Utah National Parks is a new tour for the Cycling House, scheduled for June 6th-13. Follow along with Chef Drew and Camp Director Ian Mallams as they hit the open road and do a late-fall week of research through Zion, Bryce, and Capitol Reef. If it sounds like it was cold while they were there, don’t worry! Our trip is scheduled for summer.
Day 1: Missoula, MT to Ogden, UT
Chef Drew here from Ogden, UT. One may be surprised to learn just how much hard work and preparation goes into scouting a new Cycling House tour. Over the course of the next four days, I am headed on an adventure with partner in crime: Ian “Big Cat” Mallams, to scout the absolute best cycling destinations the National Parks of southwestern Utah have to offer. Because of Utah’s diversity across the board we have thoroughly researched the weather and the beer situation, allowing us to be well prepared in order to seek out unknown roads, jaw dropping trail, and the home-style accommodations we all have come to expect and enjoy at the Cycling House.
The trip actually began today in Missoula, Montana, home to the Cycling House office. Ian decided to replace his 11 year old tires on his Volkswagon Vanagon, and I started up the company mini-van known as “Black Magic” (but not before grabbing a bunch of local full percentage beer.) Although I gave Ian a full hour head start, we met in Dillon, MT for dinner and I arrived in Ogden a full hour ahead of his snail-paced VW. Tomorrow we are off to Southern Utah where the adventure begins.
Day 2: Ogden to Capital Reef
Ian here to recount Day 2 of our scouting trip. After a quick AM climbing session we outfitted Black Magic and headed south…until we needed a second breakfast 1.4 miles down the road. Betos offered just the ticket, hole-in-the-wall authentic Mexican for some hearty driving fuel. We couldn’t resist two breakfast burritos accompanied with three taquitos with guacamole. Betos kept Chef Drew supercharged behind the wheel for a whopping 45 minutes then knocked Drew into a tormenting food coma.
Today’s destination was Capitol Reef National Park, a small piece of history nestled in the center of Southern Utah. Capitol Reef hosts vast amounts of human and geologic history in an oasis of the region. The highlight is the 10-mile scenic drive ending with a road through a slot just wide enough for a couple cars and canyon walls overhanging hundreds of feet above. Post scenic drive, the sleepy town of Torrey became a wintery blizzard with snow and wind. Although the original plan was for a night of camping, we opted for a pizza and the warmth and beds at a local inn.
Day 3: Capital Reef to Escalante
Up bright and early, we were on the way to the village of Boulder, UT. Boulder is missed with the blink of an eye but its majestic quaintness makes for the perfect destination to begin a Cycling House trip. The Boulder Mountain Lodge is a tranquil oasis protected against the harsh elements of the desert. The scenic complex of cabins is also host to one of the most renowned restaurants in the entire southwest, Hells Backbone Grill. Hells Backbone grill is a true farm-to-table experience serving authentic and delicious cuisine of the American Southwest. At this point our hunger had tipped the scale so this place was a no-brainer for our morning brunch.
After learning the lay of the land at the Lodge it was time to explore the secret Burr Trail Road, an allegedly paved road venturing east toward the waterpocket fold of Capitol Reef National Park. As it turned out, this is truly the hidden gem of Utah Road Cycling. With minimal traffic and incredible scenery the Burr Trail weaves through Navajo Sandstone hills before dropping into the sandstone cliffs of Long Canyon. This route will undoubtedly be a highlight of the trip. At the far end of the trail, the road turns to dirt and descends a set of extremely exposed switchbacks into the belly of Capitol Reef National Park.
It was back on the grind in Escalante on the lookout for some bonus cycling miles and accommodations for the evening. For Drew and I, it would be a snowy and cold night of camping but the glories of having a Chef aboard is the fantastic meals even in 8 degree weather and cooking out of the back of the mini-van. The man cooked a gourmet meal and simultaneously took some great photos and washed down a beer.
Day 4: Escalante to Zion
When I awoke at 6:47AM it was 8 deglrees out I was ready to start another day with the chef. Today’s destination was Bryce Canyon National Park, host to the famous bright orange hoodoos below the high pine forests of the canyon rim. Although we had another sunny day in the desert, the high altitudes of Bryce held snow on the ground and temperatures remained brisk with the wind.
Upon arrival into the park we put on our hiking shoes and descended into the Queen’s Garden, many years listed as one of the top ten hikes in the country. This well defined trail leads one into the depths of Bryce’s hoodoos.
Over the course of the afternoon, we made our way onward to the Zion area. Along the way, we encountered a number of exciting turns: we passed by Chef’ s old cabin near Panguitch Lake, drove a well hidden immaculate paved road, and Drew almost convinced me to take a snowy dirt road through the high country plopping us out at the entrance to Zion claiming it would be a ‘shortcut.’ By sheer miles he told the truth but after driving a couple hundred yards down the loose snowy road, I recognized this micro-adventure may be too much even for the mighty “Black Magic.” Drew had jumped out for a minute and as a penance for his thoughts, I shoved “Black Magic” into reverse and retraced my tracks back out to the main highway forcing Chef to slog back to the car through the snow. A short hour later we were winding between the canyon walls of Zion and sought out a place to camp so we could rest up for the final day of recon.
Day 5: Zion to Ogden
Today’s agenda consisted of dialing in our itinerary for the Zion region of the trip. After doubling up on Mocha’s from Deep Creek Coffee Company we visited Flanagan’s Resort and Spa, our two-night accomodation for the end of the trip. The shaded villas and spa accommodations offered at Flanagan’s are sure to be a hit after a warm week in the Southern Utah desert. They even have a real labyrinth on a terrace above the estate for those wishing to engage in a moment of soul searching. Chef Drew couldn’t deny himself participation.
As for the daily recreational activities, Zion is truly second to none. Zion is actually Utah’s first National Park. The walls of the Zion Canyon are some of the most impressive in the country. The Chef and I made our trip into the canyon a full outing. Riding with small backpacks to hold our running shoes and some food we sandwiched a climb of Angels Landing into our ride. The ride was absolutely stunning that morning, with yellows and mahogany reds of the foliage matching the expansive walls of the canyon. By the time we returned to our camp, dusk was imminent and we stopped by Red River Roasting Company for quad shot mochas to power our road trip back to Ogden, Utah.
Thanks for tuning in and keep an eye out for the final Utah National Parks Route Itinerary to be released soon! Check out some photos from the road trip below.
Chef Drew and Ian “Big Cat” Mallams