A Quick Journey from the High Alpine to Snow in the Desert
You know those Utah tourism ads featuring snow capped desert arches and striking red sandstone? Yeah well, I always thought that image only existed on postcards. Turns out that its real.
Just like every other Coloradan who wasn’t yet ready for winter, I decided to head out to Moab for a quick weekend getaway to ride bikes one last time before ski season hit full force. Some good friends of mine were having the same thoughts, so we made plans for three big days of riding on three iconic desert trail centers: Porcupine Rim, the Slickrock area, and Amasa Back.
Rolling into Moab late on a Thursday evening, our car’s thermometer read -5 C. In the past five years of living in the West, I have never had the displeasure of experiencing such temperatures in the desert. Luckily, the campfire was huge that night and brought us some much needed warmth.
Waking up the next morning, the inside of the tent had an unmistakable shimmer to it, and the walls loudly creaked with every motion. It had snowed a small amount and everything was caked in rime ice, including our bikes that were locked to a fence.
After coffee and some warm breakfast, we stopped into Moab’s Chile Pepper Bike shop early Friday morning to pick up some last minute supplies and extra tubes. Chatting with the mechanics, we quickly learned that plan A (Porcupine Rim) was out. Reports of over a foot of snow on the approach road meant that the trail would probably not be rideable until spring. Amasa Back, west of town, was supposedly buried in mud due to the snow, and thus out as well.
Slickrock it was! While often viewed as more of a tourist trail, the area has incredible potential for some creative mountain biking. Think minigolf Freeride lines. Red Bull Rampage, just a teensy bit smaller, but with just as many clueless tourists. Not to mention the huge sandstone fins and canyons that define the scenery around the trail, making every snack break truly a worthwhile experience.
Realizing that it was our only option, we packed up and headed to the trailhead. The sun had warmed up the area to a blistering +10 C, so jackets and extra layers were stashed into the packs and we set off.
Had we been wearing spacesuits, I would have believed we were on Mars. The rolling sandstone “hills” reach in all directions as far as the eye can see, split only by deep canyons and the occasional tree growing in a wet spot. Lizards dart in and out cracks in the rock, and birds of prey circle overhead looking for their next meal.
The main trail follows a basic lollipop loop format over 10 miles, rideable both ways, occasionally crossing a 4x4 road. While the obvious route is marked with white paint on the sandstone, we quickly started exploring left and right of the designated route, letting our imaginations lead the way.
The weird thing about riding slickrock is that you’ve never had this much fun without touching a single section of singletrack. There simply isn’t any there, but you can ride anywhere and everywhere, as long as it doesn’t end in a canyon.
Around the loop, we found several sweet little zones with all the halfpipes, chutes, and drops that the heart desires. All one needs to do is climb to the top, click in, and let go of the brakes.
We played around in a few zones, but soon settled on a favorite: a giant natural amphitheater with lines dropping in from everywhere the eye could see. One of us held the camera while the other three climbed up and rode the party wave together.
We rode until our legs hurt too much to ride. Our timing was perfect, happy hour at the Moab Brewery had just started as we parked our bikes outside. Full strength in beer in Utah is already hard to find, but full strength beer for $2.50 a pint? Unheard of!
Words: Max Ritter, November 2015
Photos: Max Ritter and Greg Bolla