We have survived Utah. Well, almost. We’re taking some rest time in Monticello, a mere 17 miles from the Colorado state line. Perhaps it’s ignorance, but we had no idea how much natural beauty Utah has to offer. Especially the southern half, which, lucky for us, is right where our route took us.

Sleepless Nights
Though stunning, Utah left us exhausted. Our lowest elevation was about 3,000 feet (1000 meters), but most of our time we’ve been much higher than that. In addition to the altitude and constant ups and downs, we’ve had a few tough nights in the tent.

If you’ve ever been on a bike tour, you know that one night of crummy sleep can make you lag for days. This is an unfortunate truth, as living outside and having a tent as your home puts you at a significantly higher risk for getting a bad night’s sleep. Over the course of this journey, we’ve been wakened by barking dogs, crowing roosters, loud storms, heavy wind… you get the idea. Or of course there’s the spot that “looks” flat when you pitch your tent, but leaves you tossing and turning through the night with an uncomfortable hump beneath your hips.

The redeeming virtue of cycle touring is that if you pedal hard enough during the day, sleeping conditions shouldn’t matter as much, as pure exhaustion is a plenty strong sleep aid.┬áBut here in Utah, we encountered new foes in the battle for sleep in the tent.

The day we left St. George (and the last real city we would pass through in the whole state), we rode to Springdale, the tiny gateway town to Zion. The national park entrance is literally one mile outside of town. We knew the more affordable campground in the park would be full, and the only place in town was an RV park that would cost us $30. Well, that’s a bit steep for sleeping on the ground, so we went off in search of a free spot. A local guy mentioned the community park and said we could easily camp out there for the night, assuring us constantly that the cops around town “are super chill” and wouldn’t care at all. We rode up to the park, but after our experience of getting moved along from a similar spot back in Kelso, Washington, we were wary of pitching our tent right there in the pavilion.

We roamed around the area and found a spot nicely tucked away behind the community garden. It was certainly invisible from the road and even from most of the park. Now, the entire park was blanketed with beautiful green grass–but this area is HOT and DRY. So what does that mean? Irrigation. That’s right, anywhere with grass was certainly in a risk zone for sprinklers. And sprinklers tend to go off early in the morning. Knowing that, Dave selected a spot without grass, a flat, mulched area underneath a tree. We agreed it was suitable and quickly pitched the tent at dusk, and opted to not use the rain fly because of the intense heat.

Now, everything seemed fine. But at some point in the middle of the night, I woke up, literally screaming, with Dave’s arms around me and a loud noise in the background. I must have been in deep sleep, in the throes of some kind of dream, when the “chk… chk… chkchkchkchk” noise started and scared me into a state of hysterics. After a few moments, Dave pulled me out of my disorientation and helped me realize we were not being attacked by mountain lions (or whatever my dream had been), but merely that the sprinklers were going off. We checked the clock. 1:54 a.m. Hmmmm… The sprinklers were loud, but we actually seemed mostly out of range in our little patch of mulch. So we decided to stay put and try to go back to sleep… after all, how long would they really be running anyway? Maybe 30 minutes?

Wrong. Those sprinklers went for TWO HOURS. And even lying in our tent, we occasionally got a light splash on the face. But it was really the noise that kept us awake. Finally, we heard them turn off, and we both breathed a sigh of relief, thinking we would be able to get back to our much-needed sleep. But alas, wrong again! Because just then, a different set of sprinklers started! And this time, we weren’t out of range. This time, it was a direct hit into the tent–right in our face. Disgruntled, we got up and out of the tent to assess the situation. We decided we could move into the area that was wet from the first set of sprinklers, since those had (hopefully) completed their cycle. We slid the tent over, settled into our damp sleeping bags, and despite the sound of the now more-distant sprinklers, eventually got back to sleep around 4:30 a.m. If we hadn’t been camped out in a public space, we probably would have tried to sleep in. Maybe it would have been worth shelling out the cash for the RV park!

The next sleeping incident happened more than a week later. We were headed southeast on Highway 95 through the middle of nowhere, Utah. We passed through a small town in the afternoon and did our last stockpile before the next 120 miles where there would be no services on our route. Our goal was to make it 15-20 more miles before stopping for the night.

Out in the stretches of nothing, choosing a campsite can actually be quite easy. There are no fences or private property signs to deter you. And with as little traffic as this road provided, we could pretty well camp fully exposed to the highway and expect no problems at all. So that’s what we did. Everything looked the same: slightly hilly, sandy, little vegetation, so once we hit our goal distance, we basically just stopped and picked a somewhat flat spot on the side of the road.

It certainly looked like a nice-enough campsite to us!

It certainly looked like a nice-enough campsite to us!

It was actually a great campsite–quiet, with nice views all around. We cooked our dinner, wiped off the day’s grime with baby wipes, and brushed our teeth before getting settled in the tent. But just as we were getting situated, the wind began to pick up–substantially. When you’re sitting inside a tent in a windstorm, it kind of feels like your tent is a rocket getting ready for liftoff. It shakes all around (though structurally strong against the force), and the sound of the wind whipping the fly is rowdy to say the least.

Just then Dave decided to zip up the door on the rain fly to reduce the wind noise. So he opened the tent door and was immediately blasted by an influx of sand. “Whoa!,” he said, and quickly closed the fly and the tent door. In just those few seconds, a significant pile of sand had accumulated on his sleeping bag. Not good, we acknowledged. What to do? We decided we would leave the sand until in the morning when the wind would hopefully have died town. But then Dave turned on his head lamp… and we realized the situation was worse than we thought. With the tent door closed, we could see the super-fine dust still billowing into our tent. It was so fine that it could actually come through the mesh that constructed our tent body. The wind was strong and showed no sign of slowing down. We started to laugh. What else was there to do? We sat as the dust storm showered upon us in our tent, and finally laid down to attempt some sleep.

Needless to say, it was not the best night of sleep of our lives. The wind howled at us for hours, and the next morning we spent and extra hour shaking sand off and out of all our belongings. We are still trying to get the dust off the tent floor.

Rugged Landscapes
But in between these two tough nights, we rode through some of the most stunning and rugged terrain we’ve seen in our home country… actually, on our whole journey! Who knew Utah had so much to offer? For us, it was a surprise highlight. We rode through three national parks, one national monument, and many stretches of national forest. A huge chunk of our time here was spent on official “US Scenic Byways”–and they lived up to their status. There’s nothing particularly novel to share about our experiences in these places, so I’ll spare you the details of every hike or the history of each park… and instead share loads of pictures.

Zion National Park
Perhaps our favorite place we’ve been in the US, it certainly rivals Yosemite for natural beauty. We took a day off here just to do some exploring on foot.

The Court of the Patriarchs--these three peaks stand proudly, and were aptly named after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The Court of the Patriarchs–these three peaks stand proudly, and were aptly named after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Our ride through the Zion Canyon on our way out of the park. Uphill and worth it!

Our ride through the Zion Canyon on our way out of the park. Uphill and worth it!

Still headed up!

Still headed up!

View from the Canyon Overlook hike--definitely a park highlight.

View from the Canyon Overlook hike–definitely a park highlight.

This picture does not do justice to the height of this rock... or to the canyon dropoff to the right of Dave!

This picture does not do justice to the height of this rock… or to the canyon dropoff to the right of Dave!

This gives you a little bit of a better idea!

This gives you a little bit of a better idea… (Please notice me in the right half of the picture wearing a pink shirt!)

 

Bryce Canyon National Park
We spent the better part of a day in Bryce, first taking the shuttle to the far reaches of the park at Rainbow Point, then hiking around the Rim Trail for views into the world of eroded pinnacles and spires that make up Bryce Canyon.

The view from Rainbow Point--at the far end of the canyon.

The view from Rainbow Point–at the far end of the canyon.

Natural Bridge--one of the many arches that can be found in Bryce.

Natural Bridge–one of the many arches that can be found in Bryce.

Our first glimpse into the Bryce Amphitheatre--the part of the park with the highest density of eroded formations.

Our first glimpse into the Bryce Amphitheatre–the part of the park with the highest density of eroded formations.

Hiking the Rim Trail gave us closer looks into the erosion process.

Hiking the Rim Trail gave us closer looks into the erosion process.

Capitol Reef National Park
Well, I have to be honest on this one–we had never even heard of this national park. It just so happened that the road we took across Utah went right through it! So instead of taking a day off, we enjoyed this one from the seats of our bicycles.

Impressive rock formations all over!

Impressive rock formations all over!

The view from Panorama Point.

The view from Panorama Point.

Cruising through the park...

Cruising through the park…

Scenic Drives
Just a few more photos from the scenic roads of Utah!

This stretch of highway followed the spine of the mountain, with steep drop-offs on each side. It was beautiful!

This stretch of highway followed the spine of the mountain, with steep drop-offs on each side. It was beautiful!

View of the Colorado River as it flows into Lake Powell.

View of the Colorado River as it flows into Lake Powell.

Red rocks of Utah

Red rocks of Utah

In front of the rock formation known as "Jacob's Chair."

In front of the rock formation known as “Jacob’s Chair.”