Mountain Biking Meccas (Pt. 1 of 3) - They’re Only A Click Away
Updated: Oct 31, 2018
I remember not too long ago when there were really only a few places in this country that were truly known for their mountain bike trails. But, the days of moose bars and caliper brakes are well behind us. Now, it’s carbon fiber, all-mountain, enduro beasts with 160+mm of travel and 200mm disc brakes able to stop all of that downhill momentum. With technology often comes increased popularity. Just look at the snowsports industry. It no longer takes a true professional caliber athlete to tackle mountain biking’s most extreme trails. But, the bike is only another tool to help riders tackle the mountain. We also have GPS mapping apps and satellite imagery to familiarize ourselves with far off trails before we even get to the trailhead. #MTBProject, #Strava, & #Trailforks are just a few of the valuable apps available to help riders venture beyond their own backyard. Well, even though Tahoe has world class mountain biking trails, sometimes we even need to branch out beyond our own backyard.
As Spring comes around, many Tahoe locals make the transition from Winter resort riding to backcountry Spring corn harvest sessions. But, eventually there becomes a limbo season where the corn gets a bit too sticky and the high alpine trails are still covered in snow. So, what is a Tahoe local to do? We head to the desert.
Moab, UT is not a quick jaunt down the road. It’s a destination that takes the greater part of a day to drive to. Spring is one of the better times to take advantage and beat the Summer heat that can make the riding there almost unbearable. If there is snow, it’s usually high up in the La Sal Mountains. That leaves all of the trails around town primed and ready for adventure. In fact, the melting snow often makes one of Moab’s most epic trails all the more memorable. So, last May we loaded up the truck and headed out to rally around the desert for our Moab mountain biking adventure.
Having a family life means having responsibilities. So, when our partners offer to help with our day to day responsibilities, then we jump at the opportunity to get away. After all, the favor always gets returned. But, we also knew that we didn’t have all the time in the world. We coordinated a meeting with friends from Tahoe and Salt Lake City. We pre-arranged for two campsites. And, we had a broad plan to take advantage of a five day getaway. Past experiences helped guide us. But, local trail conditions were also confirmed using our Trailforks and MTB Project apps. Our plan was simple. Arrive the first night, then get a warmup ride straight from camp. Then, our rides would progress more and more throughout the trip.
We camped well outside of town at Horsethief Campground and took advantage of a few of the new trails out there, specifically Rodeo. After our 12hr drive and late night arrival, this was a perfect warmup with a mix of terrain and elevation. We also had to acclimatize to the 90’F heat. There’s really nothing better than having a ride straight from your campground, especially when a cold drink can cap the ride. But, Moab is a lot more than that.
Our next ride would take us into more familiar territory. And, this ride is known as a Moab epic - The Whole Enchilada. To say the “whole enchilada” is a bit of an overstatement. Early season often means snow at Burro Pass, so we caught a shuttle up to the Hazard parking area with the Whole Enchilada Shuttle Company. They’re a great company and a great resource for any local trail reports. Feel free to contact them at: firstname.lastname@example.org. They actually have an estimated date for opening times on their schedule. But, as we all know, weather is often inpredictable in the higher elevations.
The Whole Enchilada shuttle dropped us off next to a beautiful aspen grove at the Hazard parking area and pointed us back towards town...after a quick climb. The trail is a great mix of alpine, high desert, the Colorado plateau, and slickrock. Make sure that your brakes are well serviced, your pack is well stocked, and it’s not a bad idea to wear some body armor for protection. The sandstone is unforgiving on the skin and there are many opportunities for bike mechanicals. Plus, it’s easy to get distracted with the amazing views.
The ride is definitely an all day affair. There are areas to cut the ride short. But, why would you want to bail out, unless there really was an injury or mechanical that forced you? After 26.5 miles, including a scenic ride along the Colorado River bike path, you’re back in civilization. Along the bike path, we replenished our depleted hydration bladders from a natural spring. Then, we were back at our vehicle and ready to get back to camp to rest and refuel. But, first a quick Mexican food refuel at Fiesta Mexicana. What better way to finish The Whole Enchilada than with some yummy Mexican food?
Anyone familiar with Moab is sure to mention Mag 7, especially the finish on Portal. Do a quick web search to see some amazing photos and videos of the sheer drops along this ride. This ride is not for the faint of heart. Respect the mountain by also recognizing your own limits. The beginning of Mag 7 was close enough to our campsite to add to our list of rides. So, time to knock out part of another classic Moab ride.
Leaving the campground, we hit another part of the campground trail system - Chisholm Trail. Chisholm then connected with Mustang Loop and finally Getaway before connecting with Mag 7. These trails were good warmups, but nothing too spectacular.
Mag 7 hugged an overlook along Bull Run, then meandered up and down until finally connecting with Gemini Bridges Rd. just before the Gold Bar Rim trail and Portal. There were a few natural features that made the ride a bit more playful. Gold Bar was where the trail really starts to drop. That’s where we decided to meet up with our friends for a ride back to camp. Otherwise, we would’ve been in for a LONG, UPHILL commute back to camp. Of course, the bailout wasn’t exactly easy. We had to navigate ankle deep sand to finally meet our friends. Those friends thankfully met us with a well-deserved beer. After that, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the campground entrance, then called it an early night. Tomorrow would be a long day trying to squeeze in one more ride before hitting the road back to Tahoe.
Well, we picked a newer area called Navajo Rocks to close out our Moab adventure. It was close enough to the campsite to avoid having to break camp before the ride. Plus, we had heard some good reviews about the newer loop. We were able to drive a car down to the other trailhead to avoid having to do an out and back. Instead, it was more like a lollipop ride.
At first, I felt that we made a poor decision and should’ve gone towards Capt. Ahab/Hymasa. The trail was flowing, but not really an up or down. In fact, we ran into a bunch of school kids having a mountain bike clinic. But, soon we made it to the top of a bluff with a sweet view. As I scanned the horizon, I noticed an area off to the east where we would be heading. It sparked a bit of interest and I couldn’t wait to see what was around the next corner.
After an up and down contour line trail, we entered a new zone. The colors changed from tan and brown to more red and green. Soon, we were greeted by an amazing, red, natural, amphitheater. There were a few slickrock bowls to play in, plus a few challenging step up/down features off to the side. I could imagine this area being a welcome relief from the Summer, desert, heat. Each of these natural amphitheater zones had their own attractions. Some were deep, others were just small refuges from the desert sun. I really enjoyed the playful trails and possibilities. There really was a little something for everyone from the novice to the expert. We picked the perfect time to ride the Navajo Rocks/Chaco Loops. This area would be a great reminder about all of the other rides that we’ve yet to discover around Moab.
Moab has worked hard to become one of the world’s top mountain biking destinations. It’s great to see what can happen when a community embraces mountain bikers. All around town, you could see restaurants, outfitters, hotels, campgrounds, and many other businesses working to help make everyone’s experience an experience to remember. The future of mountain biking looks very bright. In fact, so many more areas are becoming mountain bike meccas for riders of all ability levels.
I’d like to say a personal thank you to Chile Pepper Bike Shops for their tire repair on one of our Frankenbikes. Everybody needs a little extra help, especially when they’re far from home.
***Stay tuned for the next installment to discover more areas to explore.***