Deserts and Canyons in Southwest USA

The Lockhart Basin Trail from Moab to Monticello

For a few nights we camp in the garden of the hostel in Moab. The town of Moab is world famous for the most beautiful mountain bike trails, but also the beautiful National Parks Arches and Canyonlands are nearby. We plan to explore some of the trails in the area by bike, without luggage. But we don’t get any further than the restaurant and supermarket around the corner. The hostel is busy, while everyone sets off after their morning ritual, we stay behind in the living room. The last few days have been rough and we are ready for some rest.

After three days we leave Moab and the surroundings are instantly beautiful. We share the road with many motocross riders, 4 wheelers and other ATVs, but forty kilometer down the road we are alone again. The road is rough, but all the hard work is more than worth it. Especially the steep descents and climbs on rocky ground, make us get on and off the bike a lot. We follow a famous (cycling) route along the edge of Canyonlands National Park. It is certainly one of the most beautiful routes that we have ever cycled.

Hurrah Pass
Steep up the canyon
Lockhart Basin Trail
Road to Lockhart Canyon

Through the remote forests of Manti-La Sal

Two and a half days later we arrive in the town of Monticello, where we do some shopping for the next 400 kilometers. In the coming days we expect to come across one gas station with a small store, though we are not sure if the shop will be open. To be sure, we make a phone call. The lady proudly tells Lynn that the store is open seven days a week. Nice, we think, that saves some weight in the bags. We do buy a lot of food anyways, because the prices in these kind of small shops are usually high. We climb up the mountains, back to the tree line and cold nights. Apart from some hunters and a group of tourists with very well-equipped jeeps, we don’t meet anyone. They stop to ask if we are ok. In remote areas it is sometimes easier to get help than in the big city. Fortunately we didn’t need it this time. We cycle over a ridge with beautiful views left and right.

Back in the endless forests
View from the mountain

After four days and full of expectation we descend towards the small shop. I tell Lynn about all the food I am looking forward to have for dinner later. The fun passes quickly when I enter the store. This is called a store? What a deception. A few small bags of crisps, some nuts and a large cooling with three microwave burritos of 8 dollars each. Frustrated, I grab two and put them in the microwave. I buy a way too expensive pack of cookies, but the most calories for our money. And that to think that we definitely have three more days to go. After having studied the map for a while we shift our route so that we pass by another gas station with a shop. The store employee assures us that there will be more to buy there. We decide to camp thirty kilometers up in the canyon, so that we won’t have to go that far the next day. From now on we survive on snickers, cookies and a bag of dry bread with sour cream that we had left.

The road to the shop was beautiful though

Cold nights in South Utah

There is a transition from mild to cold weather which results in a huge headwind in the canyon. Still we manage to arrive at the primitive campground that we had in mind. We decide to stay next to some other campers to have some shelter from the wind. Just after pitching the tent the neighbors come to us for a short chat. They invite us for dinner. Pasta with real Parmesan cheese and red wine, what a luck! When we tell about our (no) food adventure, they are happy to give us all kinds of food for the road! They’ll go home tomorrow anyway. Now we have more than enough. We also get some tips about a ‘slot canyon’ near the campground. The next morning we hide our bikes to take a look. We crawl and climb through a very narrow gorge that has been carved into the earth by water and wind.

Leprechaun Canyon

The coming days will be considerably colder. We have to camp one more night and then we expect to arrive at our Couchsurfing hosts. The wind picks up more and more and we place our tent on a flat part between some bushes. We dive into the tent quickly, because it is freezing cold. We cook our food while we are inside our sleeping bag with all our clothes, even the rain pants. We stay close together and keep each other warm. The next morning it is -15 °C in the tent, and with the strong wind it must feel much colder outside. We wait for the sun to come out and pack up as quickly as possible. But not long after we get very cold and to make things worse we have to go downhill as well. We can’t get warm anymore and are chilled to the bone. Lynn can’t do it anymore and starts walking. I keep trying to motivate her to keep cycling. She tries again and again, but in my eyes far too short to warm up well. I’m desperate when Lynn is sitting on the roadside crying. How do I get her to cycle the last 40 kilometers? The whole morning only one car came by and if we want to get a ride there must be space for the bicycles too. Then a car drives by from the other direction, the driver sees our little drama and turns around. She wants to help us and give us a ride. We look hesitantly at the size of the trunk. Don’t worry, I say, the bikes must fit! We remove the front wheels and they fit nicely. The two of us sit in the front seat and the woman turns on the heating. She is on vacation, has rented a car and just drove through the canyon. We now have to admire the canyon from the car, but that’s fine by us! We get dropped off at a cafe where we order some lunch, warm up and use the wifi. We are no longer in a hurry because our host lives two kilometers away. In the cafe we ​​talk to a very nice man who is interested in our story, after which he offers us a lunch. Why not, a second lunch will also taste! And so the drama is quickly forgotten.

The family where we sleep has been living in a small yurt for more than twenty years. A nomad tent that just fits a small heater, kitchen and sofa bed. With a small staircase, a second sleeping place has been created upstairs. They try to live as self-sufficient as possible, with solar panels for energy, water from a groundwater source, a compost toilet and vegetables from their own garden. Unfortunately they were not at home themselves, but we were welcomed by two friends who look after their home for two weeks. Hans and Ellen are building a house further down the road and currently have no permanent place to live. During the day when they are working, we stay behind in the yurt in front of the wood stove. After two days the temperatures rise to the normal values again (for the time of year) and we cycle further to Bryce and Zion National Park. More touristy and on the asphalted road, but a bit more comfortable in these temperatures.

Bryce Canyon
Very impressive

Beautiful National Parks: Bryce and Zion

A cycle path runs along Bryce canyon and we spend half a day in the National Park. Then we cycle on to Zion. After a spectacular descent we arrive in the gorge of Zion, where we cycle between the giant red and pink rock formations. It looks extra beautiful with the fall colors. We pitch our tent at the campsite and the next morning we take the first bus, of seven in the morning, to do the famous and notorious Angels Landing hike before the crowds arrive. We go up at a rapid pace and arrive with three other hikers at the most dangerous part of the route. We climb over a mountain ledge with the gorge 400 meters below us on both sides. A chain is attached to the rocks that we can hold on to. Even without fear of heights this is quite scary, but amazing to do. A unique experience.

Sunset in Zion
Up to Angels Landing
Look closely and you can see the chains we used to go up there
Made it to the top!
Looking into the gorge

Joshua Trees & Las Vegas

We are nearing the lower desert and the temperatures are perfect this time of year. Every time we come above 1,000 meters we see Joshua Trees, which only grow from this elevation. A special tree, actually not a tree but a succulent plant that looks like a tree. The only place where they grow is here in the Southwestern United States. After a long journey on rough roads we stay six days in Henderson, a big city next to Las Vegas. We are guests at James and Kimberly, their children, mother and grandmother. We feel very much at home and are really a member of the family. That does us good. Their enthusiasm about cycling also makes us motivated to continue our adventure. We get a tour of Las Vegas from Stans, a Dutch family friend, go mountain biking, celebrate a birthday and eat delicious and healthy food together.

Valley of Fire not far from Las Vegas
Joshua Trees in the distance

Through the Mojave Desert to Slab City

Our journey continues through the desert, where we follow a part of another bikepacking route. The route takes us through the Joshua Tree National Park, Slab City and the Anza-Borrego desert. We find a Warmshowers host in Slab City. Slab City is an old army base where only the asphalt road is left. About 200 people live here in the summer, but at least 1500 people in the winter when the temperatures are more liveable. Most people live in an old caravan where sometimes a structure is made over or beside it against the heat. There is also a lot of junk, it mostly looks like a junkyard in the middle of the desert. The people themselves call it the last piece of free society in the United States. There are no rules here, you can take your own piece of land and claim that it is yours. With old pallets or a circle of steel rubble you indicate that it is your place. When we look for our hosts, the Rabbits, the other residents turn out to be very helpful. At the only hostel in Slab City, which is also put together with garbage, the owner gives us wifi from his own phone so that we can get in touch come with our hosts. After some research we find our camp for the night. In the meantime, we cycle through different camps of artists who have made quite interesting things from the things they have found. The most famous place of Slab City is probably the painted mountain “Salvation Mountain”. The mountain attracts a lot of tourists because apparently a video clip of the artist Kesha has been filmed there. We are happy with our visit to the Rabbits, it gives us an insight into their lives in Slab City. They are one of the few who try to create something (in our opinion). They grow some vegetables, although that is not easy in this hot desert. They have chickens and geese for eggs, keep bees and have a special cockroach project where they breed, grind and eat cockroaches, full of protein and better for the environment 😉 .

The last free place
Salvation Mountain

Before we climb the last mountain pass to San Diego we cycle through the Anza-Borrego desert. When we cycle through Borrego Springs and visit the library to check the weather, we see that bad weather is coming. People on the street also tell us that it is better to wait, because it snows in the mountains. We hardly believe it, the weather has been great the last few days. Borrego is a nice village and we decide to set up the tent outside the city and spend the next days hanging out at the library, and put the tent out of the city again by the end of the day. There are also some homeless people hanging out at the library, who are basically doing the same as us. They all seem friendly and tell us where we can shower for free and give us the code for the door of a toilet in the city center. All very handy! We stay three days and the bad weather does not really come over the mountains, but the peaks around us turn white.

Art in Borrego

The last snow before Mexico

After three days we are tired of waiting and we decide to continue. The dark clouds still hang in the mountains where we have to go. During the first few kilometers we get some rain but also sun. Along the way a police officer stops us and tells us that it is impossible to continue. The roads are closed. We have climbed for a few hours and decide to take the chance anyway. The rain turns to snow quickly but it is not too bad. Up to the top of the climb we actually enjoy the snow, something which we won’t experience the next few weeks. But on the mountain pass, the weather suddenly changed dramatically. I could hardly see anything, it’s super windy and snows extremely hard. We also get freezing cold, we didn’t have a lot of clothes on while climbing, and changing clothes is not an option right here. We quickly put on a jacket and gloves and cycle down the road. We have to find a shelter soon and after a few kilometers we see some lights through the snow. It is a small shop, and a friendly lady sells us two hot chocolate and we can warm up at a small electric heater. She comes with all kinds of solutions, there is an Airbnb further down the road and there is also someone who can give us a taxi ride down the mountain. We decide to stay in the shop and wait until one of the customers goes the same direction and wants to take us. Because we don’t have that much money, but we do have enough time. The woman helps us by asking her customers and after two hours we have a ride. Thirty kilometers further and a lot lower the sun is back again. We celebrate it with dinner at the McDonalds. Tomorrow the last bit to San Diego and then on to Baja California, México!

One Comment on “Deserts and Canyons in Southwest USA”

  1. Mooi verwoord hoe je een K dag ervaart. En dat het dan toch goed afloopt, mensen op je pad die meeleven.

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