After a frosty night of camping, I was ready to begin the mountain biking portion of my trip.  The desert sand, I surmised, would surely be dry (enough) to ride.  I was a little exhausted, after working my little tail off the two weeks before I left and after two days of moderate hiking.  Anemia is a constant concern for me, so I wanted to take it easy.

I opted for a beginner ride in Moab.  Wow, but have I come a long way.  Three years ago I wouldn’t be content with a Moab trip that didn’t include some combination of the following: Porcupine Rim, Slickrock, Bartlett Wash, Sovereign Trail, and Flat Pass.  But I was alone and tired and frankly a bit gunshy about being solitary and gnarly.

So I opted for the Monitor and Merrimac trail.  This trail provides amazing scenery but is sand-laden.  Somewhere in the back of my overwhelmed mind I convinced myself that the sand would be more ridable if just a little wet.  I had spent the prior night by the fire, poring over my outdated Moab maps and had made the choice of the nearby Monitor and Merrimac trail.

So I drove toward the promised land:

The promised buttes, off in the distance

The promised buttes, off in the distance

In the trailhead’s parking lot, off-road enthusiasts were gathering.  I counted: dirt bikers, ATVers, and Jeepers.  None of my own kin.  I knew the ride was not going to be a pristine wildnerness experience, but I was not prepared for the glut of gas guzzlers and noise polluters who were gathering about.  A couple of dirt bikers asked me why I wasn’t riding nearby Fruita.  I began to ask myself the same question.

The Monitor and Merrimac trail meanders through a couple of miles of dirt roads until it starts to do something interesting like provide you with excellent scenery or turn into ridable sandstone.  

The Monitor and Merrimac trail, right before it gets interesting

The Monitor and Merrimac trail, right before it gets interesting

Determination Towers and the buttes lie in wait ahead

M & M gets interesting: Determination Towers and the buttes lie in wait ahead

 I didn’t pass too  many steel and aluminum behemoths on the trail but I did lose the trail shortly after the above picture was taken.  Many of the gas-powered vehicles who pass this way do not stay on existing trails.  They’re too stupid to do something like respect nature.  So I turned off onto a non-trail and got turned around in circles.  I stopped and made my way toward one of the coolest rock formations in the area, aptly named Determination Towers:

Determination Towers, surrounded by ridable sandstone

Determination Towers, surrounded by ridable sandstone

The stereotype of mirages in the desert is an accurate one.  Even though the towers look a mere dozen or so pedal revolutions away, they were actually much farther away.  Plus, I was convinced I was going to get to the buttes and back before nightfall, so I passed.

I got back on the yellow-sand road and beelined for the buttes.

Not Oz, but close

Not Oz, but close

Somehow I got turned around again, lured away from the main trail by some careless ATVer.  All was not lost, however, as I happened upon a tree person.

On guard! A tree person in the ready stance

On guard! A tree person at the ready

 I had no watch and hadn’t turned my wireless cycling computer on until well into the ride.  Thus I had only a fair idea of how far I still had to ride (6 miles) and even less of an idea of what time it was (2:30PM).  Here’s what I did know: I was over halfway through my water and tired, very tired of riding on the sand.  Much effort = little gain.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s a visual.

Tire depressions from all types of tires, except, of course, mountain bikes

Tire depressions from all types of tires, except, of course, mountain bikes

So I turned around and bid the buttes adieu.  Did I reach the buttes? Heck, no.  I didn’t even reach Determination Towers, which were halfway to the buttes.  Did I grind my way through sand for two and a half-hours for nothing? Heck, no.  I got to look at cool stuff and enjoy the desert scenery in 50 degree weather.  Plus, I got sweet helmet head.

Post-ride satisfaction and helmet head.  All in a ride's work.

Post-ride satisfaction and helmet head. All in a ride's work.

Read about nearby camping in the Island in the Sky part of Canyonlands.

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