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Classic Byways: Highway 191 - Utah

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Chris Myers, Kathy Myers

As the remaining miles of Arizona's claim to Highway 191 dwindle to single digits, we look back on all we've seen. From its cool, high-mountain passes to sweltering, wind-blasted deserts, the Copper State has presented some of the most imposing scenery we've ever encountered in all our travels. A little smile of anticipation and curiosity curls my lips as we breeze past the sign welcoming us to Utah.

We've been riding in the desert for a while and we're ceaselessly amazed by the cavalcade of subtleties that our eyes are finally beginning to comprehend. Nature has graced the indigenous critters with remarkable camouflaging to help them survive this inhospitable environment. The lizards, snakes, and birds that flee the interloping Gold Wing betray their positions only in fleet movements. Muted flashes of sienna and beige scurry, slither, and flit to safer distances, melting into the baking rocks and sand as quickly as they appear. Windswept spires and rock formations change too. Their subdued, ruddy coloration, so prevalent in the morning light, slowly becomes a darkened ocher as the sun journeys across the sky. About the only three things that aren't understated out here are size, loneliness, and incredible beauty.

Motorin' To Moab
The stark landscape suddenly springs to life as Highway 191 drops toward the San Juan River and runs through the small town of Bluff. Much like the Mormon settlers who arrived back in 1880, we find this welcoming, green hollow an irresistible place to stop. Enormous sand-colored boulders and steep cliffs making up the river valley's northern wall dominate the town's well-preserved Old West buildings. Several small cafes turn Bluff into a very appealing place to park for lunch, but still hanging on to breakfast, we decide to push on. Leaving town, the road begins a short, but entertaining climb from the valley floor, winding around huge rocks and between steep rock faces. The sandstone formations take on otherworldly atmospherics as the sun intermittently peeks between the rocks and precipices, throwing down abrupt shafts of light. It almost feels like we're caught in the blinding cone of brilliance cast by a monstrous spotlight. In the blink of an eye, the lush valley ends and we shoot back out into the desert. As we make our way north, the view slowly begins to change. Though this is still desert terrain, more plant life begins to dot the sides of the road, with dry grasses creeping toward the asphalt and small bursts of green poking through the rocky hillsides in the distance.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2006 back issue.