcases in her rental car in the parking lot of the hotel. They were fine with leaving the car, even though we wouldn’t be there for 4 nights. She had brought her helmet and jacket in a separate suitcase and I had the foresight to pack my Air Glide jacket as well. Phew! It would be nice to get out of the Odyssey. We had packed our jacket liners -nah, we won’t need these. It won’t rain. It won’t get cold. Guess what? The day we rode to Capital Reef National Park, we hit rain. And the night we returned from the Grand Canyon, it got cold. It would have been nice to have the liners.
We loaded up the ‘Wing. She got the trunk bag, I got a saddle bag, and we used the bag on the trunk rack to hold things that we wanted to get to easily – maps, my camera gear, drinks and souvenirs. So checking into motels each night was easy. Everything fit into three small bags.
Our plan for the first day was to ride through Zion National Park and continue on to Bryce Canyon National Park. Our oldest daughter had been hiking in Zion earlier this year and we were anxious to see it ourselves. The parking lot at the visitor center was already completely full when we arrived mid-morning, but we found a narrow spot that we fit into and I went inside to get my US National Parks Passport stamped. We left the visitor center and headed up UT 9 through the park. There are several steep switchbacks as you climb to the entrance of the mile-long tunnel. We got to the tunnel entrance and traffic was completely stopped. For some reason, park officials only allow one lane of traffic at a time. So we were waiting for traffic heading west to exit the tunnel. We didn’t have too long to wait, and we were moving again. What a gorgeous park. You could spend all summer here and not exhaust the hiking or photography possibilities.
We stopped for espresso at Mt. Carmel Junction where UT 9 ends. Across the street was the Thunderbird Restaurant, Home of the Ho’-Made Pies. We’d be back later in the week for breakfast.
The ride to Bryce Canyon took us north on US 89, briefly cutting through the Dixie National Forest, and paralleling the Sevier River that was surrounded by farms on both sides. UT 12 takes you into Bryce Canyon National Park and the road winds higher and higher. Two short tunnels, with a parking area in between made a great spot for selfies.
We stopped at the vistor center for another Passport stamp and to purchase some gifts and souvenirs. Unlike Zion, the road through Bryce Canyon does not offer spectacular views. Mostly you are just riding through forest. To see the beauty, you have to hike the trails. Outside of the visitor center was a large sign listing the hiking trails. We were just going to be here for the afternoon, so when we saw the trail that said “If you can only do one hike, this might be the best choice”, we knew that was for us. Besides, it featured a mere 600′ elevation change. How hard could that be…
But first we rode all the way to the end of the park road, to Rainbow Point. The mid-afternoon light wasn’t great for photos, but the view was wonderful.
We then backtracked to Sunset Point, the start of the Queens/Navajo Combination Loop trail. We probably spent about 3 hours or so on the hike. Every now and then we would overtake someone, or another group would overtake us, but for the most part we felt like we had the trail to ourselves. At 8000′ elevation, the temperatures were cool and dry and just perfect for hiking. We started at Sunset point, went North along the Rim trail, then descended on the Queens Garden trail. The Navajo Loop Trail brought us back to our starting point.
At the top, as we refilled our water bottles, we got talking with a woman who told us about the various places that she had visited on her trip. She showed us photos on her phone of Antelope Canyon and we decided right on the spot that we hade to include that in our trip. Her photos were stunning. It was a fortuitous encounter.
We slowly walked back to the bike, our energy waning from the exertion of the hike and miles that we had ridden that day. We talked about checking into our hotel, then going out for dinner, but realized that once we hit the room, we were so tired that we probably wouldn’t make it back out. So it was dinner first, then check-in, unpack, shower and sleep. It had been a full first day.