Destination: South Dakota… Or Is It Utah?

By Gary Mraz

Generally awake for sixteen hours a day, we humans spend much of that time sitting. Crawling through traffic for hours to a nine-to-five leaves precious few for watching reruns of Seinfeld, all very comfortably seated …going nowhere. Good Lord, even our blood travels 8,000 miles in sixteen hours!

DSC_2394I intend on spending my days very comfortably seated, at 80 mph towards South Dakota. Factoring in a few pit stops, a good lunch, even an hour just sight-seeing, I map out what I surmise is a 16-hour Iron Butt approach to day one of riding. I scrutinize each and every town in my path. Salt Lake City, Provo, Soldier’s Summit, Helper, Price and Green River are all direct hits.

Spending this kind of time in the saddle takes some serious preparation. Packing water, snacks, clothes and a rain-suit. The basics for any long ride. It’s November and Utah get weather. The Victory Cross Country has the largest cargo capacity in its class (40 Quarts) and I use every drop. Everything including street shoes, lap top, camera and even a tripod fits.

Kick stand up at 7 am I’ll own the road, cruise control on, rockin’ the beats. There’s plenty of time to think about the new bike. In this author’s opinion, Victory makes one of America’s best touring motorcycles.

IMG_0064Interstate 15 to Las Vegas allows one to contemplate the grand expanse before you. Traveling hundreds of miles through arid desert requires a modicum of creature comforts. Amenities like XM radio or an iPod, spacious floorboards, incredibly comfortable seating, ergonomically perfect riding position, the aptlynamed Cross Country lives up to expectations. Leaving Las Vegas and short 23-mile ride through Arizona, I enter Utah and the town of St. George. 396 miles into the journey and It’s time to take a serious break, eat lunch and ruminate. What better place than the Seven Wives Inn to consider exactly where I’ll sleep tonight. Soldiers Summit, Helper, Price or Green River hit the perimeter. Soldiers Summit reveals a ghost town, population zero, that’s out, neighboring Helper has One Motel! I immediately book a room.

With cruise control at 95 and 50-mile visibility the Utah high desert is filled with mysterious Hoodoos and Buttes that loom like gothic spires harboring watchful gargoyles. Washington bureaucrats refused Utah’s admission into the union because bedding multiple wives was a federal offense. It wasn’t until 1897 that America’s 45th state finally renounced the practice and statehood was granted, 50 years after California! This terrain is down right spectacular, the sheer comfort and grace of the Cross Country seems to alter time and I make Helper sooner than expected. Under an eerie waning moon the Riverside Motel appears like an oasis for lost souls. 697 miles and fourteen hours in the saddle and destination is known… bed.

P1080649Enjoying a day of recuperation I find Helper to be an amazing city. The most liberal, non-Mormon in Utah, it seems Helper has always been a wild place with most of its five Hotels operating as Brothels until 1974. On April 21, 1897, Butch Cassidy robbed the Pleasant Valley Coal Company in nearby Castle Gate and stayed in Helper the day before. Nowadays Helper hosts a yearly arts festival, Butch Cassidy Outlaw car & motorcycle show and in the future, a film festival. The owner of The Utah Hotel and the Balance Rock Café suggested I stay in their rooms where they house visiting artists during the summer at the Helper Art Workshops. Recently renovated, the Utah Hotel is an historic building; in fact, the entire commercial district is on the National Historic Registry, even boasting a geological feature, Balance Rock. Downtown literally hasn’t changed for 100 years. Currently though, Helper is experiencing a renaissance and the former Hotels of ill-repute are being renovated into art studios and living spaces. There are plans to renovate the historic Strand Theater to its original glory. The Rio Theatre, a fully equipped and professional stage currently hosts performances. Home of the Western Mining & Railroad Museum Main Street Helper is right out of a movie set. The days of the Private Club are gone and new bars serve up shots and serious mixed drinks. Utah’s Wasatch Brewery makes a dark beer called Devastator that’s 8% alcohol and their Polygamy Porter (Why Have Just One) motto proves this ain’t your daddy’s Utah. Helper is a rider’s paradise centrally located for day trips. I decide to spend a few days here.

IMG_0105A nearby geological site takes me to the sleepy town of Midway and one of the planet’s most unusual swimming holes, the Homestead Crater. Spectacular vistas of the snow covered Wasatch Mountains cradle U.S 6 north. A 55-foot-high “calcite” dome houses an ancient, mineral rich hot spring. The geo-thermal crater rises on the grounds of the Homestead Resort near Wasatch Mountain State Park. Over 10,000 years old, the native Anasazi Indians were lowered by rope from a hole at the dome’s top into the healing 96-degree water. Today, visitors enter through a 110-foot tunnel bored into the dome’s porous rock wall above the water line. Take a dip in this geo-thermally heated crystal-clear crater and gaze down 65 feet at mineral deposits that grace the chamber’s sides. Hot steam rising in the chilly air and eerie illumination depict a strange portal to a stygian abyss. The Sidetrack Café in adjacent Heber City is a must stop for lunch. The food is fantastic, coffee excellent and baked goods to die for, try the Dream Bar.

The magnificent diversity of Utah’s landscape is constantly changing costume like a Harlot seducing a suitor. A shifting spectrum of light turn’s the apricot colored hoodoos of Goblin Valley to rose, then magenta. An ever changing molten palette of hues evolves before your eyes.

Hoodooa. One that brings bad luck. b. Geology, A column of eccentrically shaped rock, produced by differential weathering.

P1080649Utah is laden with Buttes and Hoodoos and one can’t escape the gaze of these mammoth sentinels guarding their sacred terrain. Scenic Byway 12 south is considered one of Americas most scenic roads. In a state known for its scenic drives this 62-mile stretch may arguably be the most attractive drive in the nation. The list of amazing destinations in Utah is overwhelming. Dinosaur Diamond, Bryce and Zion National Park, The Arches National Park, Balanced Rock, The Wave, Waterpocket Fold to name only a few. Over 70 percent of the land is either Bureau of Land Management (BLM), national or state parks, and motorcycles gain access at half the price of cagers. Bewitching, surreal, exalting – how many superlatives can one declare of this wondrous place and how did I miss this before now? The Victory Cross Country embraces the thrill of curves and thrust of acceleration yet disappears beneath you, allowing the rider to coalesce with the passing panorama.

Alas, South Dakota is my destination.