After filling up with gas we hightailed outta Hurricane headin’ north to Cedar City on I-15. As we passed the small towns of Browse, Pintura, Snowfield, Kolobo Canyon and New Harmony signs warned “drowsy drivers” to “use next exit”. We didn’t fit into that category at this point so politely ignored them.
We pulled off at exit 57 for Cedar City, self-styled “Festival City USA” (it does host an annual Shakespeare Festival as well as a music festival so I think it’s entitled), and spotted Starbuck’s where we had a breakfast of bagels and cream cheese and lattés. The incomparable Townes Van Zandt was singing “Pancho and Lefty” as we entered (though, sadly, not in person as he left us at a criminally young age fifteen years ago). On our exit Sting was crooning “every step you make I’ll be watching you”, which was a little more disconcerting.
We drove around Providence Plaza with its incongruous lighthouse (though I believe that there is a link with Rhode Island). I spied a smart looking bookstore entitled Deseret and immediately bounded in. However, it did not take long for me to decipher that this was not a bookstore in which I was likely to find any underground, or even secular, literature. The devotional muzak, clean cut, grinning staff and shelves of Mormon tracts hastened my exit and reminded me that we were still in the heart of Utah.
Turning off the I-15 we took the U-148 towards Panguitch. Despite the heat, the trees in the Dixie National Forest were beginning to show signs of Autumn’s approach.
We arrived at the Cedar Breaks National Monument, a kind of mini-Bryce Canyon, just in time to catch a talk by a park ranger from Akron, Ohio on what to do, or rather not to do, if we met a brown bear on one of the area’s trails. Essentially, it came down to the acronym SCRAP – we shouldn’t stare, call, run, approach or panic – now I think I could make a passable attempt at the first four but might just struggle with the last.
Anyway, should you come across a brown, or for that matter, grizzly bear on your morning commute or during your weekly shop, please bear in mind the advice I have kindly dispensed above. Hopefully, you’ll be as lucky as us and not meet any. But it’s as well to be prepared.
We decided to take the Chessman Ridge Trail, a two and a half mile loop at over 10,000 feet. The altitude caused us to catch our breath intermittently and my heart has never pounded so much – apart from that night with Jennifer Aniston in a motel room in Bakersfield.
Chipmunks nipped in and out of the bushes in front of us, though I was a little disappointed that we didn’t hear a single rendition of Ragtime Cowboy Joe. I’m referring here, of course, to the original band, not the modern team led by Alvin.
A party of local schoolchildren passed us in the opposite direction, and I couldn’t resist warning them to watch out for the bears. But kids are too streetwise these days to be freaked out by such news. I think they felt a little sorry for me. Ah well.
The most alarming moment, however, occurred with less than half of a mile of the trail left when both Janet and I realised that we couldn’t wait to get back to the visitor centre to take a leak. Whilst I resolved my particular issue in one of the many bushes on the side of the trail, Janet felt it necessary to pick a precarious spot on the side of a steep cliff upon which to relieve herself. For those readers of a delicate constitution I will not give any more details other than to say she somehow managed to maintain her balance and dignity (just). Nor do I have any photographic evidence.
Leaving Cedar Breaks we took U-143 towards Panguitch, a lovely road with cedars and pine trees turning yellow and orange almost before our eyes. However, before very long we encountered, as far as the eye could see, hundreds of sheep striding down the road in front of us.
They were clearly intent on crossing from a field on one side of the road to another, but not before they had gone for an afternoon stroll in the middle of the road first. There was no shepherd to be seen and they had little inclination to move out of the road other than in their own good time. Eventually, they dispersed, not least on account of a driver overtaking us and heading at speed for them. Perhaps he was a local and that this was the appropriate way to scatter them, but it seemed cruel and risky to us townies. At least we could now proceed slowly, avoiding the stragglers with ease.
As lunch had been no more than a granola bar at Cedar Breaks we were hungry by mid afternoon and grateful to come across a small restaurant at the Bear Paw Fishing Resort on the man-made Panguitch Lake. If the hearty food was not welcome enough, the proprietor proceeded to slap a map of the region down on our table and point out a host of potential places to visit in addition to those we had already planned to see. The road trip was getting longer by the day.
What struck us most on approaching Panguitch were the wide roads and number of single storey houses and trailers. We found the New Western Motel easily enough and were pleased to discover that, rather than the single motel room we had expected, we had been placed in a newly refurbished suite with separate lounge and bedroom. Equally surprising was the fact that it was run by Indians – no, not the Navajo, Hopi or Zuni, so prevalent in the southwest, but Hindus.
A much anticipated visit to Bryce Canyon awaited us on the next day.