Sunday, April 1, 2007

April Fool's Errand

After riding for nearly 4 hours on Gooseberry Mesa the afternoon of March 31 I was thinking of a bit longer, more aerobic ride for Sunday. The riding at Gooseberry is all full of short hero efforts and tight turns on slickrock. There isn’t much in the way of wide open pedaling. It would be hard to ride for 6 hours up there, not to mention the fact that you’d have to do laps.

Sitting in the POD on Saturday night I fired up the laptop and started looking at topo maps. One option was to cross highway 59 and head over to Little Creek Mesa, but once there it would be time for more anaerobic fun. And it’s not too far to get there, maybe 12 miles over, 12 miles back.

The Arizona strip beckoned. This is the bit of Arizona that is isolated from the AZ state government by the Grand Canyon and the long road distances involved in going around it. The Fundamentalist LDS set up shop there years ago and have been continuing to practice polygamy and other somewhat non-conformist activities like corruption of school systems and local governmental agencies in the name of feeding the hordes of children produced by the local families. As long as I’m in the belly of the LDS for vacation, seems like I might as well see the sights.

The topo showed me a few points of geologic interest down there. Just north and east of the town of Hilldale, UT was a promontory called the beehive. There was a jeep road on the map that rolled north west of the beehive, then continued either to the west into the Canann Mountains or northeast toward Kanab, UT. Then it hooked up with another jeep road that could take me south to Utah state highway 43, which looked like it might be dirt and would definitely take me past Pink Coral Sand Dunes state park. Nice big loop. I could follow 43 down into Arizona then head back north through Colorado City and back into Hilldale.

I scrawled a crude map on a slip of scrap paper with a ballpoint. Of course I forgot to actually bring that with me, but actually constructing it helped me recall many of the details even though it wasn’t with me.

I got up and left the POD around 8:30 with what seemed like plenty of food and water. The weather promised to be beautiful. I rolled south on a variety of sandy dirt roads, and as I approached Hilldale I did indeed start seeing some fairly bizarre homesteads. Lots of really big houses that appeared to have been partially constructed then just moved into, with no siding and often missing entire windows, or with a whole wing just roughed in. Lots of Keep Out and NO TRESPASSING signs tacked to high privacy fences.

Eventually I was shoved out onto the paved highway 59 because of encountering locked gates with PRIVATE PROPERTY signs that showed on the map as through roads. Ah, but the adventure was worth a bit of inconvenience.

When I came into Hilldale, things got really weird. Lots of shotgun shacks and decrepit single-wides, but then there were also brand-new huge nice-looking houses with really high brick walls, 12 and 15 feet high. There were more than a few walled in blocks with several huge houses inside. I would have taken pictures, but I felt a little exposed. There was almost no one around, and here I was wearing lycra and riding a bright green mountain bike.

I rolled to the east side of Hilldale to where the jeep road looked like it should go up into the back country. There it was, dirt road heading off across the wash and then proceeding north. I pedaled down into the wash, crossed a little trickle of water in the sandy bed, then climbed a bull-dozed road up the other side. I headed north, glancing back toward Hilldale now and then.

Things were looking good, then I came to a locked gate. No signs, looked easy to lift the bike over, but I decided that adventure was not worth the risk of a lynching. After all, I was alone and nobody knew where I was. I turned around and road back south.

I decided just to find Utah SH43 and go check out the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. The St. George Chamber of Commerce had given Jim and the girls and I a brochure for this park, so I had expected that it might be worth seeing. I skirted around Colorado City, now into the Arizona Strip, then wound up back on highway 59 (actually known as 389 in Arizona). Shortly I came to the Cane Beds road, which I remembered as being the way to get to SH43. I hooked a left and proceeded East.

After riding for a while down the straight, paved Cane Beds road I encountered the gate shown below, which made me feel good about the decision I had made not to cross any locked gates:

You know, nothing says “welcome to the bosom of my home” like 5 dead coyotes hanging from the fence right next to your NO TRESPASSING sign.

I was about 30 miles into my little odyssey when the Cane Beds road turned north and became dirt. Or perhaps I should say it became sand. A sign said “Coral Pink Sand Dunes, 8 miles”. I checked my water, looked good. I kept grinding away.

It was a gentle climb up SH43. Once in a while the sand got truly deep and it became a wrestling match, but for the most part it was pretty and aerobic. Little traffic for the most part. After about three miles I got back to the Utah border, where there was a cattle guard, the road became paved, and a sign announced “Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, 8 miles”.

What the? That three miles didn’t count? OK, OK, I’m not going to just fold up now, what’s another 3 miles between friends—or sister wives?

So I kept going, and soon saw lots of toy box campers with Republican-looking guys sporting flat tops milling around them. I guess these mormon folks like to celebrate the Lord’s Day by burning up some fossil fuels and raising some dust.

So I got up to the park entrance and I though I’d roll in there and top off my water. The day had gotten a bit on the hot side, which was nice, but I could imagine running out of water, especially since I was nearly 42 miles into this adventure and had probably near that many more to get back to the POD. The incredibly skinny gal in the booth told me I’d have to pay $5 to come in, even on a bike. I could hear somebody revving a hopped up 2-stroke behind her somewhere, so it became clear to me that this park was a petro-toy destination. I decided I wasn’t going to pay a 5-spot to see a natural wonder that was being bathed with un-burned hydrocarbon. I snapped this picture:

Seems that the coral pink sand of the dunes wasn’t a remarkably different color from the road:

So I rolled down-canyon back to my coral pink dirt road and back into the Arizona Strip.
The return trip was quite a bit like the trip out except that I was sweatier and hungrier, and my water pack was lighter all the time. I hadn’t really left the POD prepared for an 80-mile journey in 80° heat. That’s adventuring for you!

I stopped at a convenience store in Hilldale on the way back to buy a quart of water. There were lots of stares from the teenage boys in the parking lot, and the pretty little clerk looked at me like I had antlers, what with my lycra, bike helmet, buck rogers sunglasses and earphones.

I might as well have been wearing a black cocktail dress and a gold tiara.

I had the staggers pretty good when I got back to the POD. Luckily the food was already cooked and just needed to be warmed up in the frying pan. I chowed down, drank a couple quarts of gator aid, then promptly passed out on my bunk for an hour or so.

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