Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Mountain Biking Navajo Rocks in Moab

I just turned 40 years old this year on Memorial Day.  Puma encouraged me to take a trip for my 40th birthday to have some fun personal time doing what I love to do.  I tossed around a few different trip scenarios looking for a 10 day backpacking option originally.  Late May isn't the best time to backpack in the west.  I enjoy alpine mountains, but most alpine areas in the west are pretty snowy this time of year.  A few ideas came up in the desert southwest, but I didn't really want to spend that much time in the desert when I really longed for alpine scenery.

Rather than spend all my trip in one place, I came up with a trip that would combine some desert activity with time in the alpine mountains spread out over 10 days or so.  My primary focus was the northern Rockies.  I however started my trip in Moab, Utah with my main activity being mountain biking.

I have been mountain biking for around 25 years now.  Way back when I started riding as a teenager, I would see Moab in magazines and dreamed of exploring the area's endless trails by mountain bike.  Moab has always been one of the world's premier mountain bike destinations.  In 2001 I passed through Moab on a road trip but didn't have my bike.  I was on a shoestring budget and even back then, renting a bike was pretty costly so I passed through just enjoying the scenery.

Most of my time spent mountain biking was in the northeast.  I grew up in Pennsylvania, and that's where most of my mountain biking time was spent.  After PA, I moved to Maine for eight years.  Now the past three years, I have been living in Colorado and Moab is about 5 1/2 hours away, within a reasonable distance for a trip.

I decided to visit Moab on the first leg of my trip and spend a few days there with my mountain bike.  Dustin Putt, a friend of mine from PA, now living in Oregon, was also traveling at the time and agreed to join me in Moab and ride with me.  On May 21st, I left Howard, Colorado and was in Moab around noon.

The first kink in my trip came early.  I was supposed to call Dustin when I arrived in Moab to meet him.  However, I forgot my paper with his number.  I managed to recall his number and got a hold of him a couple hours later.  Unfortunately, he had car troubles and was stranded in Twin Falls, Idaho.  He was not able to make it into to Moab until late that evening.

It was 2PM and I decided to hit the trails by myself.  My first destination to ride was Navajo Rocks.  I studied different websites to find different rides while in Moab and Navajo Rocks caught my attention.  It is a solid intermediate ride in the 17-18 mile range that can be ridden as a loop and promised a good variety of what Moab has to offer.

Moab can be hotthis time of year, but it was reasonable with temps in the lower 70s and a fair amount of clouds moving in.  At 2PM the trailheads were full but most people seemed to be ending their rides rather than beginning.

There are several trailheads to access Navajo Rocks as well as several places to cut the ride short if weather moves in or dealing with mechanical problems.  I parked at the northern most trailhead along  Utah 313 and began my ride clockwise.   The first trail I hit was Rocky Tops.  Almost immediately the trail traverses slickrock that is mixed with sections of hard packed sand.  Views across the desert begin from the start.  The snow capped 12,000 foot peaks of the La Sal Range are almost always a constant backdrop to the east.  Various desert mesas rise up nearby.  The trail continues on Rocky Tops riding through desert scrub before following the tops of canyons.  There are many short ups and downs but nothing too difficult.  The route would eventually follow below a red sandstone wall.  I would climb away from the wall and a few switchbacks later be riding above the same wall. An occasional flowering cactus added to the already pretty desert views.

Slickrock near the beginning of the ride

Riding atop a canyon rim

The La Sal Range towering beyond the desert

Riding Rocky Tops

View from Rocky Tops

Monitor and Merrimac Buttes

More slickrock and an interesting red rock dome

Riding along a sandstone wall

The trail rides along the base of this before
eventually riding above it

Interesting desert landforms in the distance

blooming cactus

More desert blooms

After nearly 5 miles on Rocky Tops, the next trail on the loop is Coney Island.  Coney Island offered more of the same.  A few more stretches of steep slickrock were encounter requiring some skillful riding where sand was encountered.  The scenery continued.  At this point the clouds thickened and I ran into a few sprinkles.  The rain was short lived and very light at this point.  Coney Island runs just over 3 miles.

Riding along Coney Island

Another view along Coney Island

Big Lonely is the next trail on the loop.  Not long after hitting Big Lonely, the rain started to pick up.  I was a little concerned.  Slickrock becomes, well....slick, when it gets wet.  The sand on the ride also can become quite messy when wet.  Near the beginning of Big Lonely, the trail crosses Utah 313 again, offering a bailout point.  As I approached 313, I looked at the sky and it didn't look too ominous  There was some blue sky and sun poking through and the fairer weather appeared to be moving my way.  I continued in the light rain.

The La Sal Range

Initially Big Lonely starts on fast singletrack.  It quickly changes over to a large section of slickrock.  Since slickrock doesn't look like a trail, the trail is marked with occasional paint marks to keep riders on course.  Despite the rain, the breeze seemed to dry up any moisture on the slickrock as I seemed to hold my grip without much effort.  Slickrock isn't always the smoothest surface to ride on.  It is solid rock after all and  riding over it can be slow and bumpy at times.  After 3+ miles Big Lonely ends and the route continues on Big Mesa.

Slcikrock on Big Lonely

Big Mesa is the most scenic part of the Navajo Rocks area.  As it name implies, Big Mesa travels along the base of its namesake.  The riding is smoother with hard packed red sand and smoother stretches of slickrock.  Any obstacle encountered is easily rideable on the tacky tread.  The trail rides pretty close to the mesa and there are many interesting features to view while riding.  Near the end, there are several interesting spires along the trail and alcoves in the rock.  The 3+ miles on Big Mesa go by quickly.

Approaching the mesa on Big Mesa

Getting closer to the mesa

The trail traveling between rocks

Smoother slickrock

Continuing along Big Mesa

Bumpier slickrock

Good riding on fast singletrack below the mesa

The trail followed the mesa for a couple miles

Riding beside a smaller rock tower

Nearing the end of the mesa

Closeup of the picture above, this formation is probably
5 or 6 stories high to get an idea how high the
the larger mass of the mesa stands

An alcove in the mesa

Finally reaching the end of the mesa

The last leg of the loop follows a trail called Ramblin' for three miles and and finished back at the trailhead.  Ramblin' features a huge swath of slickrock.  Paint markings once again lead the way.  Without the paint, it would be near impossible to determine the right direction since the slickrock is so vast and blends together.  Generally, there is more down than up on Ramblin'.  However, there are some short, punchy climbs.  In sand or dirt, these climbs may not be rideable.  On the slickrock however, the tire grip is amazing and it's possible to climb rather steep sections with ease. After another 3 miles I was back at my car.  When I reached the trailhead, there were only a few other cars there compared to the completely full lot when I arrived.

Ramblin' followed a couple miles of slickrock

Paint marking the route

The clouds were always looming nearby and threatening rain on the last half of my ride.  It started sprinkling minutes before my ride ended. During the ride, when the rain move in, it became chilly and breezy. As I loaded up my bike and changed, a steadier light rain moved in that lasted nearly an hour as I headed back to town to grab some dinner.

I wrapped up my ride in just over 2.5 hours of riding time, although it was actually a little longer taking pictures and enjoying the scenery.  The length of the ride was just shy of 18 miles.  This ride was a great first ride in Moab and really did offer a great mix of what Moab has to offer.  The ride has cactus- some in bloom, sand, slickrock, snowy La Sal Range views, red rocks, and desert landform formations.  By the time I left Moab, I rode 4 other rides, this was one of my top two rides in the area. I highly recommend Navajo Rocks.

Monitor and Merrimac buttes from Ramblin'

Apparently this trail system is just a few years old.  Moab is perhaps the biggest mountain biking destination in the world and they are proactive in adding new trail networks to the already massive trail system.  Many of these trails are built with mountain bikers in mind.  After all, mountain biking is a big draw to the area.  Since so many travelers come to Moab from out of town to ride, the trail system is incredibly well marked with signage and maps at nearly every trail junction.  Just another great reason to ride Moab.

Click the link Navajo Rocks Trail Map to see a map of the area.

Another flowering cactus

A good look along Big Mesa

Passing near the alcoves on Big Mesa

If you enjoy reading this and my other blog posts, check out and Like Tomcat's Outdoor Adventures on Facebook where I post pictures and updates more frequently and revisit old adventures.

No comments:

Post a Comment