Doing Utah Every Which Way
Kawasaki recently took us for a two-day trip to sample their motorcycle, side-by-side and Jet Ski line up, but it was more an opportunity to sample the stunning delights of the state of Utah.
We’re in Utah for a press trip with a difference. Kawasaki has invited us to come and try not just the Versys 1000 and Versys X-300, but also have a go in a side-by-side and a final romp on its ungodly fast supercharged, 1498cc, inline four-cylinder Jet Ski Ultra 310 LX. Yet within five minutes of riding on day one, it could be any bike beneath me and I wouldn’t have cared, because I was so enthralled by the stunning vistas around me.
Prehistoric is a word that springs to mind when thinking of Utah’s Snow Canyon State Park. The burnt orange and white sandstone cliffs all around me, a visual and geological result of 2500-foot deep sand dunes compressed by hundreds of millions of years, swap light flashes between the canyon, making it difficult to keep my eyes on the road and the Kawasaki Versys 1000 pointed in the right direction.
Photography by Kevin Wing and Doug Henry
The beauty of this park is simply staggering. It’s easy to imagine this place not so different from now, when great beasts walked on uninhabited land that was in a constant state of evolution. Searing hot lava carved its way through the sand and rock to create the basalt salt deposits that dot the landscape, the valleys and, much later, the roads we’re now able to ride through.
Located in the 62,000-acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, Snow Canyon State Park was created in 1959, although human interaction with the landscape runs much further than that. The Anasazi Indians were the first to call this place home, ruling the land from A.D. 200 to 1250, while in slightly more modern times, the canyon was home to the Paiute Indians from A.D. 1200 to the mid-1800s. Between that time and now, hardly anything has changed. There are roads and walking and mountain bike trails, but essentially what is laid out in front of me is what’s been here all along.
The riding through Sand Canyon State Park is short and sweet, taking about 10 minutes to get through from one end to the other, but the photography opportunities are the stuff that lens men and women dream of.
We head northwest and begin climbing elevation, through the fall-encrusted colors of Pine Valley and into our lunch stop of Cedar City, where we pit for lunch at a Centro Woodfired Pizza. That might not sound like much, but aside from having seriously, seriously good, authentic Italian pizza, Centro is right next door to The French Spot, a tiny hole in the wall café owned by Frenchman Michel Attali, a Michelin Star chef who makes the single best coffee I’ve had out of Italy.
Following our longer-than-usual lunch feast, I walk out to see my Versys 1000 has been swapped for a bike nearly three-quarters smaller. The Versys X-300 is a fantastic little bike, and, even though I peg it to near max revs after about three minutes on board and keep it there for the rest of the freeways we encounter, the X never once complains. It feels near bulletproof.
Before I know it, we’re getting right into the rocks and loose gravel as we head up into the hills overlooking Cedar City, and the X’s number-one trump card of near zero weight compared to the 1000 comes to the fore. It’s so maneuverable, so light on its feet, the X is like a 300cc toy in the loose stuff. I can’t help but think a 400cc version, with a little bit of tuning, might just be the ideal ADV bike, right, Kawasaki?
Eventually we cross into the northwest corner of Zion National Park, which was getting ready to host the frankly bonkers Red Bull Rampage mountain-bike event where riders send it off sheer cliff faces in a time-trial-style competition to the bottom of the canyon. Look it up.
As someone who moved to this country rather than being raised here, the name Zion belongs in the upper echelon of places every adventurer must visit. It’s jaw-dropping pretty, like Sand Canyon but wider, redder, and more famous, as the flock of tourist traffic proved. We simply ride through the National Park, although the place is one of the most mysterious and intriguing I’ve seen since calling this country home. A 15-minute ride through is not going to put a mark on the ground in Zion, so a return ride is already in the works for 2019.
Now for something a little different. Rather than riding around the outside of the dunes, this morning we’re going to drive right into them. Hang on, drive, I hear you say? Yes, drive. Time was a few years ago when Cycle News would get the odd opportunity to test out a Side-by-Side four-wheeler, all in the name of ensuring the powersports industry was in good health.
I am not necessarily here to “test” this Teryx4 UTV, because I have no credentials in doing so other than I like things with engines that go to cool places, which is more or less how I started writing about bikes to begin with.
The Teryx4 uses a 783cc V-twin, which feels rather timid given the fact other Side-by-Sides I’ve driven, like those from Polaris, seem more competition focused. The Teryx is like a four-wheel-drive go-kart with a roll cage—good thing, as I might need it later in the afternoon.
Back in Australia, I spent way too much money building a rock-crawling 4×4 Hilux. This thing could go up terrain I’d have a hard time getting up on a proper enduro bike, so jumping into a Teryx4 is a little like channeling my old Aussie roots as we cross the road into Sand Hollow State Park and head south. The deep sand dunes are littered with thick tire tracks, and I start getting seriously confident in the Teryx4’s and my abilities to get through this mammoth sand castle safely.
Our first stop is Top of The World, an aptly named point in Sand Hollow that overlooks a god almighty large canyon with the ever so faint lights of Las Vegas flickering in the distance on a clear night.
As we charge back into the park in the Teryx4, we encounter some properly large rock formations that the Teryx4 simply eats up. It’s more a case of holding my nerve than the vehicle not being able to make it. Like some kind of aluminum and plastic covered bear, the Teryx4 crawls up near vertical 10 feet tall rocks like it’s nothing. Even though this particular side-by-side is more for fun cruising than serious terrain smashing, it’s still impressive to see where it can go, matched to an engine that’s far from fast, but ideally suited to the sand formations in Sand Hollow State Park.
The rest of the drive, I rein the enthusiasm back in somewhat. A few more rock-crawling missions, some nice photos and a safe return to base is a welcome respite from knowing I could have royally screwed myself out there. A burger and fries is well in order.
The final few hours are spent across the street on the expansive Sand Hollow Reservoir, getting to know the Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra 310 LX. This thing is like a Ninja H2 turned into a watercraft. The 1498cc, inline four-cylinder supercharged engine is so bloody fast, it feels like it will literally pull your arms from their sockets. And the acceleration is instant. I mean, to the tenth of second. It goes from zero to holy-sh!t before your brain has time to catch up, yet if you want to be smooth and have some slower speed fun, it’ll do that, too.
Doing drag races with your buddies is all well and good, but I find it more fun to use to play with the waves, creating one and bouncing off the other in a figure of eight. It’s doing slow-speed stuff like this that shows the versatility of the motor, as at near crawling pace it’s sublimely smooth, just like it is when going flat out.
All the stuff we got to ride and drive was cool to experience, but that’s not the take away I’ll have from the trip. The best part was to getting lost in Utah, seeing the kinds of landscapes and vistas that are so unique to this amazing state.
A week after this trip was done, I was back in Utah to ride through Moab. If ever there was a visual example of Katharine Lee Bates and Samuel A Ward’s 1883 song America The Beautiful, this place is surely it. There’s so much history, so much charisma to this state, and it’s best explored and devoured by motorcycle. I can’t wait to get back. CN