Since some of us had to leave Moab today and all of the bikes had to go, we were looking for a ride that was easy and close. Yeah, we chose Steelbender. Close? Yes. Easy? Not so much.
A little world wide interweb time last night yielded one option: Steelbender trail --also known as Flat Pass. You can enter Steelbender from the south near Ken's Lake (reservoir for Moab) or north near the golf course.
I'm not sure who named this trail, but I can imagine after four or five hours out there in a jeep or on an ATV, you would have some bent steel. And aluminum. And cracked plastic. It's rocky, dusty, and steep yet incredibly enjoyable. There are wet creek crossings, dry riverbeds, some Slickrock and rock walls so high and craggy you wonder how anyone makes it to the top.
The ride out the pass is gorgeous. One moment we are in desert highlands, the next a green valley, then a rocky pass and finally Moab 90210.
Singletrack is hard to find in Moab. This place is big. And so are most of the vehicles that people use to enjoy the terrain. Consequently, most of the trails, with the exception of Slickrock, are at least two-track (wide enough for an ATV).
We geared-up and headed north out of town on route 191. 20 miles seemed like a long slog on the pavement, but good lord, it's better than loading-up all of the bikes on a truck to get there.
But the things that stand out about Sovereign are the goat-path switchback ascents and descents. These sections hug the terrain and sometimes require the rider to dismount to navigate the 180. And steep! At one point we are no more than 500 feet from our destination as the crow flies, yet it takes half a mile to get there. It's easy to imagine a cowboy, low in the saddle, picking his way down at sunset on his sure-footed horse.
There are sections that we don't get to ride today, mainly due to the midday heat. So, unlike the cowboy would have been able to do, we actually ride into town and have ice cream in our gear.
The plan for today was to stick close to Moab and ride in the Sand Flats Recreation Area. Close is right. We ride into town by going north on Spanish Valley road and hang a right on Mill Creek Drive and a right on Sand Flats Road. In a minute or two, no more than 3 miles
from downtown, we're at the entrance station. It's two bucks a head for a day pass. And yes, someone was there to take our money and give us maps.
The Sand Flats Recreation Area is jointly controlled by Grand County, UT and the Bureau of Land Management. It's mission is similar to the La Sal OHV area. From their site:
"SFRA’s mission is to protect the natural features of the area from adverse recreational impacts while providing access to sustainable and enjoyable recreational opportunities."
Awesome. Call your senators, folks, tell them this is how it's done.
Anyway, the place is 9,000 acres of outdoor fun, mechanized or otherwise. Today we're interested in Slickrock trail and Porcupine Rim. Despite its popularity among mountain bikers (bicyclists), Slickrock was created in 1969 by a dirt biker (motorcyclist) named Dick Wilson and the BLM. Today motorcycles are still permitted.
If you ride a dirt bike (or a mountain bike for that matter), I can guarantee that Slickrock Trail is like nothing you've ever seen before. First of all, the rock is not slick, it affords incredible traction with rubber tires, but it was named back in the day because the steel shoes of horses would slip on it.
The rock is actually called Navajo Sandstone and it looks like Mars. The planet Mars. Slickrock trail is a 12 mile adult amusement park. The trail is marked with white paint blazes on the rock and it flows up, down, across and around giant sandstone sculptures bordering two massive canyons and the Spanish Valley.
Riding here can be a little disconcerting at first since the rocks are so steep and the trail often follows the spine, but once you get the feel for the traction, it's surprisingly satisfying. And those views.
After Slickrock and a short break, we continue west six miles on Sand Flats Road to the trailhead of Porcupine Rim.
Porcupine Rim is a more traditional two-track desert trail, but it is by no means routine. It drops in off of the dirt road and follows the canyon's edge with loose and fixed rock of all sizes. It's 11 miles or so to the turn around point - the last few miles are so gnarly, it's closed to anything bigger than a bicycle.
Here, the boys pick up the pace by calling on their Pennsylvania rock skills. There are numerous drops that are exciting to execute on the way out, but turn into challenging step ups on the way back.
We have pbj sammys at the turnaround in the shade of tiny scrub pine and then pick our way back to Sand Flats Road, riding at a slightly slower pace. Some dirt road and we are back at the entrance - dirty, sweaty and smiling. We pass by the trailhead for Hell's Revenge, a popular Jeep trail and vow to bag that before the week's out.
And now for something completely different...
Yes, we planned a trip to the desert in June, but the timing was more about when everyone could get together rather than nailing the ideal weather. Well it turns out that the forecast for Moab today was 97 degrees. We knew we wanted to ride Slickrock early in the week, but after yesterday's sweatfest on Golden Spike, the group was open to ideas.
When you drive into Moab on 191 from I70 you are treated to a spectacular view of red rock desert in the foreground and massive snow-capped peaks in the background. Those peaks are the La Sal Mountains and they are well over 12,000 feet high! We did some research and found that there is a portion of the La Sal National Forest that is open to multiple uses including off-highway vehicles. The project has been set up as a study to conserve the land while keeping it open to responsible use. It also raises money for education in Utah.
It's bound to be cooler up there than down here. Heck, from the pictures, it looks like there are even trees with actual shade. And the trailhead is only 27 miles from our house.
The day was already hot as we were leaving. We headed south on Spanish Valley Road and hung a left on La Sal Loop Road. The road began to climb and within minutes the red landscape turned to green, the vegetation thickened, and it felt like we were riding straight into Colorado.
The pavement ended when we turned onto Geyser Pass Road. It was wide and steep and there were cattle grazing on the shoulders. Soon it was narrow and steep and lined with massive pine trees. The temperature had dropped enough that I was glad that I had decided to wear my enduro jacket. Then I saw it, my first glimpse of snow in the gutter! Then more. By the time we reached the 10,500 ft Geyser Pass, there were piles of it nearly a foot deep.
Riding over the pass was an experience, especially after leaving the desert 30 minutes ago on a dirt bike. The road opened up a bit as we navigated the switchbacks on the other side and the views were big - a green valley below that faded to forever and 12,726 ft Mount Peale well above the treeline.
We find the trailhead and get to it. The single track trails are unbelievable - meandering like cow trails through high meadows, dropping into rocky canyons, weaving through stands of aspen, and cutting across cliff edges steep enough to make you want to click your heels three times. The elevation changes are extreme and the scenery is powerful. Difficulty ranges, but everything is navigable from the saddle save for a few downed tree detours.
Turns out that June is a great time to come to Moab. It was 64 degrees in the La Sals and had we been here three weeks ago we wouldn't have been able to ride these trails due to snowpack.
As we descend back into the valley I realize that I am continually impressed by this land (both West and East) and am thankful that I can get out and see it. Kudos to the state of Utah for giving this a shot.
Tomorrow we plan to visit a better known multi-use trail. Stay tuned.
There's something about waking up in the desert - can't put my finger on it, but the air is somehow crisp like fall back home, yet you know it's going to be hot. Maybe the time change has something to do with it. I find myself up and outside much earlier. The sun was already pounding on the tops of the red rocks, but it was cold in the Spanish Valley.
Today we planned to ride with Tim's friends from Colorado, Bill and Gary. Last night at the Moab Brewery, Bill told us that someone had recommended the Poison Spider and Golden Spike trails to him. So this morning we met and headed north across the Colorado river on US 191 toward the Poison Spider Mesa.
As we turned left onto SR 279 we passed the old uranium processing site. Yellowcake anyone? Not anymore, the site is now in the midst of what looks to be a very orderly remediation. Check out the cleanup's fact sheet sometime, I find it fascinating.
A few miles of pavement with steep canyon walls on the right and the Colorado river on the left and we were at the trailhead.
Poison Spider and Golden Spike are Jeep trails rated as difficult and most difficult on recreation maps. They loop through the Poison Spider Mesa and link up with Gemini Bridge road. On a dirt bike, most jeep trails are readily negotiable, but this is Moab and there are sections of Golden Spike that will curl your hair. The last thing I'd want to be in is a Jeep.
The trail begins as a steep dirt road with sandstone outcrops and quickly turns into full blown rock mountains. The landscape is straight out of an old western movie, with gullys, gulches, washes, cliffs and canyons. The riding is fun - a little trials action mixed with desert gassing and 'paved' hillclimbs thrown in for fun.
At some point we get separated and loop around for a while until we get every one gathered back up. This is when the real fun starts: we unknowingly wind up on the only double black diamond trail on the Poison Spider Mesa. The climbs are hairy, the descents are steep and we begin the task of lifting the bikes over some obstacles in 85 degree dry heat.
The effort is worth it. Somewhere at an altitude of about 5,200 feet (Moab is at about 4,000), we stop at a lookout point and can see the valley below south to Moab and the entrance to Arches National Park. It's spectacular.
Later we stop and hike a few hundred yards to Gemini Bridges: gigantic arches that you can walk across with the canyon floor hundreds of feet down.
The ride back to the highway is a red dirt road that climbs over the cliff adjacent to 191 and breathtakingly drops down the other side. A few miles of blacktop and we're crossing the Colorado again and heading into town.
As the sun sets in the desert, the chill is back. The cliffs cast long shadows, but the sky is clear - promising another fresh desert morning.
South Mountain Cycle Shop is going to Utah! Watch this space or subscribe to our blog. Beginning on Sunday June 8th we will have a week of pictures, ride reports, and reviews of our adventure in and around Moab, Utah on our Beta RR's! #goridesomething #betausa #southmtncycleshop #moab southmountaincycleshop.com