After Cullen and Nick kindly dropped me off in the desert, I set out to ride the Lockhart Basin Road. This rough jeep trail links up with Monticello, from where I planned to cross the Navajo Reservation and rejoin the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in New Mexico.
I don't mean to be pedantic, but I'm not sure if I'd really call the Lockhart Basin Road a road. It's far better than that: a rough and ready trail that wends its way across the desert, on the edge of beautiful Canyonlands National Park.
Initially, it followed the contours of the Colorado River.
Conditions varied from deep, energy-sapping sand...
... to babyhead boulders. Some cursing, and lots of pushing ensued. As I heaved my overly laden bicycle out of one of the many gullies, I wondered if I'd bitten off just a little more than I could chew.
In fact, it was so narrow, tortuous and steep at times, it was hard to believe it could be driven by jeeps.
With only a map to guide me, a sign comes as something of a relief.
Still, it didn't stop me from getting lost just a few minutes later. With so many quad tracks and dry riverbeds disappearing into almost every canyon, escaping the basin floor wasn't always obvious. After the third dead end, I realised I had to keep an eye out for these helpful cairns.
With much huffing and puffing, I made it to the top of the plateau. It was like looking down at giant pieces of a jigsaw.
Thankfully, the trail smoothed out into a hardpack track, and I could make quicker time.
I've now fitted a Marathon XR at the back for longevity, and a Marathon Extreme up front for grip. So far, so good.
The snow covered La Sal mountains. The highest peak is 12 721 feet as is called Tu-ku-neek-evots in Navajo - the one that holds the sun longest.
It was beautiful out there. So very serene. I felt like I had the desert to myself. My mood flitted from joy and happiness, to tears for people I left behind and missed. Skip would probably call it the yin and the yang of bike travel.
The rocks took on an almost organic quality; deep shadows contrasted dramatically against the sun bleached sandstone.
In the middle of nowhere, a trailer riddled with bullet holes. Eery.
I was carrying ten litres of water as there were no creeks or streams along the route. Recent snow meant there was some water in the potholes though, which I could filter.
Tunnels and arches sculpted by the elements.
It was getting late, and the rockface was saturated in the last light of the day. I was spoilt for choice when it came to camping.
Stepping out of my tent in the morning, I held my breath for a moment. Nothing but complete silence.
In the distance lay the Needles District of the Canyonlands National Park.
Cayote prints. Bicycle tyre prints...
... and redneck prints.
Who put that there?
Sand and washboard. I was on the homestretch now, perhaps 60 miles from Moab, and about to reach...
... blacktop. I was almost glad to make it onto pavement again. Almost.
The views here were just as stunning. Indian Creek is famous in rock climbing circles for its world class sandstone routes.
Climbers were everywhere, scaling these vast formations like little ants.
Newspaper Rock - or Tse Han, in Najavo (rock that tells a story) - is etched with a petroglyph panel that dates back two thousand years. No one knows if the symbols represent story telling, hunting magic, or are just ancient graffiti...
Rather than taking the highway to Monticello, I turned off 211 onto a mountain road. Had I studied my map a little more carefully, I might have noted that it climbed for 12 miles back up to over 8000 feet. Back in the snow line I went...
Finally I freewheeled back down into Monticello, which was settled by pioneers from the Church of the Latter Day Saints in 1887. There, I was offered a spot to camp on a nearby ranch, and fed an enormous dinner by Paul and his wife Glenis. It was a feast: 'I'll be mad if you leave the table hungry,' said Paul. So I did my best to hoover up all that was offered to me. Paul was ex-army and a retired school teacher. He wore round wire rim glasses with a cowboy hat, jeans and a wrangler shirt, and had a brusque, efficient, yet warm manner. In the morning he announced: 'I'm going to make you a power breakfast'. Cue juice, fruit, and cereal laced with honey, ground wheat, pecans and peanuts. Fuel for the day.
Paul and Glenis built the cabin themselves, using Ponderosa Pine hauled out from the nearby Abajo Mountains.
It was stunning inside, rustically decorated with traditional Indian bows, arrows, clothing and single action guns, all of which they'd made themselves - even the Kentucky Flint Lock rifle hanging on the wall, the English fowling piece and the Tomahawk axe. Paul was something of a Wild West buff, and filled me in on the history of the region. It felt like they wished they'd been born into a different era.
This machine makes bullets. Paul reckons the 'four corners' of the US - the area where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet - is the safest part of the US. The reason? Everyone carries guns, and as everyone knows it, there's no trouble. We'll have to agree to disagree on that one.
I was told me all about how Venetian beads were used for trading purposes with the Native Americans - apparently Manhattan was swapped for $26 dollars of glass beads. Each beaver that the Native Americans brought to the whites was worth a silver pendant, which was then spent in the trading posts. When it came to leaving, I thanked them both for their kind hospitality, and the beads they'd given me to sew onto my pannier. In typical Paul style, he replied: 'As long as you had a warm night and ate good, I'm happy'. And with that, I was on my way again.