Anne and I had a last minute opportunity to join a Bicycle Adventure Club (BAC) Tour of Southern Utah National Parks. The trip started and ended in St. George, UT, September 18th through 25th , 2010. The BAC is a bicycle club dedicated to touring which is based in San Diego, CA. The tours are developed and led by club members. Members have the option to coordinate overseas tours by contracting a tour through a bicycle tour operator. The club on average offers about 40 tours annually in North America, Europe, Asia and the South Pacific.
During our seven day adventure we rode six days covering 270 miles and ascending more than 14,375 feet. Our shortest ride day was 22 miles from Springdale (Zion) to Glendale. This normally would have been about a 35 mile day with between 1500-2000 feet of additional ascent. Zion Highway between the south and east entrances was being completely reconstructed with new road base, drainage and retaining walls. The road was closed to bicycle traffic so our tour leaders had to arrange a shuttle from Springdale to outside the east entrance. Our fifth riding day from Panguitch to Cedar City was the longest and most difficult with 4800 feet of vertical gain in 59 miles. Most of the vertical gain was in the first 36 miles from Panguitch to Cedar Breaks National Monument Visitor Center. The final 23 miles was nearly all downhill into Cedar City. We managed to increase our 7.5 MPH average to 10.3 by the time we reached the Abbey in Cedar City. The final day was 56 miles back to St George and the fastest day on the bike averaging 18.3 MPH ascending 1332 feet and descending 4334 feet. The final day was the least interesting riding day. There was an option to enter the north entrance of Zion National Park and the 11 mile out and back via Kolob Canyon Road. This would have involved quite a bit of climbing so we opted to drive Kolob Canyon Road on our drive back from St. George. This tour including lodging, support van, 3 dinners, most breakfasts, daily afternoon social hours with drinks, snacks and route reviews, maps and cue sheets.
Past CSCC Vice President John Ellis now lives in St. George. We met him and his son Alex for lunch on Saturday, September 18th . John suggested we park our car at his house rather than it at the hotel during the trip. We enjoyed visiting with John at the beginning and end of our trip.
Normally, BAC rides of a week or more have a layover day. That layover day usually falls towards the middle of trip. Our layover day fell on day two in Zion. It worked well affording us plenty of time to hike several short trials. We arrived in Springdale around noon on Sunday and were not able check into the Pioneer Lodge until 3PM. Springdale has a town shuttle that runs from the south end of town to the entrance to Zion. The park has a shuttle that runs every 8 minutes up and down Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The up canyon shuttle plays an audio guide describing the many rock monuments, trails, geology and history of the park. Stop one is for Zion Museum which has a 22 minute video about the park. It is well worth viewing prior to going further up canyon. The canyon shuttle is essentially a free hop on hop off bus tour of the west canyon. We did a couple hours of shuttle touring planning out our next day's hiking.
Our first day was quite hot reaching nearly 100 degrees in Springdale. The second day was a bit cooler and somewhat overcast in the morning which made for good day of hiking. We aren't big hikers so we opted for the shorter trials of Emerald Lakes, Weeping Wall and River Trail to the Narrows. I walked up the Virgin River Narrows about 500-600 yards. There wasn't enough time to go much further. I would have needed to rent wet socks and water shoes to go much further. In total we hiked a little more than 5 miles. This provided us a good prospective of the diversity and varying habitats in the area of the park. The Pa'rus Trail is a paved bikeway from Springdale/Park Entrance to Canyon Junction. Bikes are permitted only on paved public surfaces in the park and nowhere else.
Ride day two was a bit disappointing due to having to shuttle through park to the east entrance. Single bikes went on the trailer and the two tandems went inside the van with the riders/passengers. We unloaded the shuttle just outside the east entrance to the park. A few of us attempted to ride back towards the entrance. The road was hard packed dirt. It would have been possible to ride accept that we would have been turned back at the entrance anyway. The ride to the small village of Glendale was rather short and relatively easy.
Glendale brought back memories of Orick on our ride through redwoods of northern CA. The Smith Hotel is near the end of town and adjacent to the Buffalo Bistro. The rooms in the hotel were on the second floor and accessible by an outside wooden staircase. The hotel had a nice long front porch which was perfect for our 5:30PM social hour. It is customary on BAC trips for the leaders to have daily social hours and serve snacks and drinks during open discussions and next day route review. Dinner at the Buffalo Bistro was included in our tour fees. The owner/chef is quite laid back and fun. In addition to preparing our dinners he also assisted with serving and really enjoyed do it. The restaurant opened specifically to serve our group and everyone had to order dinner in advance. We were served appetizers of rattlesnake and buffalo sausage, rocky mountain oysters and homemade jalapeño poppers. Dinner entrees were buffalo ribs, wild boar ribs, buffalo or beef rib-eye steak, wild salmon, half a rabbit, cornish game hen and veggie pasta. Most folks opted for BBQ ribs or buffalo steak. Desserts were fresh made peach, strawberry and blueberry cobbler with ice cream.
Our third riding day started with a fabulous 7AM breakfast at the Smith Hotel. We fueled up on fresh whole wheat waffles, natural oatmeal, fresh fruit and hot coffee. We were off at 8AM for Bryce National Park. The weather forecast called for cooler temperatures and a high probability for afternoon showers. The morning was cooler with overcast skies for the ride up US 89 to the turn off on Hwy 12. We encountered construction with alternating one-way traffic for the first 2 miles on Hwy 12 to the right turn onto a paved bikeway. The bikeway parallels the south side of Hwy 12 until just beyond Bryce Pines Lodge and Restaurant. Bicycles are not permitted on this section of Hwy 12. The bikeway is in very good condition and gets you out of traffic. We had some off and on rain through this section but nothing significant. We arrived in Bryce Town around noon and had lunch at the Bryce Café and checked into our hotel. After showering, we took the shuttle out to Bryce Point and worked our way back along the rim taking photos. There wasn't time to walk the rim trail between several of the viewpoints so we used the park shuttle instead.
The following day was a short ride to Panguitch (pronounced Pang Witch). We got started at 6:40AM and we rode about 5 miles into the park to Sunrise Point to view the sunrise over the mystical Hoodoos in the canyon. After taking numerous pictures we rode to Bryce Lodge for breakfast and then out towards Rainbow Point. After riding out about more 5 miles we decided that it would take us too long to ride the additional 10 miles uphill to Rainbow Point. We finished the day with 41 miles. Panguitch is a cute small town with a neat park called Quilt Walker Park. Back in the 1860s shortly after the town was settled there wasn't enough food to get through the winter. Seven of the townsmen volunteered to walk to Parowan for supplies. The snow was deep and they used their bedding quilts to prevent breaking through the deep snow as they walked. They made it Parowan and back and saved the settlement. The park is a tribute to these seven men. There is park bench dedicated to each quilt walker. In the center front of the park is a bronze sculpture of a frontiersman walking on a quilt and holding another to throw out in front him as though he was walking forward.
On Friday we departed Panguitch at 7AM about 20 minutes before sunrise in order to get an early start on the 35 mile climb to the Visitor Center at Cedar Breaks. About thirty minutes into the climb, the sun began to rise eventually warming our backs as the moon set up ahead of us. The climb was relentless and seemed to go on forever. In the first hour we managed a mere six miles. In the second hour conditions improved and we were at 16 miles. By the end of the third hour we had covered 24 miles. We thought if we could maintain this pace we would reach the visitor's center around 11:30. Our average pace dropped back to 7.5 MPH for the entire climb. Our support had picked up Subway sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies and bananas for everyone and handed them out at Panguitch Lake which was about midpoint of the climb. We stowed our lunches and outer layers and took in the beauty of the lake and the changing Aspens in distance. Just passed the junction of Hwy 143 and 148 we came upon Gracia and Don admiring the first views of Cedar Breaks. We decided this was a good spot for lunch. The next few miles seemed endless. Several of our group had already reached the visitor's center. We walked out to the overlook took our photos and we were soon heading downhill towards Cedar City. We started the day at near freezing at 6640 feet and reached the summit at 10,580 feet and ended the day at nearly 80 degrees and 5,870 feet. After climbing 4,780 feet we finished with a net loss in elevation of 800 feet. An excellent group dinner was provided at The Garden House Restaurant on this our final night of the tour.
On the final day of the tour we returned to St. George. During this leg we would lose 3010 feet in elevation. The route took us on roads closely paralleling Interstate 15 where possible. We did have a 15 mile section where we had to ride on the shoulder of I15. This section was all downhill and went very quickly on the tandem. We passed by the Kolob Canyon entrance to Zion National Park. We could have taken have the Kolob Option adding 11 miles to our day. Instead we decided to drive the 5.5 mile climb to the Kolob View Point on our return from St. George.
Our BAC tour directors Wilson and Sue Cooper of Palo Alto, CA did an excellent job executing this trip, which was original designed and lead by Lucy Ormond of St. George, UT. Thank you so much for making it possible for us the ride this gorgeous ride and visit these fabulous parks. We'd also thank the other 12 participants including the other tandem team. You were a great group of folks to ride and socialize with on this trip.