Sandwiched between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, lies the town of Moab. Much has changed since I was here 15 years ago. Once a quiet town with a few bike stores, souvenir shops & hippie cafes. Moab’s main road is now lined with galleries, artisan cafes and boutiques, loaded with goods for the higher end, consumer hungry, hotel tourist. Dinner attire is still shorts & t-shirt, but the restaurants have more than just burgers, beans & burritos on the menu. Creeping upward and outward, hotels have appeared as more and more people come to experience and explore beaUTAHful Utah.
Entering into high season and today town appeared to be already drowning in tourists. Spring & summer are the most popular seasons. For many Moab is the mountain biking capital of the universe, while others are lured to raft the challenging Colorado river rapids. The endless maze of canyons & trails beckons hikers, climbers and off-road vehicle enthusiasts from all over the world. But it’s no Disneyland, the desert’s mix of hot temperatures, rugged terrain and extraordinary remoteness make for a dangerous mix. Those underestimating supplies and overestimating abilities, keep the volunteer teams at Search and Rescue very busy.
We’re camped on a popular piece of BLM land at the edge of a family friendly trail network. There’s no escaping the red dust, but thankfully the wind isn’t blowing. Our first ride is on a blue (intermediate level) trail called Rodeo in the Horse Thief network. We set out late morning, there’s a warm breeze, and enough cloud cover to call it a perfect riding temperature. 15km of fun, flowing, single track that winds out and around the top of Horse Thief Canyon ridge. Gentle gradient we only climb 140m over the 4 hour ride. Charley & Jaxon are happy and we’re packing plenty of yummy trail mix to keep their smiles & energy up.
They each take turn leading, following the painted dots back towards the truck, a wee spec in the distance. Their skills continue to improve, in the more technical sections I’d lead and have them follow my line. One time I called back to Charley to walk a section, I guess she was feeling good because she followed me straight down a line that would have had nasty consequences if she’d not made it. But there she was, right behind me and cleaned it, I was totally surprised as normally she’s so cautious. Can ya say proud mum! By the time we got back to the truck, the clouds were growing thicker, the desert was desperately trying to draw down the rain, but just a tease, the scorched earth will just have to wait.
Mel, whom we bumped into in Hurricane has arrived, and today she is taking us on one of her favourite rides over at Navajo Rocks. Too far for the kids to ride from camp, we load up and park 10km down the road, at the trail head. It’s going to be a 20km ride, so having the kids ride another 10km back up hill at the end of that just ain’t gonna happen. Weather is similar to yesterday, which is perfect for riding. The trails offer zero shelter from the sun, so we’re careful to double up with water and food, or so I had intended, and start riding by noon. There aren’t any cell towers, so we can’t call SAR (Search & Rescue) if we wanted. We ride Chisholm, Big Lonely, Big Mesa, Coney Island, Middle Earth to Ramblin’ and back to the truck. I recorded the ride on Strava, (mtb app), moving time was 2.5hrs over 20km with a total 275m elevation gain. Strava said 2.5 hrs, which is moving time, but with photo, pee, snack and view stops, the day stretched out to be a good 4hrs. Which is an epic ride for the kiddos. We moved along at a good pace. Mel is a great guide and lots of fun to ride with. Surprise, half way through my camel pack ran dry, doh! Shit!! I filled everyones water except my own! Thankfully it’s not a super hot day or I’d be in trouble. Tim shared his and Mel, was packing extra so all was good. If we didn’t have the cloud cover, temps can quickly climb into the high 30’s C / 90’s F. No shade & exertion would quickly lead to dehydration and disorientation. That’s when you truly understand just how extraordinarily remote these trails are.
Exploring the sunbaked, slick-rock trails we skirt the upper and lower rims of canyons and plateaus. My head is spinning, trying to take in all the view and not crash. We ride out towards Big Mesa, down massive dome shaped, open, smooth but grippy slick-rock that allowed for speed and big fun turns. Kinda like skiing powder…. Big Mesa is the big flat topped butte of dark red rock in the background of the photo below with Tim and Jaxon pushing a good climb. The painted dots led us long the shady side at the base of its vertical reaching, 150 foot walls. What an amazing experience to be riding here, the red rock walls transition into flowing steps smoothed out by water, wind and time. …my head now on full swivel!
Again the kids were amazing little riders. Whooping and laughing, loving the ride. Understandably the last 4km were the hardest for them, they’d had enough and were tired. The pace slowed down as it was a steady climb back to the truck. Needless to say they slept well that night! The next morning we went into to town and picked up a new helmet for Jaxon, the last helmet in town his size. Covid has reduced supply on everything. With time breathing down our neck, and knowing the kids wouldn’t be able to ride 3 days in a row, it was time to move on….
Next stop, Arches National Park.