• Simon Weir

Canyon country


Bryce Canyon: not as grand as the Grand Canyon... but every bit as special

If the Grand Canyon blew my mind, there's no way it's going to get unblown in a hurry. I'm in Utah and quite frankly it's the most astonishing place I've ever seen. I set off from Hatch to visit Bryce Canyon and if I made a leisurely start, it was partly to let the sun come out from behind the clouds and partly because I kind of thought that, after the Grand Canyon, it would be like going to watch a schoolboy rugby match after watching Wales v the All-Blacks. Once again, I was wrong...


I had to get there first, mind... which meant queuing for another interminable set of road works: stone-chipping about a 10-mile stretch of State Road 12. When the traffic finally got past that, I rolled past Bryce Canyon Airport (a barn with the words "Bryce Canyon Airport" painted on the roof in 6ft-high letters) and into Bryce Canyon City (established 2007 - it's younger than my godson!). It seems to be mostly hotels serving the national park, plus a few shops. I didn't linger...


Yes, yes... it's all rock and no roll... but just look at those crazy rocks!

Acres of bare, dead trees in the ghost forest

I was glad I'd bought my annual pass for the US national parks: it's $35 to get into Bryce Canyon (so if the next park I visit costs more than $15 to enter, I'll have saved money). It was quite busy with tourists at the visitor centre, so I carried on up the road. It was mostly wooded - with only one deer walking slowly across the road, comfortably ahead of me – though at one point the road passed through a spectacular forest of ghost trees, stripped and scorched by a previous fire. I decided to ride all the way to the end of the 16-mile road without stopping – I'd have as much of a glance as I could while passing the many view points, then stop at the ones that looked best as I turned round and rode back from Rainbow Point, the end of the trail.


The view from Rainbow Point is stunning… but it's not the best view on this road

The Natural Bridge at Bryce Canyon

Of course, I stopped at two-thirds of the viewpoints because this is quite simply one of the strangest, most beautiful mountain landscapes I've ever seen. From the elevated vantage point of the road, you look down on centuries of nature sculpting pink and white rocks into extravagant abstract shapes. All different, yet all similar – and each fresh view as bizarrely compelling as the last one. I don't think that's just me having some strange rock fetish - the number of people equally captivated by the views confirms it. I spent nearly three hours in Bryce and that still felt like I was rushing it a bit. I'd have liked to take some of the trails down among the towering blobby columns called hoodoos (I'm not making this up...) but bike kit, steep slopes and 27+C doesn't encourage that kind of activity...


Do do that voodoo that hoodoo... oh well, it was worth a try. No Cole Porter fans? No?

Before getting back on the bike and leaving Bryce, I called a dealer. I'd already spoken to them, to see if they could get tyres for the SX and fit them the following day. Yes, they said. Come on over. "Great," I confirmed, as it would be about an 80-mile detour to get to them. "I'll be there around 2pm."


Great surface, great scenery, great bends... Great!

That set up, I set off to ride the rest of SR12. Not at random: this was a road recommended by Rick Janes, who'd read my first piece for Motorcycle News. He even recommended a coffee stop halfway along it: sounded perfect. And, my word, it was... After a few straight miles that had me worried at first. But once the SR12 hit its stride, it's a very fine road indeed. It shuttles along through high red canyon walls, climbing and curling round as the views open up (as I ride, it reminds me a bit of one of the roads on El Teide, the volcano on Tenerife, which we rode on the launches of the KTM 1190 Adventure and the Ducati Monster 1200). It canters across a high plateau then sweeps up to a viewpoint where, far below, the road cuts through pale rocks in a most inviting way...

Fantastic riding for mile after mile after mile in Utah

The road does change its character as it progresses. There are other tight and twisty sections, some longer straights, a section of open range where I have to stop to give way to a small herd of cows (no more than a dozen) and a forested climb that could have been shipped here from Pennsylvania or France's Limousin region. But it's back to red-rock and scrubby desert as I hit my overnight stop in the town of Torrey.


So this morning I had a bit of a leisurely start – did a bit of admin, found a laundrette (sorry, laundromat) to clean my clothes, then rode 80 miles out of my way to the dealer. Which didn't exactly fill me with confidence - attached to a bowling alley, not many bikes and lots of ATVs. "Oh, yeah, we can't get the tyres, we tried calling you to say but all we got was a busy tone..." That's curious, as everyone else from Switzerland to South Africa, as well as England and America, goes straight to voicemail - nobody ever gets a busy tone... I diplomatically stop short of calling the sweaty fat man a liar. But I think he could tell what I thought of him from my expression. I just leave.


So that's 160 miles of time wasted. But at least it got me onto Interstate 70. I know. An interstate. But this one is amazing. Okay, of course there are some long straight stretches but it has an 80mph limit, proper actual corners (really good ones in places, too) and runs through the most sublime, extreme landscape of giant buttes and huge cliffs in every imaginable shade from sickly white to flushed red, verdigris green and even sooty black as if I'm riding past the gates of Mordor. As a way to cover ground after having your time wasted, it can't be beaten.


So now I'm in the town of Moab, recommended to me by adventure-travel guru Chris Scott. While I phone around and try to find someone competent to do the tyres at some point within the next 1000 miles, I'll visit the canyons and national parks here. I'm preparing to have my mind blown again...



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SIMON WEIR
The Riding Guide