May 29, 2017

Roadtrip: SW Utah Blitz

Somehow after all these years of mountain biking I had yet to ride the trails in southwest Utah. Places like Gooseberry Mesa, JEM trails and the Guacamole trails eluded me. I had made it known months ago of my intentions to check this area out over the Memorial weekend, but as the date approached none of my riding friends could make the trip. Solo it would be and I was fine with it. Sometimes it's nice to go at your own pace. I didn't necessarily have any specific ride plans other than to check out the area's offerings. I had some really good suggestions of what to ride and where to camp.

I took off from work Thursday afternoon and headed north escaping the 100º heat. Traffic wasn't bad at all. I took a dinner stop at Navajo Bridge near Lee's Ferry in Marble Canyon as the sun dipped low on the horizon. This area is mesmerizing at any time of day, but add in golden hour and it's simply jaw dropping. I was also fortunate enough to spot 5 California Condors hanging out by the bridge.
Condor #53 and the Colorado River gorge.
I passed through Jacob Lake and had to grab some cookies from the bakery. The last couple of hours were driven in the dark and I arrived up on Gooseberry Mesa around 10:30p local time. There were a few vehicles camped out, but I found an open campsite about a 1/2 mile from the White trailhead. It was a bit windy, so I opted to sleep in the car.

During the night a few cars tried turning into where I was camped, saw my car & moved on. It wasn't until first light I realized why. Seems like I landed a great camping spot!!
Just enough room for a party of one.
I cooked up some breakfast and slowly got my stuff together. I rolled out shortly after 9a. My goal for this trip was not to ride everything in sight, rather get a good sense of what was up here. If I made good time, sure I'd keep riding, but I didn't really have specific route plans for anything.

I was looking at a map of the Gooseberry area and decided I'd ride along the north rim on Gander over to Wire Mesa. That way, I'd pass by the car on my way back, take a long lunch break and ride the Gooseberry proper stuff in the late afternoon.
The Practice Loop got me warmed up for the type of weekend I was in for.
I quickly reached the rim's edge and views of Zion would dominate the weekend.
Rebar rollover.
A short out-n-back to the Windmill trailhead.
Stumbled upon this. The yurts are perched near the rim's edge.

The trail contoured the edge of the mesa for miles.
Keep your eyes on the trail, but when you stop, soak it all in.

Gander trail ended and I dropped down into Grafton Wash. The downhill was fun, but there was a fairly hefty hike-a-bike to get out. A short downhill stint on dirt roads led me to Wire Mesa. I had now been out for a couple of hours and saw a total of 4 riders. There was a small group finishing a loop as I rolled in. I asked which direction rode better, but it seemed like it didn't really matter. I opted for CW, saving more of the techy bits for the end of the loop.

Wire Mesa flowed really well and again provided stunning views of Zion National Park.
There is some dirt to be found up on the mesa.
East side of Wire Mesa.

A few optional lines along the way to test your skills.

Cave near the trailhead.
I noticed here, when I stopped for more than a few minutes, the Cedar gnats began to swarm around me. Gotta keep moving. I had bug spray on and didn't think much of it as they weren't a nuisance while riding.

It was time to head back to Gooseberry via dirt road. The climbing wasn't bad at all as the mesa doesn't really rise from the valley floor, more like the floor drops away. I took a lunch break and relaxed for over an hour back at camp. I still had the more famous trails on Gooseberry to check out.
Some AZ love from 'Preskitt'!!
Almost to camp.

First up was South Rim.

Right away the trail was more of a technical challenge than the earlier stuff. Rock crawling pace, but I was loving it. The painted white dots led the way over and around the multitude of rock formations.
This looks interesting!!
I liked the spotty vegetation growing from a sea of slickrock.
Shoot the gap.

Picture window.
Self-timer fun.
H.C. = Hardcore, right? ehhh, no. Hidden Canyon entrance. I passed on this one...this time!!
Finally weaved my way over to the South Rim.
A few short punchy ups & downs along the way.
This must look neat after a rain event.
44 mile day. Beer me.

Gooseberry route flyover.

Gooseberry/Wire Mesa route:

The wind started to pick up intensity as the afternoon morphed into evening. By nightfall, I was tired after a solid riding effort, but couldn't fall asleep. The wind was blowing my tent all around, eventually pulling up a tent stake. Then my pole fell down and I couldn't get it situated from inside the tent. I was just going to lie there in my collapsed tent listening to the wind until I realized my air mattress had essentially gone flat. I think it's time to more away from the air mattress for bikepack type setups. This is now the third one I've punctured and I take care of them!! Argh. I untangled myself and climbed out. The tent was anchored once again and I blew up the mattress in hopes I'd fall asleep before it went flat again. Of course this all was moot when, as I entered the tent, my trailing toe caught the tent tray and it fell down...again. Ugh. Screw it, I'm sleeping in the car. So, for the remainder of the trip I simply reclined the driver seat all the way back and slept in the driver's seat. Awesome.

I don't think I slept a wink that night, yet felt surprisingly well rested by morning. Sometime while eating breakfast my lower legs began to itch. It was then I realized how bad the gnats got me the day before over at Wire Mesa. I tried not to think about it while I readied myself to head over to Little Creek Mountain for the morning.

I could see Little Creek Mesa from camp, but it took forever to drive off Gooseberry and up to the trailhead. Well, close to the trailhead. The final 1/2 mile of dirt road had a steep rise with some slickrock outcroppings that I didn't feel the Juke was ready to handle. Not an issue as I found a nice place to park off the road.

Little Creek was very similar to Gooseberry, open areas of slickrock, slickrock in the forest, canyon views and more dirt singletrack linking the rock areas. The biggest difference was the 'trail' itself. No white dots here, only small cairns guiding the way. Really kept the mental focus strong throughout the ride. Scavenger hunt type of riding.
Find the trail.
A bit of dirt and blooming flowers.
Amazing terrain.
The trail followed the rim's edge for a while.
3rd time's a charm.

My first attempt at this self-timer shot was almost a classic FAIL. I tapped the shutter to begin the 10 second countdown, ran over to my bike, hopped on and took a standing pedal. I immediately hit my head on a tree branch almost knocking me down in the process. The photo only captured me with my foot down.
The tree that almost took me out!!

Short rock bridge over a crevasse.
This wavy section of slickrock IS the trail. Cool!!
A bit of real dirt too.
A fun stretch of trail on the North Loop.
Back into the endless sea of slickrock. I saw my first rider here.

I originally wanted to ride another trail back out to the trailhead, but I never saw or noticed the cairn marking the turn. Oh well, it was still a fun way to exit back to the dirt road. Of course I had to go OTB first. I small 2-3" hidden lump of slickrock did the trick. I never saw it and had my weight too far forward on a short downhill. The only carnage was the point of my seat jabbing my left thigh something fierce. Within seconds it had welted, oh boy, that'll leave a mark. Bike and wrists checked out fine. Little Creek done. Time for lunch.

Little Creek route flyover

I had read online about a nearby gas station that had good food, not just the typical convenience store fare. As I drove away from Little Creek I zoomed passed it. A quick u-turn and I had to see what they offered. Sure enough there was a walk-up counter and a full menu plastered high on the wall. There must have been 12 different varieties of hamburgers alone. Hmmm, bacon avocado cheeseburger sure sounds good. I did my shopping while it was prepared. I should've taken a picture of it, as it was almost brochure worthy. Alas, I was really hungry and it went down too quick. So, if you're coming off Little Creek or Gooseberry and need food quick, make the Little Creek Station a stop. Well worth it.
Look for the Chevron station in Apple Valley.
It was now mid-afternoon, warm, but not hot. I wanted to head down into Hurricane to grab a spare innertube & area trailmap from Over the Edge bike shop. I figured while I was there I could get routing advice for the Hurricane Cliffs trail system. The guy at the shop was more than willing to help me out. He asked how much I wanted to ride there. My response, 'When does the sun set?' At first I don't think he believed me and gave me some 6-7 mile route to ride. I must have had a look on my face that said 'and then what?' He proceeded to rattle off a few more trails giving me a real nice tour of the area.

I drove back up the hill to find the trailhead he recommended off Sheep Bridge rd. I think it was around 4p when I got rolling. The trails here are on a gentle slope with a few topping out up on a mesa. I would be riding those first, getting the majority of the climbing out of the way early. I was parked about 2/3 the way up the slope of the trail system, this ended up being a perfect place to stage the ride.
This is what I would call a 'climb friendly' grade on Dead Ringer.
Eventually it really feels like you're climbing, but the grade still relaxed as the trail wound around up the mesa.
More Cowbell!! Moar!!

More Cowbell loop skirts the edge of the mesa offering expansive views.
Dead Ringer is the main trail seen. Jem trail is farther back leading into the open area and my car is barely visible in the dirt lot on the far left just off the highway.
I had no idea Jem trail had any gnar on it, but there was a bit.
Slightly downhill for miles & miles.
I decided to tack on the lower out-n-back of Jem trail...
Sure glad I did as the Virgin River came into view.
What an incredible trailside scene.
Start of the Rim trail.
Cryptobionic just sounds cool.
Not to shabby to have Zion as your golden hour backdrop.
Light was fading as I finished up Goosebumps trail. I really wanted to ride the lower portion of Dead Ringer. I still had 40 minutes of daylight. Sure, another loop it is.
A bunch of jump lines littered the trail. Yeah, I hit a few!!
One final climb up Jem trail to round out the day.

I finished up with 10 minutes of daylight to spare. Perfecto. In the end I rode everything the bike shop guy suggested plus two additional loops. Now I needed a place to crash out for the night. I opted for a trailhead inside the system away from the highway. It was a quiet location and I was able to get some quality zzz's.

Hurricane Cliffs route flyover

I tried, with marginal success, to get going early the next morning. The plan was to ride some trails down in St. George, but I knew it would get toasty at some point. There are a ton of trail options there, but a few had stood out while researching the area. I knew I wouldn't have a ton of time to log a bigger ride, so I opted to park at the Bearclaw Poppy (BCP) trailhead. This trail was rated green and would give me a nice downhill finish when I was ready to call it a day. My hope was to ride around the neighboring mountain to do a loop on Zen trail, then finish up with BCP.

It was already getting warm by the time I rolled onto dirt. A few miles of gentle climbing later I had real doubts about going over & around the mountain to Zen. While that trail received rave reviews, it was also very technical in nature and I didn't feel like pressing my luck in the heat on unfamiliar ground.
BCP is split in two, one side climbs, the other zooms downhill.
Nearing a staging area for the downhill portion.
BCP gets flat, super smooth and fast.
Even the wash riding here is fun!!
Met this rider from Park City at the top of the Three Fingers of Death. Ooh, scary.
We rode together on a short loop of Barrel trail.
Heading back to ride down the Three Fingers of Death. I rode the middle finger and lived to blog about it.
My water was still cold, so I tacked on another loop that had a very backcountry feel to it. 
I didn't see anyone out here.
Two options for the Rattlesnake trail, stay high on the ledge, which I did, or drop down for a twisting ride through a wash. The ridge option was fun, slightly downhill for a few miles.
Time to see what people were raving about.
Some cattle chutes and boulders near the top of BCP.
The wavy, rolling singletrack options begin to present themself. Pick one and GO!!
It was like a rollercoaster for your bike. Choose your own adventure.

BCP was an absolute blast!! I can see why people do laps on it. it's about 5 miles per. Back at the car it was now in the low 90's and I was ready for lunch and a short break before the afternoon session up on the Guacamole trails.

Bearclaw Poppy route flyover


As I drove NE of St. George I kept a keen eye on the temp gauge. It was 92º when I finished lunch and as the miles ticked by the degrees slowly began to inch down. I found the dirt road turnoff for the Guacamole trails and guided the Juke up the steep pitch to the top of the mesa. There were some fine looking campsites up there, but that wasn't the goal for the night. The temps had lowered to the mid-80's and it was now late afternoon.

There aren't a ton of miles here, so my plan was simple. Ride 'em all. I loaded up my snacks & water and tried to decipher where exactly the trail began since there was a huge open area of slickrock right next to the jeep road.
This would be the theme. Little bit of dirt, then some slickrock, repeat.
An early overlook and the dirt road I drove in on.
No paint here, follow the cairns
I was amazed to find this much water pooled here.
A couple of fast singletrack miles through a burned enchanted forest.
It doesn't hurt to have Zion National Park as the ride backdrop.
The route architects had a blast making this trail.
Around every corner was a postcard photo op.
Looking across the open expanse I could see my ride from two days earlier on Wire Mesa.
Of course the trail routed right up to the far left boulder and made you duck under the overhang.  No feature was left unused.
Here, the trail routes between the small gap in the boulders and it was rideable!!
Seeing a barbed wire fence up here was a bit odd, but then realized it's the boundary for Zion.
Near the end of the ride, one last overlook.

I had to double back on a couple of trails and I still think I missed one somehow. The turnoffs aren't easy to locate as the trail tends to command all your attention. I really enjoyed the Guacamole trails. Some of the best routing I've ever seen when it comes to using the natural landscape as your canvas. They are challenging trails, but not too extreme to make you wonder why you brought a bike. Between Gooseberry, Little Creek and Guacamole I decided I really like rock crawling type of trails.

Guacamole route flyover

My plan for the evening was to find a shower & drive up near Bryce Canyon to ride Thinder Mountain and other trails the next morning. I called around to inquire about a shower and located one at an outdoor store in Zion. I was headed that way anyway, so why not.
Golden Hour in Zion.
I hadn't been to the Zion valley in over 20 years. Shameful, I know. It was more spectacular than I remembered. The sun was setting the cliff walls on fire when I parked. I had hoped I would have enough time for a hike while there, but it was not to be. I purchased a shower token and waited a few minutes in line chatting with some day hikers. They rattled off all the incredible places they had seen during the day they asked where I hiked. 'I'm just here for the shower.' They all seemed a bit shocked at my Zion shower drive-by, but understood when I told them about all the trails I had been riding the past three days.

A few moments later I was freshened up and pointing the car towards Bryce.

I was aiming for some dispersed camping at the Losee Canyon trailhead. I found it empty. Perfect. By now it was my fourth night sleeping in my driver's seat and I slept great.
Surprise!! I had no idea I'd wake up to this!!
I was moving early-ish the next morning in spite of 38º temps and started my ride going up Losee Canyon around 8a. It's a mellow grade for three miles before intersecting the Cassidy trail.
Losee Canyon trail criss-crossed this wash several times over three miles.
A lung-busting 5 minute HAB led to this on Cassidy trail.

The ride had bogged down a bit and I began to wonder if I could pull off my intended route before the long drive home. The plan was to ride Cassidy out to Rich trail, then out to Red Canyon and do a loop on Thunder Mtn. I'd then return on Cassidy, but continue over to Casto Canyon for a long downhill finish. I kept an eye on the time the entire morning.

I reached the split for the Rich trail and didn't see many tracks heading in that direction. Hmm. I checked the trail profile on Trailforks and it trended downhill. How bad could it be?

If the initial overlook was any indication, I was in for a treat.
Yes, please.
The trail was fine. One mile later it intersected with Cassidy, but I stayed on Rich trail. There was a short HAB, then a couple miles of great trail - mostly downhill. It definitely rode best in this direction as the final downhill was steep and loose. Would not have been fun coming up.

I popped out at Red Canyon after passing a few groups of hikers. I was now on the gradual uphill paved bike path linking Thunder Mtn. trail.
Sure beats riding on the tourist choked road.
To make a loop there are a couple miles of forest road leading up to the trail. I met a couple from California there who were riding it for their first time. The guy was really stoked to check it out, the gal just wanted to know how much climbing was involved!! We leapfrogged a few times and I could tell she was enjoying it after the initial ups & downs through the forested contours.

Right about the time the trail reaches its high point, the forest gives way to the famous orange hoodoos and dirt. Time to least in between photo ops.
Orange singletrack.
Snow capped peaks to the north.
Great spot for a snack break.
Otherworldly sights along the way.
The trail flows really well.
What it must be like to ride at Bryce Canyon.
Switchback section approaching!! Cleaned 'em all.
Land of Goblins.
Sweeping into a ridgeline descent.
Bottom runout, but the fun didn't end there. A few fast miles of singletrack lead back out to the road.

A couple miles of dirt road to round things out.
At the Thunder Mtn. parking area I needed to make a decision. Do I continue with my original route or cut it short so I can do another ride in Page, AZ on my way home? I opted for the latter since I wasn't sure how long the next 13 or so miles would take. Gotta leave something for next time.

Losee Canyon & Thunder Mtn. route flyover


I was back at the car around 12:15, packed up and hit the road towards Page. A few hours later I arrived and was greeted with afternoon temps now in the low 90's. Oh well. I loaded up on ice and started my CW loop on the Rimview trail just after 4p. I had been meaning to check this trail out for quite some time. I was really hoping it would deliver good views of Lake Powell. What I got was so much more.

I found an empty parking lot next to the trail barely a half mile off US89.
This photo is a really good representation of the trail layout. Mostly singletrack, some slickrock, encircling a mesa around town. The trail stays just low enough below the mesa that the homes are rarely seen or noticed. There's also a hefty dropoff most of the way on the outside edge of the trail.
The first few miles were gradually downhill and fast on the hardpack surface. The trailwork was impressive in sections. It definitely had a Moab feel to it.
Dirt gives way to slickrock.
Lake Powell coming into view.
Such a stark contrast to the vibrant blue hues.
Navajo Mtn. towers in the distance.
Horseshoe bend of Lake Powell.
Salt River Project - Navajo Generating Station.
Freeride area??
Hard to believe, but yes, a canopy of trees.
Glen Canyon Dam.
Urban downhill portion of the loop.
The blue water was so inviting by the time I finished.
Rimview route flyover


The Rimview trail far exceeded my expectations and I'm really glad I made the stop.

I was on the road home by 5:30p and pulled into my driveway around 10:30p putting a wrap on a whirlwind tour of SW Utah trails. I can't wait to go back and sample some more when things cool off.