Riding Utah's Other Mecca|
Saturday, November 27, 1999
Utah is home to the acknowledged Mecca of meccas when it comes to mountain biking. Of course I'm referring to Moab but there's more to life than Moab's famous slickrock. Across the state, Southwestern Utah is a patchwork of contrasting geography that offers amazing riding opportunities. The Dixie National Forest is home to the southwest region called Color Country. Not only does this region rival Moab, it's a helluva lot more accessible! Las Vegas is 3 hours away, L.A. and San Diego 8 hours, Phoenix 7 and Salt Lake City just 4 hours removed from epic riding.
Cedar City and St. George are the main urban areas in the region with all the ammenities you'll need. Cedar City is the gateway to Brian Head, Bryce Cayon and Cedar Breaks National Monument. The area is very pro-mountain biking. Visit Cedar Cycles at 38 E. 200 So. in Cedar City and speak with owner Brian Jeppson. While at the shop, pick up a free copy of the Brian Head Hiking and Biking Guide which list 18 local ribbons of singletrack.
Fitness is something to consider before riding in the area. Trailheads at 8000 ft. and above are not uncommon. If you arrive from near sea-level, trailheads riding without getting acclaimated, or the necessary fitness, will feel as if your lungs are in a vice grip. Thankfully, lung bursting climbs are not the norm as most of the terrain is rolling.
Trails starting from Steam Engine Meadow at Brian Head wind through mountain forest with minimal elevation gain. Starting at the top of Brian Head Peak will allow access to a couple of mega-downhills. Left Fork of Bunker Creek is a 12 mile downhiller's delight ride that starts at nearly 11,000 ft. The other ride to feed the gravity junkie's addiction is Dark Hollow. It's a 15+ mile one-way thrill ride that features a 5000 ft. elevation loss. Yes, that's a vertical mile of descending that will permanently affix a grin on your face from ear to ear. Other rides worth exploring are Navajo Lake Loop, Thunder Mountain and Cascade Falls Loop.
An hour south of Cedar City on I-15 is St. George. Lodging options closer to Zion National Park can be found in Hurricane, La Verkin and Springdale. If you find yourself in Springdale, visit Dean Williamson at Bike Zion on Utah HWY-9 for rentals, service and shooting the bull about mountain biking.
The recently opened Gooseberry Mesa trail network is the area's jewel. Trails include elements of technical slickrock, twisty singletrack, rough doubletrack, primitive dirt roads and technical challenges of the like you won't find anywhere else. The slickrock here is unlike Moab's. On Gooseberry, slickrock can be darn close to trials riding at times. Short steep climbs, scary drops, rock stair climbs, tough lines without bail out routes, everything that adds up to epic technical riding. There are loops in the network more suitable for beginner riders but their not nearly as fun.
The J.E.M. Trail is another local favorite that finishes with a 6 mile singletrack downhill. The trail is all singletrack with some spectacular desert riding.
If you're really lucky you'll find a local who can show you to Little Creek Mesa. We were fortunate enough to have Morgan Harris lead us through this dizzying maze. Little Creek is very tricky to find but well worth it if you can get acturate directions. Extremely technical slickrock, singletrack and amazing views from the mesa are a must for those seeking a challenge. Tip - bring extra water, sun block, tire liners and/or Slime as this is the desert and plants that prick are everywhere.
Does venturing to southwest Utah sound like fun? It's more fun than you can image and activities aren't limited to mountain biking. Hiking, camping, road cycling and 9 golf courses offer breaks from the fat tires. Keep in mind that this is the desert. Ideal times of the year are spring and fall though riding is possible year round. Winter can be chilly and summer is brutally hot.