Shiprock to Bryce, Northern Arizona/Southern Utah

Shiprock To Bryce

Northern Arizona/ Southern Utah

A road to ride for

  This route covers parts of three states, New Mexico and Arizona, but most of the mileage is in Utah. It can be a more or less circular ride if you want, but there are many other things in the area that are worth mentioning. Something to keep in mind when planning this ride. Even though a lot of this area is desert, parts of it are also fairly high and cold and snow in the late fall, winter, and early spring are not uncommon. Also, it gets hot in the summer and there are long distances without fueling facilities for either you or the bike,Shiprock11-030006 so plan accordingly. Of course, this route like just about any other can be run starting on either end or in parts. For this write up we will start in Shiprock, so get yourself there, one way or another. Leave Shiprock heading south on US Highway 491 for a few miles. The view of Shiprock on the right is a good way to start a ride. A bit south of the airstrip turnoff 491 intersects BIA Rte 13, make a right and one of the first things you will see is a long low dike running north/south. This was intruded when Shiprock erupted. After a few miles the highway cuts right through it. That is the dike on the left with Shiprock in the background. Google Earth is, in my Fall Color, Hwy BIA 13 Shiprock in backgroundnot so humble opinion, one of the best things going. Shiprock and its surrounding dikes and vents is worth a look. On the ground, the dike and Shiprock are both worth a stop and a look. Head on down the road a bit and you cross over into Arizona, make a left and there is Red Valley. There is a trading post there where you can get gas, coffee, a snack or just a pit stop. Heading south from Red Valley the road starts climbing into the Chuska Mountains and Buffalo Pass. This is a very nice motorcycle road and on the west side really gets steep with lots of very tight turns. Have fun but don't get in such a hurry that you miss the scenery. Also, there are lots of woodlands critters around and it is open range so do be careful. Shortly after coming down out of the mountains BIA  13 comes into Lukachukai and intersects Hwy 12, for this ride, turn right. However, if you have the time, turn left down to Tsaile and pick up N64 towards Chinle and stop off at Canyon De Chelly National Hwy 191 just into UtahMonument. If you visit the monument, a right turn at Chinle on Hwy 191 will rejoin the original route at Round Rock. After Round Rock head north on Hwy 191 and enjoy the scenery. After a bit you intersect Hwy 160 and make a little jog to the east and then head back north towards Utah. This is a view on the west side of the Hwy a few miles after turning north and is a common site along this road. Parts of the road are a little rough, but nothing serious. After a few miles you cross over the San Juan River and intersect Hwy 163 and turn west towards Mexican Hat. This is officially the Monument Valley to Bluff Scenic Byway, and it is scenic. Just a little before Mexican Hat Hwy 261 intersects and this ride IMG_1141turns north.  Depending on the size of your fuel tank, this could be a good time to run on into Mexican Hat and fill up.It is approximately 80 miles to Hite Marina where (as of 4-15) there was a 24 hour unmanned station. From Mexican to Hanksville is approximately 130 miles so check your tank. According to the good folks of the State of Utah, Hwy 261 is the "Trail of the Ancients". I don't know about that, but it is a very nice road. A few miles north of the 163/261 intersection there is a sign directing you over to Gooseneck State Park. It is only a couple of miles and is very much worth the ride over. Here is what you  will see. In geological term this is called an incised meander. It is about 1000' from where the phIMG_1156oto is taken to the river below. It was caused by the combination of the river eroding down with the Colorado Plateau rising up. As an example of how far you can see in this part of the country, check that feature a little to the left of the center of the photo. That is part of Monument Valley, about 75 miles or so distance. Also cool, at the edge of the canyon you are standing on fossilized mud cracks. This seen, it is time to backtrack the few miles and it is time to make a decision. A few miles north on Hwy 261 is what is called the  Moki Dugway. The Moki is three miles of steep unpaved road climbing up an escarpment. The Moki was constructed in 1958 by the Texas Zinc Company to transport uranium ore from the Happy Jack mine to the processing mill in Mexican Hat. Although steep it is well maintained without deep sand or gravel. I have ridden the Moki on several sizes of road bikes and if you take a little care you should not have a problem. If you don't feel comfortable riding this type of road your only choice is to circle back to Bluff, head north on Hwy 191 and then back west on Hwy 95 and this is not a bad ride in itself. If you elected to turn left and ride up the Moki, here is the view you will see about 3/4 the way up. There are several places where you can pull out and take a look around. Do be careful when you pull over because that is usually where the deeper gravel is and footing can be a problem. Also, don't get in a hurry around the switchbacks as there are usually washboard sections that can be upsetting. So be careful, go easy on the throttle and brakes and you shouldn't have a problem and will for sure enjoy the views. Shortly before topping the Moki you pick up the pavement again and then you are on top of the mesa. This is a very pleasant ride on a fairly nice road without a lot of traffic. Ride along and enjoy the views. After a few miles you intersect Hwy 95, also known as the Bicentennial Hwy. If you didn't ride up the Moki this is where you will pick up our route. Turn west on Hwy 95 and continue enjoying the ride and the views. After a few miles you come to Hwy 276 which leads over to Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Hall's Crossing and Bullfrog Marina. At Hall's Crossing you can take a ferry across Lake Powell and IMG_1179continue on Hwy 276 which will eventually hook up with Hwy 95 just north of Hite Marina. Or, if you are on an Adventure Bike of some type, you can take the very interesting Burr Trail and wind up in Boulder. But, that is another write up, so for this one we will continue on Hwy 95. Just past Hwy 276, on the north is the entrance to Natural Bridges National Monument which is very much worth a visit. They have an interesting visitor's center followed up with a scenic 9 mile (?) ride too see the bridges. These bridges are different than those in the Canyonlands/Arches area in that they were cut by flowing water. Continue north on Hwy 95 and the scenery just gets more scenic. I always look for a Wylie Coyote chasing the Roadrunner but have yet to seen them.  At this point Hite Marina is coming up. When I was there last there was a 24 hour self service station, it is approximately 60 miles to Hanksville and fuel so make whatever necessary decision. Lake Powell is a fairly new lake. Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1969 and the lake was first filledDSC01388 in the mid 1970s. At that time Hite Marina was doing a booming business. However, over the years the lake has shrunk in size and the result is that Hite Marina is high and dry. At one time this would have been a photo of the bridge over Lake Powell. Now, with the lake level so low, it is a photo of the bridge over the Colorado River. In the last couple of years the lake has come up some, but it is very doubtful if it will ever again be full. After Hite there is not a lot of reason to stop before coming to Hanksville. Most of the time there is not much going on in Hanksville, but the photo to the right gives an idea of what is going on year round. The photo is a shot of the mountains to the SW of Hanksville and was taken in April. The equipment in the foreground can't even spoil that view. You want to fuel up and, depending on your schedule, you might want to spend the night. There is a real nice motel and a fairly decent restaurant on the east side of town. Past Hanksville  it is 50 or so miles to Teasdale and Torrey, the next towns of any note. Head west on Hwy 24, the Capital Reef Country Scenic Byway. And, it is scenic and does not carry a lot of traffic and is, for the most part, inIMG_1182 good repair. It has enough twists and turns to make the ride interesting. Along about Norton, along the Fremont river the cliffs rises and you are approaching the Capital Reef Visitor's center. Shortly before the visitor's center, on the north side of the highway is a pull out. There are a bunch of petroglyphs on the cliff and are worth the stop. When you first look at the glyphs youIMG_1185 don't see that many, but the longer you look the more you see. Some are quite faint and as the rock flakes off they are destroyed so eventually, they will all be gone. Down the road from the glyphs is the visitor's center and entrance to Capital Reef National Monument. You will want to take the time to stop in the visitor's center to look around and get the story on the reef and for sure you will want to take the time to ride the scenic drive into the Monument. These two photos were taken on the drive. You will note the snow in the photos. These were taken in mid March of 2014 and the snow is left over from a storm the previous day. The first time I rode through here I was expecting desert conditions and it mostly is. However, elevations in this area are fairly high with some in the 9,000' or more range. ParTrading Post, Boulderts of the scenic ride are paved and parts are not. The unpaved parts have the possibility of deep dry sand so make your choice and ride carefully. After visiting the Monument get back to Hwy 24 and head west a few miles to shortly before Torrey to the Hwy 12 intersection and turn south on Hwy 12. Hwy 12 has got to be one of the best motorcycle roads in the US, and in over 50 years of traveling, I have been down a bunch of roads. There are some that have high spots in short doses, think Going to the Sun in Glacier, but few if any that are as scenic for such a distance. It is approximately 130 miles from Torrey to where Hwy 12 ends where it intersects Hwy 89 a little north of Hatch. In that 130 miles there is seldom a mile without great views and fun on the road. South of Torrey the highway starts to gain altitude heading up into piney mountains with great view and lots of twists and turns. As mentioned, this is high country. Torrey is around 6800', Boulder is at 6700'. In between the road rises to over 9,000' and can be cold even in the summer so be prepared.DSC00261 After Grover the first town is Boulder. There is not much going on in Boulder, the total population is around 200 or so. According to the town's website Boulder was the last town which got it's mail by mule and did not get electricity until 1947. It is at the western end of the Burr Trail. Coming into town the highway makes a sharp turn. The Burr Trail Trading Post is located at that turn. It has a coffee shop/restaurant where you can get a meal or just take a break, and of course purchase something from the trading post. Boulder is also the site of the Anasazi SDSC01699tate Park Museum. On the west side of town is a gas station if you need some fuel. While the road from Torrey to Boulder was a great scenic ride, after Boulder it only gets better. This is the Hell's Backbone area and Hwy 12 is called Hell's Backbone Highway. After Boulder the road climbs up on the backbone and runs down the top of a ridge. At places, the whole top of the ridge is not 100 years, highway included. There are pull outs along the way and the views are spectacular. The road winds up, down and around and is without a doubt one of the best motorcycling roads I have ever been on. The views never seem to end which makes it difficult to keep one eye on the road and one on the scenery. So, take advantage of all of the pull outs and be thankful that most of the time, the traffic is light. In this part of the world no one is going to get upset if you stop along the highway to check out the views. Along the way there are several small towns with motels and restaurants so, depending on the season you shouldn't have any problems with food, lodging or fuel. Highway 12 runs along the west edge of the newly created Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. The towns in this area are working on building up tourism activities related to the Monument. I stopped  in Escalante for the night and there were 4 wheeler and dirt bikes of all types that had been into the Monument. Shortly after Tropic the highway begins to climb, tops the mesa and then intersects Hwy 63 which leads down to Bryce Canyon National Park. Within a couple of miles of the intersection are a few motels, restaurants, 4 wheeler rental places and the usual tourist facilities. It is not all that far down to the park and if you have the time the views are well worth it.   Continuing west on Hwy 12 the road runs through some of the same type of rock formations as are in the park and they are scenic. Eventually, you top one last rise and head down into a valley where Hwy 12 ends with the intersection with Hwy 89 and that is where I will stop this write up. There is a world of outstanding roads and sights in this area. Head south and at the Mt Carmel Junction is the highway leading into Zion, definitely worth a visit. A little further south and at Kanab Hwy 89 turns east and leads to Page, Kayenta, and if you want, back to our starting point at Shiprock and is worth a ride. Or, you can take any number of other roads, all of them are worth riding.