Basin & Range Road Trip, Part 1 – Great Basin and Zion

IT’S not the California Alps, no. Rather, it’s the yin to the Sierra Nevada’s yang. We’re talking about the Basin and Range and it’s well worth your time and effort to check it out.

WE made it back to the Sierra a couple weeks ago Saturday, and have fully recovered from our trip. Stowed the last of the gear today, in fact: sleeping bags that we recently picked up from the cleaners. They were a bit reeky after a week in the wilderness. Camp fire smell, too. No bueno.

WHAT a trip it was, our transit through a good chunk of the Basin and Range. Our first stop, as you may have seen in this post, was Great Basin National Park.

FROM there it was off to Zion and then we hit up Capitol Reef, for seven (7) total nights of camping. Moab was the cherry on top, especially after doing the campsite shuffle for a week; that hotel was SWEET (not quite as sweet as the shower at Ruby’s – keep reading – but close).

THIS post covers the first week of the trip, Great Basin and Zion. My next post will wrap things up with some petroglyphs, some reef (Capitol, that is), and some Moab, including Dead Horse Point State Park.

CAMPING is work. We had kinda forgotten that. Now I’m talking “real camping” not RVing or trailering. No disrespect to any of you that take that road – that too is pretty sweet. For us, though, it’s about budget, and storage considerations, so for now we’re sticking with the tent ‘thang.

OUR rig was packed to the max. Too max as it turns out. We were out of practice. It had been a bunch of years since our last camping trip and we never really did camp light anyway, and so we brought too much food, not enough beer and tequila, and too many things we thought we’d use.

WE did realize we needed a bigger tent, so we’ve got one on the way. And, my old white-gas-powered Coleman finally coughed up its last gasp of fumes during the trip, and so and we just tested out our new camp stove yesterday morning. Bacon and pancakes on the deck. Good stuff.

TWO items that seemed at first to be a bit much made the camping much better.

The first was a Dometic Sanipottie toidy, and the second was a contractor’s heater that attached to a 5-gallon tank.

ZIPPER burns began to form after several days of zipping in and zipping out of our casbah, as well as our gear tent.

Our home away from home at the Watchman Campground in Zion.

So zipping less, thanks to that toilet inside the tent (just so we’re clear…no doing #2 in the tent), was a welcome respite for our sore thumbs and index fingers.

AS for the heater

FIRING up that sucker in the a.m. kept me warm as I made the coffee.

YUP, campfires are a big part of the camping experience, and we certainly helped the local firewood economies with our purchases, but you can move and direct the heater. And it doesn’t produce smoke nor need to be doused.

BIKES? Sí! We brought two (2) bikes on the trip: a Trek Rail eMTB (Bessie) and my beloved Trek Domane, Roscoe, which was converted to a gravel bike a few years back.

That’s my boy, Roscoe, taking in the sights at Arches National Park.

I had planned on bringing a road bike too but ’twas one bike too many, and since I had a set of road wheels for Roscoe I went with that instead. Three (3) bikes for the price of two (2), if you will.

FROM the Sierra to the Wasatch the Basin and Range runs. It’s an amazing piece of geology and geography that I highly recommend experiencing. Up and over a pass, to then roll across an expansive valley, and then do it again and again, was akin to hitting the rollers on a nice ride, with some added flats to space things out until the next climb.

WITH our atlas in hand, and some books on roadside geology, we learned as we hauled ass across America’s Loneliest Road. The trip was made far less lonely because of the nuggets put forth by my copilot. From rock formations to geologic anomalies to various landmarks, the “B&R” doesn’t disappoint, and having our own personal library helped us glean more knowledge than we could have with just the nav.

AFTER Great Basin, which is an amazing place, it was off to Zion National Park, which while also incredible, was PACKED.

LESSONS learned– October is the busiest time of year for this area of Utah, and it’s easy to understand why. The weather was perfect, the fall colors were popping, and the historical and geologic sites are sublime. Our sardine packed shuttles were made more so by the fact that it was fall break for kids in Utah. Oh, and an annular eclipse added even more fish to the frier.

Up there! It’s an annular eclipse!
Wait. Do these glasses make our heads look big?

GOT in a nice ride, two actually, while in Zion, both in the canyon. My first ride of the trip was the day after arrival and I took Bessie up the canyon for a recon cruise.

IF you have an eBike that is the ticket in Zion. They can be rented in the nearby village for $100 a day, too. We didn’t move the truck much at all from our campsite. Too much congestion, and getting back into the park was a 1-2 hour wait in some cases. I could see the lines of cars as I made my way out of the park, to the local market, on Bessie. Just flashed our pass to get back in.

TAKING a bike up the canyon is itself a fantastic experience but the added bonus is that with one you can avoid the shuttles (other than pulling over for them – required in Zion) and instead lock-up at each trailhead. Zion does a good job of accommodating bikes at all trailheads and the canyon is closed to vehicles, other than the shuttles, with the exception of those going to the lodge. After the lodge there are no cars and so there are miles of road full of just us riders, like ants following a scent trail, with broad smiles and hellos all around.

Adding a little light and color to camp, thanks to our chargeable (inc. solar) light strings from MPOWERD.

AFTER a couple days of forced relaxation (one of my knees balked post-recon ride and swelled up like a melon) I was able to do the same ride on my own power, this time on Roscoe. It was chilly in the a.m. (40’s), and even more so in the canyon, so I went with knickers, a vest, arm warmers and full-fingered gloves. Two laps was the ticket as it turned out. The views change often as the sun rises or sets in the canyon so coming back up the second time was a different experience. Find and follow me on Strava, by the way (search “bikedalps”), if you’d like to see the routes, stats, etc.

EVEN with the crowds, five days in Zion was just what we needed: no TV, no email (there was service – Verizon). We used our phones for the most part only as it related to the trip, and tuned out the tech. as best we could. I actually finished a book and was able to beat my lovely wife in a couple games of scrabble, too. We worked our butts off doing that camping shtick. Time flew and we were having fun. One day morphed into the next and then it was time to go. Breaking camp was quite the adventure. We were anxious though, to get a shower, so that helped move things along.

Editor’s note: Gravel opportunities abound in “the B&R.” I drooled often as we saw some of the roads that had gravel potential. I mean there are options EVERYWHERE! Had some experience with that? Pass it on!

FROM Zion we took Highway 12, one of America’s Scenic Byways, about a four (4) hour drive, to Capitol Reef. We had hoped to stop and do a quick hike in Bryce Canyon before we made camp in Capitol Reef but that didn’t work out. It had been many moons, you see, since we had a shower. Our navigator (Mrs. CAC in case you hadn’t guessed) had done her homework and found for us Ruby’s Inn RV Park and Campground and for $16.00 we each nabbed a shower. That roll of quarters came in handy for the laundromat. Both experiences brought back memories, one better than the other. That shower was, we agreed, one of the best we’d ever taken in our lives.

WHILE the laundry was spinning we headed up the road for supplies. Beer, lunch and most importantly, tequila. It was an interesting experience getting my cactus juice in Utah. I had forgotten. So after some direction, and unlocking of the cabinet in “that lobby over there” by the attendant who looked very much like a gambling attendant in Nevada, vest, name tag, and all, we had our necessaries and back to Ruby’s we went.

Honey, I brought us a gourmet lunch of pre-made sandwiches, ruffles and beer. Oh, it’s so good, she says.

LAUNDRY folded. Stomach filled. Truck puzzle re-worked. Off we went to Capitol Reef. We hated driving past, and not into, Bryce, but time was of the essence. We very much dislike pitching tents in the dark so we had some motivation. See you next time, Bryce.

AND see you next time, too, and we’ll continue our adventure into Capitol Reef and Moab.

4 thoughts on “Basin & Range Road Trip, Part 1 – Great Basin and Zion”

  1. Great sights! At least you didn’t need quarters for the showers, as I did in Dubois, Wyoming. BTW, you can still get parts for Coleman white gas stoves, so maybe you can fix yours. I’m still using one I pulled out of someone’s trash 30 years ago. When I got it, there was a spider web in the gas line. Lack of gas flow is probably why it was tossed. Blowing it out was all it took to fix that. Periodic lubing of the leather pump washer is all that it has ever needed. It beats tossing out all of those butane canisters.

  2. Great trip and beautiful pics! One of my warmest, geologically and hydrologically mystical thoughts when I’m in Markleeville is that I’m sitting on the edge of the Great Basin and the Basin & Range. Always seems like a great privilege.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.