Today we ended up riding 246 miles on the bike. Although we only had planned to ride about 120 miles so we could get back to do laundry etc. , due to some big thunderstorms in the area, we ended up riding a lot more than we planned. It was still an excellent day, though, since we began the day by riding up into the high country of this area. Passing by some beautiful horse ranches and summer log homes, in only fifteen minutes we were over 8,000 feet, which was 3,000 feet higher than our elevation at the ranch. The air got cooler and once again, we were glad we had all our layers on! Our first destination was Cedar Breaks National Monument; we knew the park had not even opened yet, but our host at the ranch told us that the county had finally opened the gates to the road on Wednesday, and that we could easily ride through the scenic road in the park even though it was not officially open. We rode up and up, past fields covered in black lava rocks, which struck us as very unusual, to a great view of Navajo Lake, which we found out had been formed ages ago when lava had flowed through the valley there. Up and up we rode, finally getting to over 10,000 feet, and a temperature of only 45º! It was really cool up there, and there was still a lot of snow lying around too. The roads to Cedar Breaks were wonderfully twisty, with sweeping curves, great S curves, and several excellent switchbacks as we went up the mountain. Resting on top of the Colorado plateau, Cedar Breaks had some breathtaking views, and somewhat resembles a miniature Bryce Canyon. Millions of years of sedimentation, uplift, and erosion have carving out a giant amphitheater that spans some three miles and is more than 2000 feet deep.
As we rode, we also noticed a lot of alpine meadows clustered with ponderosa pines and quaking aspens, although at this elevation the aspens were just beginning to leaf out.
We continued our ride down the mountain, again on some super great twisty roads, toward Cedar City. I loved the clear mountain stream that followed the road all the way down the mountain, and Fred pointed out to me how the stream became cloudier as it picked up sediment as it moved downhill. Our last stop was supposed to be the north part of Zion National Park at Kolob Canyon. This part of the park is not as often visited, but it had a great scenic road that climbed up and up as we looked again at more huge cliffs and formations. I especially liked the box canyon we stopped to see at about the middle of the scenic roadway. This part of the park is less developed but has a lot of hiking trails for visitors to use. We had decided that after leaving Kolob Canyon that we would ride back through the lower part of Zion and through the tunnel, since that was the quickest way to get back to the ranch. We left the highway and rode 25 miles toward the park, and almost made it to the park boundaries, but then another thunderstorm threatened. It began raining quite a bit, and we decided that trying to climb out of the canyon on all those switchbacks would not be a good idea in a driving rainstorm. We then only had two options, since there are not a lot of roads in the area: return over the mountain the way we had ridden this morning, or ride quite a bit south, around the park, into Arizona and then back to the ranch via Kanab. Since the rainstorm was headed north, we decided that the only sane way to return back to the ranch was to head south. This added about 120 miles to our day’s ride, but the countryside was interesting and the weather was fair, so we made the right choice, even if it did take us two hours longer to get home – it is a recreational hazard we have learned to accept, since we do so enjoy the riding time.