The American Southwest – especially the state of Utah – might not have great food, but it does have some of the most spectacular nature in the world to cycle through.
Photographer Paul Jeurissen and his wife Grace first cycled there in 1991. Since then they keep returning to experience its vast desert landscapes. There are some drawbacks to touring in the region such as expensive greasy food and RVs as big as freight trucks that drive the main roads.
Grace shares their experiences in this week’s 10 Questions.
1. What are the highlights of cycling through the American Southwest?
Of course the National Parks such as Bryce, Zion and Canyonlands are beautiful but for us the highlights were cycling Utah’s numerous back roads. On these dirt roads, the scenery is just as spectacular and it feels as if you have the whole road just for yourself.
2. Tell us about the food. America is known for hamburgers, so what’s the food like in Utah?
Outside of the large towns such as Moab, there’s not much choice. The small town groceries had a limited assortment and the only restaurant was usually a hamburger joint. Still, when we did come across a “normal restaurant” in the morning we would always stop for an “American breakfast”. All you can drink coffee, hash browns, pancakes, eggs and bacon. We could cycle a whole day on just one breakfast.
3. I have also heard that Utah has a large Mormon population?
Around half of the population is Mormon (church of Jesus Christ of latter-day saints). They are friendly but not as outgoing / extroverted as people we met in Nevada, Arizona or Colorado. Mormons have rules against drinking alcohol, tea and coffee. Coffee and tea are served in restaurants but Utah has some of the strictest alcohol laws in America. I still remember going to a small town liquor store to buy a bottle of wine. The shop lady just looked at me with disgust when I walked in. When I asked her to recommend a bottle of wine – she replied, “I wouldn’t know!!!!”
4. What’s the one thing every cyclist going to Utah should take with them?
If you are planning on cycling back roads and camping in primitive campgrounds, take a water filter. There are quite a few National Forest Ranger stations in Utah and the rangers can tell you which campgrounds and back roads have rivers or waterholes near them.
5. Did you take any special equipment that you would now leave behind?
Well, during one of our trips we took a tent that had a mesh inner tent. Unfortunately during that trip we were hit by a couple of evening sandstorms. The sand blew under the rain fly and into the tent through the mesh. We felt as if we were being sandblasted. By the next morning, the whole inside was covered in sand, it just got into everything!
6. Which resources are useful for planning a trip to Utah?
The best resource is Google. Via Google you can find a number of cyclists who have cycled the loop Bryce N.P. – Capitol Reef N.P. – Canyonlands N.P. – Monument Valley such as Cycling Around The World.
These travelogues will give you an idea of where you can buy food and which places are worthwhile to spend an extra day. As for cyclists who also want to bike the dirt roads – just type the name of the road in Google and you will often find information about that road by people who drove there in jeeps or 4-wheel-drive pickup trucks.
7. The route through the National Parks is popular. Were there any traffic problems?
Our biggest problem was the senior citizens in their huge RVs (recreational vehicles). Some of them are as big as freight trucks plus quite a few of their elderly drivers are half blind – not a good combination! I remember swearing at a couple of RVs who passed us too close yet in the evenings we would be invited over by these same older couples for drinks, snacks and tours of their RVs. One RV was so long that they even had a video camera mounted in the back end so that they could better maneuver their RV into a parking spot.
8. What’s the best reason you can give for why people reading this should plan their next bike trip in Utah?
The nature in Utah is so incredible, so immense! It really makes you feel small. Plus the Painted Desert and canyons, I’ve never seen so many different colors in rock formations. I know it sounds like a cliché but it is an incredible experience to cycle through this enormous landscape.
9. When is the ideal time to ride this route in terms of weather?
I think the best time is either early spring or late autumn.
10. What is an amazing experience that you’d recommend to everyone?
Take an MP3 player with you. When you find a “wild camp spot” with an amazing view just turn on some dramatic film music, sit back and enjoy the view!
Thanks to Paul & Grace for answering the questions and providing the photos. They have more American Southwest photos on their website.
Paul & Grace are now on a multi-year bicycle trip/project titled; “Bicycling around the world in search of inspiring cycle images”. They are photographing the different bicycle cultures around the world, and also the feeling of travelling by bicycle. The results can be seen on their blog, www.bicyclingaroundtheworld.com.