Thursday, April 16, 2009

14% Grade

"We're pulling a 38' fifth wheel. How is Route 12 to Torrey (UT)?"

This was the question posed to the Park Ranger at the Grand Staircase--Escalante Visitor Center in Cannonville. Came the answer: "People drive that route in motorhomes. You'll be OK."

That sounded hopeful.

(Now we have heard similar words in the Smokies when one of the Rangers told us that our truck could handle the unimproved, twelve-mile, one lane, one-way Rich Mountain Road through the mountains from Cades Cove to Townsend, TN. We took that road and concluded that we had no business being on that road. We later learned that the Park's own brochure advised: ". . . it can make for an interesting 1-1/2 hour or so slow ride. Road conditions dictate that no large trucks or campers are to use this road.")

So we were skeptical.

This skepticism seemed justified when the Ranger's encouraging response was followed by additional comments. In his elaborations were the phrases "the road is narrow in a couple of places" and "has some dropoffs."

That sounded ominous.

Since we wanted to visit Escalante (about one-third of the distance to Torrey), we decided to see what Route 12 to Escalante and Torrey would be like. Driving our truck would not be the same as pulling the RV behind us, but we could see what "narrow" and "dropoffs" meant to us.

We would be prepared.

As you can see from the first five photos, the scenery along the first 20 miles was striking. The overlooks were spacious with plenty of room for vehicles and viewing.

We were encouraged.

There were hills, but there were no dropoffs, and we could take time to enjoy the scenery. We did comment on the fact that there was little traffic on the road. But, it was the off-season, and . . . .

We were relaxed.

We drove further along this beautiful Scenic Byway.

The scenery changed, the overlooks were less frequent, and the scenery was no longer viewed by the driver. Instead, it was reported upon by the passenger.

We were concerned.

Then came highway sections like this one. We now understood what the term "dropoff" meant. The only things between the road and the bottom of the cliff were undistinguished reflector posts placed 15-20 feet apart.

We were very concerned.

Then came the informative signs: 6% grade, 8% grade (no problem, we've handled these grades before, even pulling the RV), 12% grade (Wow--first one I'd seen that was that steep), and finally, 14% grade (on a mountain highway . . . with no guardrails!).

We wished we were in Kansas.

I was happy that Kate was able to photograph some of the scenes along this Scenic Byway. We passed a number of barrier-less dropoffs and found two narrow stretches of highway--with no shoulders.

We had our answer.

We knew we had traveled through some beautiful scenery, and we learned that this Scenic Byway was no route for pulling our rig.

(As an aside, this assessment was confirmed in a chance conversation over the gas pumps with a former resident of Norristown (PA), an older gentleman who drives some 600 miles a week delivering papers in the region and has driven a 27' trailer through the Scenic Byway.)

There are no photographs of more of these dropoffs because even the passenger became more concerned about the road than the view. We drove about seventy-five percent of the way to Torrey before turning around--convinced that Scenic Byway Route 12 was not designed for towing.

We were grateful to be rig-less in Escalante.

We needed food. To be continued.

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