I recently had the privilege of attending two events that brought me to Utah two weeks in a row. Utah is, and has been, one of my absolute favorite places to visit. Since I first laid eyes on its mars-esque landscapes, I was hooked. Every cross country ride or drive I take, I route them through Utah. I’ve passed through more than I’d like to admit, while only stopping to enjoy parts of the state a handful of times.
Lately, I’ve been scheming as to how I could get back to the beehive state do some more remote exploring. Dual-sport or adventure riding through Utah for days or weeks on end fill my daydreams as I sit at my computer. I want to truly experience the terrain. I want to be a part of it. I want to explore Utah by all means. In my most recent trip, Kawasaki helped me come a closer to turning those daydreams into reality.
We began our first day of exploring Utah’s southwestern corner on the Kawasaki Versys family. For the first half of the day we had a few Versys 1000 LTs and a 650 at our disposal. I opted for the 1000 because, well, more is more. The Versys 1000 is a great steed for chomping up miles comfortably, complete with side cases for storing your necessities, a 1043cc inline-Four providing plenty of smooth power, and an all-day comfortable riding position.
Starting out from the Sand Hollow Resort, we pointed our front tires toward Snow Canyon State Park. The 7,400 square acre state park is nestled among lava tubes and sandstone cliffs which provide a striking backdrop for a myriad of activities, hiking, biking, and climbing being some of the most popular. Though the park was created in 1959, the canyon has long been used by humans. The Anasazi Indians inhabited the region beginning in 200 A.D. with the Paiute coming into the area around 1200 A.D. Both used the canyon for hunting and gathering.
By taking some time to learn about an area’s history, from geology to ecology, you can appreciate passing through even more. In Snow Canyon, you cruise through the towering ancient sand dunes, some of which are more than 1.4 million years old, that have since hardened into orange and creamy white Navajo sandstone up to 2,500 feet thick. Piles of large basalt deposits from lava flows approximately 27,000 years old can be found roadside throughout the park as well as lava tubes, some only a short hike off the main road. Riding through Snow Canyon State Park is nothing short of breathtaking.
After Snow Canyon, we made our way northwest, skirting in and out of Dixie National Forest, Utah’s largest national forest at nearly two million acres. Passing through the quaint town of Pine Valley, UT, it was difficult to imagine a more picturesque interpretation of fall.
We then began to head up in elevation, and consequently down in temperature, to Cedar City for lunch. After filling up on artisanal pizza and some of the best espresso I’ve had this side of the Atlantic, we swapped our cush Versys 1000s for the newest and youngest member of the family, the Versys-X 300.
I have had many fond experiences on the Versys-X 300, from blitzing down rocky trails in Big Bear, CA, in hopes of not smashing its vulnerable head pipes, to riding on the beach in Baja, Mexico, the wee Versys and I have had a whole lot of fun together. Some may think jumping from a 1043cc touring bike to a 296cc parallel-Twin may be a shock to the riding senses. It is. Though not in a bad way. We used the Versys-X 300s to shoot up the mountain on rocky fire roads to get a taste off off-highway riding. The initial plan was to ride from Cedar City to just north of Zion National Park off-road, but we were told recent snowfall at elevation made the route impassible in four-wheel drive trucks, so we were diverted back to asphalt.
Making our way south onto some fantastic two-lane highway, we flanked the northwest portion of Zion National Park. If you’ve been to Zion, you’re aware the scenery is absolutely stunning, though what I was beginning to learn, was that the entire state is immensely beautiful, or at least the small corner I had just toured. There is so much to see via back roads, state parks, and small towns. The Versys-X 300 makes you slow down to enjoy it. Don’t forget to stop every once in a while, too.
It’s a while since I’ve had the chance to jump on any other type of powersport vehicle than a motorcycle. Growing up in the Midwest, I was raised on four-wheelers, which I’m told is a Midwest term, and the occasional side-by-side as I got older and UTVs became more popular. Dirt bikes seemed to be less popular in my neck of the woods, but there were still some sprinkled around.
I find it odd when readers of a motorcycle publication get so bent out of shape about Slingshots, Spyders, or heaven-forbid a UTV or Jet Ski gracing the pages (or pixels) of their beloved moto mag. Am I alone in the fact that I truly enjoy spending time on any sort of motorized vehicle I have the chance of planting my buttocks upon? I can’t imagine that’s the case.
Half of our second day in southwestern Utah would be spent getting sandy in Kawasaki Teryx4 UTVs in Sand Hollow State Park. I was excited, giddy like a child. We strapped into our respective rides, were given a quick rundown of the controls and told to keep the speed down until we entered the park. That went over about as well as you might think turning a bunch of throttle jockey editors loose in UTVs might. “Just getting used to the throttle, Jon!”
We made out way into the sandy orange landscape of Sand Hollow and followed our ride leader to the Top of the World, an actual vantage point in the park. We were told on a clear day, you can see the Vegas strip, Virgin River Gorge, and the treetops of Cedar City. My mind was preoccupied with taking in the vast beauty of the park itself. Thinking about seeing the Vegas strip right now sounded about as appealing as gargling razor blades.
Jumping back into the Teryx4, I cranked the radio to some nice Mexican jams, the only thing that would come in clearly, and descended a massive sand dune. Keep the wheels straight, turn into the slide, we were told. You’d be tumbling for a while should things go rubber side up. Making it to the bottom I began feeling really comfortable in the Teryx4. Sure, there are sportier UTVs on the market, but the Teryx4’s relatively tame 783cc V-Twin engine and trail focus made for a perfect homecoming to the four-wheeled powersports world. Additionally, having a roll cage around you, as a motorcyclist, makes you feel invincible! I was ready for all Sand Hollow had to offer.
Why wasn’t anyone else jamming any tunes? Turns out I had snagged the fully accessorized Teryx4 complete with auxiliary lights, winch, extra protection, and stereo. Too bad, for those guys.
We made out way further into the park crawling over small rocks here and there and railing through sandy trails that snaked deeper into Sand Hollow. After watching the single editor in our group who actually works for a UTV publication try something that looked more challenging, both myself and the other moto editor were eager to give it a go. Having more fun by the minute I couldn’t wait to find more rocks to crawl over. I began giving myself some space between our lead rider and myself just to play catch up by pinning the pedal to the floorboard and using the sand berms and throttle for steering.
During a bit of free time, I managed to get myself down into a rocky trail that I wasn’t entirely sure how to get back out of. I’d teetered on two wheels on the way in and really enjoyed using four high and low as well as the differential lock depending on the situation. I managed to get myself out of what would have been my rocky final resting place just in time before they started looking for me, only to come back to have my story topped by the other moto editor who rolled his Teryx4. Wear helmets, kids! He assured us he would have cracked his skull with how hard his helmet impacted the top roll bar during the incident.
We started to head back toward the park’s entrance via a rockier trail with one steep climb. “Do you all want to try this climb,” asked Jon, the look we gave each other was one of those does-a-bear-sh*t-in-the-woods-type of looks. This group was not backing down from any challenges. With the differential lock on and in four low, the Teryx4 climbed right up what I thought might have been a challenge. After making it up and through the section, the photographer asked if we were good for one more pass. You bet your sweet ass we were. The second time seemed a bit more difficult. Come to find that I hadn’t locked the differential. Having a locked axle makes a big difference when rock crawling to keep power going to both wheels while one might be hanging in the air.
It was time for lunch, and sadly, time for our stint in the Teryx4s to end. More than a few of us agreed we could play in these UTVs all day, or multiples days, given the chance. Alas, Kawasaki had other plans for the second half of the day.
I’ve only ever ridden a PWC across a lake to put it on a trailer and take it back to the dealership, so the second part of our day in Sand Hollow’s reservoir was going to be a fairly new experience. I suppose it was smart to start on the non-supercharged version Kawi’s three-seater Jet Ski, though it wasn’t long before I wanted a taste of what that supercharger had to offer.
The Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra 310 LX is equipped with a supercharged 1,498cc inline-Four cylinder marine engine that is more than capable of pulling your arms from their sockets. The first PWC I had ridden was Sea Doo’s top of the line PWC, I remembered what incredible thrust that thing had so I wasn’t caught completely off guard by the 310’s ballistic speed. It’s still incredible to me the amount of forward thrust these machines have on the water.
Between blindingly fast drag races across the water and seeing how sharp I could steer that rocket at speed, I would take a moment to look around, to take in the deep blue of the water against the orange and cream sandstone bordering the reservoir, and to recap on how much fun I’d had in just the southwestern corner of Utah in two days. There’s a lot more state out there to explore.
Being able to enjoy all sorts of recreation in a place so stunningly beautiful was a treat I won’t soon forget. It really just cemented Utah in my mind as one of my favorite places to visit. The dramatic scenery of bright orange cliffs and plateaus sprinkled with deep green vegetation against impossibly blue skies isn’t only found in the national parks the state is most known for. There’s a whole lot more of Utah to explore than Zion, Bryce, and Moab. Go find out for yourself by whatever means you can.