Two months since my last post. Damn. I got a new job, and although it’s awesome, it’s taking up some serious time.
Spring Break is next week, and I’ve got a solid 12 days off. Three to four of those days will be spent on schoolwork, and the other either finding some R & R relaxing and pounding my body back into shape. I’ve been watching weather patterns all season even though we’ve had an anemic snowseason here in Colorado, there are other awesome snowboarding destinations less than 10 hours away. To wit: Utah, New Mexico and yes, even northern Arizona. (OK, a little more than 10 hours away.)
I opened my season at Wolf Creek in October, and I very may well end my season there. On Wednesday, March 28, Wolf Creek is running its Local Appreciation Day and selling lift tickets for $33. If there’s new snow, I’m beelining my way down there. I’ll be watching powdermeister Joel Gratz’s OpenSnow for accurate forecasts.
If snow is not forthcoming to Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, or Wyoming (hello, Grand Targhee!), then I’m off to the Four Corners area for some mountain biking, hiking, and sleeping among the snakes and scorpions.
Do ya like watchin’ the boob tube and that reality TV stuff? Last fall’s cyclist extraordinaire, Jeremy Vanschoonhoven, who made bouncing around on his back tire and rolling up on cars and taking huge jumps look easy, took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with me about competing on America’s Got Talent, bike trials, and his mesmerizing video that was shot in the Utah desert outside of Moab.
The pictures are cool, the link to video (all by Devin Graham) even cooler, and I put some words in there to tie it all together. The video has garnered 135K views, and counting. Join the crowd, readers.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
I woke up early on Black Friday. Not to hit the malls but to carve out my camping spot in Canyonlands. Canyonlands and Arches have become increasingly popular with dirt bikers, climbers, hikers, ATVers, mountain bikers and day trippers. Hence lodging, even outdoor lodging, can be hard to come by.
Knowing this, I beelined for the Willow Flat campground in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands. I had never been this far north in Canyonlands, and it was a pleasant surprise. Hithertofore I had spent my Canyonlands time in the Needles District. While the former is known for its canyons, the latter is known for its druid-like rock formations. It was time to get up close and personal with the canyons.
Island in the Sky is a mere 32 miles from Moab. The road in is flanked by buttes, giving you a sense you are driving somewhere protected. I lost radio and cell reception as I approached the Visitor Center. The sign going in tells you–no water, food, gas, or wood is available. That’s not exactly true. I bought four gallons of water at the Visitor Center for six bucks.
The Willow Flat campground is the only car camping in the park. The rest of the sites are backcountry, which my weak back will not allow me to do (well, not yet anyway), and require a permit. I set up camp (about a quarter full) and strolled down to the Green River Overlook, a mere .2 miles down the way:
The rain had dissipated but moisture was omnipresent, and well, ominous. The druids were indeed closing in on me. After setting up camp I had a few hours of daylight left. Although a ride was still out of the question, I wanted to hike and explore. I drove back to the Visitor Center and asked for some advice.
On the way to the Visitor Center I passed the Shafer Trail, which is the start of the White Rim Trail when ridden clockwise. The Shafer Trail, I later found out, had been closed because a car had slid into the side of the canyon. Good thing that car slid into the canyon side. Take a look:
Yup. But wait, there’s more:
The road snakes down and eventually skirts the White Rim, seen toward the top of this picture:
Besides the Shafer Trail, I also visited a few points along the road back to my new home at Willow Flat. I pulled off at one area and even though I’ve got severe anxiety about heights, I hugged the butte wall and made my way out to the edge:
Here’s the view from Vertigo Point, as I aptly named it. Notice the heavy clouds over to the east, hovering over Arches and the Manti La Sal mountains:
A safer alternative was Mesa Arch, filled with daytrippers. Here’s the arch up close:
Canyon shadows and the Back of Beyond section of Canyonlands can be seen through the arch’s frame. Pretty impressive.
One more look through Mesa Arch. Check out the needles to the left.
My last stop of the day was Upheaval Dome. Meteorite possibility. Or maybe aliens?
The jaded SheSpoke thinks it looks like strip mining. The hike to the first overlook is short, well-marked (notice the cairns toward the upper-left corner), and family-friendly:
I made it back to the Green River Overlook (and my home for the next two days) in time for sunset.
The overlook was a like a Nikon convention: tripods, bundled-up photographers, and oohs and ahhs. It was pretty special. One more look:
Thanksgiving evening found me back at the Motel 6 after my third turkey sandwich of the day. I bade farewell to Arches, inquired about the guided hikes through the Fiery Furnace section: Friday and Saturday were sold out but Sunday’s hike–the last one of the season–still had spots available. I passed.
One the way out I hiked into Sand Dune Arch. The hike in was sandy surrounded by slick:
Also on the way out–the famous Balanced Rock, which perhaps inspired episodes of Wile E. Coyote and his archnemesis, the RoadRunner.
And I kept driving out of the park, drawn to the promise of a hot tub, warm bed, and more episodes of The Closer (oh, yeah, and another turkey sandwich). Arches National Park is so spectacular, so massive, that it can be enjoyed from the road.
Is that Nefertiti in the upper left-hand corner?
The plan for Friday: wake up early, hightail it to the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands, and hike around. The trails would be too wet to mountain bike, I surmised. I was right.