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Utah Travel Headlines

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Four Corners Area on Two Wheels

On bicycles, a dozen riders set out on a 400 mile course to see the best of the Four Corners area in five days, Hovenweep National Monument, Monument Valley and Natural Bridges National Monument before ending at Lake Powell. The New York Times has this article about the adventure. Below are excerpts.

It takes nearly a day on these trips, John said later, but you always see it: Shoulders drop their tension. Eyes unpinch from their accountant’s squint. With every mile, the in-box and the BlackBerry retreat a little more in the rear-view mirror. People shed their daily worries, until their world reduces to the clean feeling of the right gear underfoot, and the blur of the gray road. As Mike put it: “I don’t have to think. I don’t have to do a damn thing, if I don’t want to. I get to ride my bike.”

Following little-trafficked byways, our route would at times parallel the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers; swing past the ruins of Hovenweep National Monument and the rock bridges of Natural Bridges National Monument; dip into Arizona and Monument Valley; and do a flyby of the staggering goosenecks of the San Juan River, before finally turning north and plashing to the finish line in the wave-licked shoreline at the north end of Lake Powell at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. With more than 400 miles of spinning and about 20,000 feet of climbing in five days, it promised to be an undeniably stout ride, especially for a novice cyclist like me. Fortunately, riders had the option of trimming each day by hopping into the “sag wagon” that provided aid and lunch.

We traversed 60 to 80 miles a day while describing a J-shaped route — first deep into southwest Colorado, then west into Utah, briefly into Arizona and then north again. On a trip like this, seeing so much, the days lose their shape. Chronology breaks down, replaced by impressions that change with the swiftness of the click of a gear shifter.

The way northward toward the finish line went up and over sprawling Cedar Mesa — but how? The mesa ahead was a fortress, rearing up before us in a thousand-foot palisade of sandstone and shale; the world’s most intimidating layer cake.

This must be a mistake, I thought; there was no road. Only when we pedaled to the foot of the mesa did a small gash in the cliff appear, a pinched gravel byway that scissored up the rock face: the Mokee Dugway. Originally built in 1958 by a mining company to transport its uranium ore to a processing mill in Mexican Hat, the trail climbed a lung-searing 1,100 vertical feet in less than three miles of unpaved road.

At the north end of Lake Powell we tossed bikes aside and dived into the cool waves of the lake while still wearing bike shorts. Toasts were raised.

I toasted, too. As I was drying off, though, a different wave hit — a wave of melancholy. Part of me suddenly wanted badly to fill my water bottles and climb back in the saddle. After all, there was plenty of daylight left.

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