Leaving Telluride at lunchtime we have some highway mileage before we pick up the TAT route again. Once on the route we begin to climb before the trail levels out on an open plain. We'd come across a road closed sign at the head of the trail and had ignored it. Sure enough the couple of stretches of repair works we'd come across on the trail were all but complete. Unfortunately for us the sign didn't apply to the roadworks we'd smugly driven around. A locked gate and a 'Road Closed' sign a mile or so further up the trail meant we had no option but to backtrack to the highway and work a way out to join back onto the TAT. Using the paper maps and GPS we soon work out a way to pick up a forest trail that'll join us back onto the TAT. It's worth saying that whenever we come across diversions and have to resort to using roads as a work around it never feels like we're 'cheating'. Diversions and trail closures are inevitable and all part of the Trans Am Trail experience. No two persons TAT will be the same and working out alternative routes that link back into the TAT route is all part of the navigational challenge.
We leave the Rockies behind us and the landscape flattens out into Southern Utah. It's already a world away from Black Bear Pass and the late afternoon succession of fast wide gravel tracks provide a smooth passage to our motel in Monticello. The owner is wearing his National Rifle Association T-Shirt. A Chinese visitor asks the owner if there's a Chinese restaurant in town. 'You gotta be kiddin' me?!!' is his rather abrupt repsonse. Trump supporter we're guessing.
We depart Monticello and head for Moab via the La Sal mountains. So called because Spanish explorers who discovered the area were sure that the snow covered mountain peaks couldn't possibly be snow in the heat of the desert of Southern Utah. It's 60 miles by road to Moab but we spend all morning negotiating trails in the La Sal's before we begin our spectacular descent into Moab passing the huge 'Lion's Back' slab of sandstone slickrock. Lion's Back is now closed so there would be no repeat of the infamous out-of-control Chevy Blazer on this visit. We stop at Milt's diner - establised 1954 and Moab's oldest restaurant - for brunch where Wes texts our occasional travelling companion dirt biker Matt to find out his progress. True to form Matt replies - 'I'll be with you in ten minutes!' He'd had an oil change and another rear tyre replacement and had spent a day playing with one of the UTV or Side-by-Side buggies that are now everywhere in Moab. I've been to Moab a few times and it was interesting to note how the town is expanding along the highway that runs through it with the UTV rental companies now easily outnumbering the Jeep rental companies that were once a Moab staple.
That afternoon, Matt goes off to play with his buggy while Wes and I explore the Schafer Trail just for the hell of it. Wes had never been to Moab before so it's a nice trail to get a feel for the landscape and ends with a multiple series of switchbacks that climb up a cliffside. It's not a difficult trail but one that definitely provides spectacular views. I say it's not difficult but I suspect the young couple we saw on the trail in their Toyota Camry would argue otherwise...
We spend the night camped in the mountains above Moab where Matt has created his own little dirt-biker oasis. Leaving town in the morning we spot the couple in the Discovery I'd spoken to back in Ouray. The TAT trail leaves Moab via the Gemini Bridges trail. It's a popular Jeep trail and we encounter lots of rental buggies and Jeeps before the TAT route pushes out into the wilderness of the Utah deserts. We don't see anyone all afternoon.
We ask the motel receptionist in Castle Dale where is a good place to eat. She suggests the restaurant across the road. As we leave the following morning we notice it's the ONLY restaurant in town. A morning of forestry trails spits us out in the town of Eiphram. We spy a sign for 'Diner' on the main street which turns out to be the local Bowling Alley. We hesitantly go inside and sure enough it's a diner. We're soon joined by a group of Canadian dirt bikers. They have a South African guest who's the only person amongst their party to have ever seen a Land Rover Defender before!
Leaving Eiphram I spot what appears to be a group of Dodge Chargers in a yard. Stopping to take a pic, I turn around and find the owner of the Charger's is taking pictures of my Land Rover. Robby is the owner of the local bodyshop and the curator of an impressive collection automobiles. He'd bought the three and a half '69 R/T Chargers and a '69 big block Coronet for $21,500 from a local guy in failing health. He wasn't sure what he was going to do with them but knew they were money in the bank. Robby was also the reigning Utah Demolition Derby Champion and proudly showed us his well used race car that he assured me was once a Cadillac and now ran a 650bhp Chevy LS engine. The car looked like it had just returned from a meeting but Robby told me he was just about to load up for a meeting!
More desert. More dust. That night we were aiming for the town of Baker where the TAT route crosses the state line into Nevada. The suggested motel on the TAT map doubles as a Casino. I'd had a cheap Casino accommodation back in Mississippi so we knew that would work despite the fact that neither of us gambled. This 'casino' turns out to be a tired gas station come motel with a room at the back of it with a few slot machines. We decide to pass. We know there's an alternative in Baker itself so head there instead, accidentally missing a turn on the TAT route so that we inadvertently find ourselves running down the local airstrip into town!
The Baker motel is quirky with a cool hippy vibe. The bar is a large fridge of beer with self-service. Our room is effectively part of a sectioned off trailer home. The bathroom is bright yellow and the owner turns off the internet at 10pm. A sign on the room wall reminds guests 'You're in Baker Nevada, not Paris!' It's great. Whilst sat outside enjoying the setting sun a lone biker arrives and pulls up alongside us. He points to his fuel tank. We tell him there's a self-service gas station just around the corner. He gives us the thumbs up before returning looking very relieved. He's a Brazilian biker touring the US on his BMW GS and tells us he's already racked up 14,000 miles. We bump into one another again checking out the following morning when he asks whether I have a business card. He tells me he's the largest dealer for Phillipe Partek watches in America and offers to give me a good deal on a watch as a thank you for the gas station tip off the night before. He wasn't clear on what a good deal is on a $120,000 Patek watch is though...
Dust on the long fast stretches of Utah desert trails have suddenly become our nemesis. Leaving Baker we have sections on the map that are straight 50/60 mile blasts across the desert. We take turns to lead to give the other a chance to escape the dust cloud kicked up by the front man. In the end we just give the lead car a head start so the second car is at least driving in clean air. Nevertheless, the inescapable swirling vortex at the back of the vehicles means it's hard to escape the dust - especially Wes in his softtop Jeep. Not that the Defender fares much better with its legendary sealing qualities! It coats everything on the inside of the vehicle including us.
We have a long and dusty final day in Utah. We find ourselves driving on a section of the old Pony Express trail as well as the Trans Continental railroad route very close to Promontory Point where the east and west rail crews met and drove a ceremonial Golden Spike into the ground before presumably, hastily removing it and replacing it with a regular steel spike and telling the Chinese labourers to get back to work.
We had planned to stop off at Promontory Point to recreate the picture of two engines nose-to-nose. We were however delayed when we got to Bonneville and discovered there was a race meeting on the salt. The nice lady at the gate gave us free pit-passes as it was Sunday and late in the day. Seeing and hearing a Streamliner racing across the salt was something to tick off the bucket list and a great way to celebrate my 50th birthday.
Leaving Bonneville we head out across another stretch of lonely and dusty desert. It's late afternoon and we've still a way to go to get to that nights planed stop in Tremonton. Rounding a corner Wes is flagged down by a rough looking guy in tattoos, vest and cap. We've spread out to avoid the dust clouds so I'm a few minutes behind Wes. He's on his own here. Working as a prison guard, Wes tells me he's gained a sixth sense to read potential situations and people. He spots his US Marine tattoo's and Vet's cap and figures he's probably okay. It turns out him and his family camped out in the desert last night to play with their home made buggies and left the interior light on in their truck. They'd been waiting an hour and a half for someone to come by with fingers crossed they had a set of jump-leads/booster cables on board. We could do better than that. We were both carrying Lithium micro booster packs which did the trick and fired up their Chevy with the first turn of the key. One happy and relieved family.
Ten minutes further down the trail and with the sun starting to set Wes gets a puncture. We are both carrying tyre plugging kits and 12v compressors but decide to change the wheel and get going rather than risk the plug not working and waiting around to inflate the tyre. Besides, the gun shots from locals target practice in the desert was a little disconcerting to this pair of colonials.
It's gone eight-thirty when we find a motel in Tremonton. We're both tired and filthy. We ask where's the best place to get a beer and food in town. After all it's my 50th. The motel receptionist looks at us as if we've asked the most crazy question in the world. 'At this time?! On a Sunday?!'
The evening of my 50th is spent in a Wendy's restaurant as the staff mop up around our feet and we dine on the food they were just about to throw away before locking the door at 9pm. We get back to the motel and make use of the 24hr laundry across the street. Definitely a memorable one.