Moab – Trail Riding

A Little History on Moab
moab brand map
I had never ridden this trail, thought it would be a great idea

I have spent a great deal of time in Moab since the day. When I was younger and discovering the growing sport of mountain biking us two 14 year old boys took a trip to Southern Utah to discover the place. It wasn’t a busy place and it had been marked on the map as a mountain biking town, among mountain bikers… I was too young to know what was really going on. I road the Slick Rock Trail and then Amasa Back on that trip. Back then Slick Rock wasn’t the hit that is today. Amasa Back was just a jeep road.

How things have changed. Town is now a mecca and cannot be overlooked by any serious mountain biker. (As you define a serious mountain biker you will also find a serious spending habit on livable Mercedes vans and an affinity for cheap beer – a subject for future discussion). For me, it is reminiscent and nostalgic. I cannot leave the place behind because I have spent so much time here. The riding is all time, every time.

North 40 Mountain Bike Trail - Moab, Utah
From here the loop just gets exciting




The trails have grown and for those of you who don’t know, this means actual single track and not jeep roads and motorcycle routes. There are bike only trails! And it all started with the Sovereign Trail between Dalton Wells and Willow Springs roads. But out that way, there has always be someone else digging in the ground for treasure.

Moab has a long history as a mining town, which interests me for many reasons. Anyone can see this but most don’t appreciate what it is or what has been going on there. Check out this article in HCN, High Country News. This is why there are so many jeep roads and motorcycle routes. And that is how all this started. For some great history on the mining in the Moab area, Raye C. Ringholz wrote a comprehensive book on what happened called, Uranium Frenzy: Boom and Bust on the Colorado Plateau.

Trail Riding in the Moab

Moab mountain biking has a very specific feel and it’s a unique experience, which is why, I assume, the place has grown in use to unsustainable numbers of visitors. Be careful when you visit the place or you’ll be waiting in line wherever you go.

North 40 Mountain Bike Trail - Moab, Utah
The spectacular view from any point on the North 40 trail is simply stunning.

The actual riding is mostly technical. If trails were music, then Moab is mostly a Smashing Pumpkins album, specifically, Siamese Dream. Cherub Rock seems to make the cut… The trails are extremely rocky and have some pretty extreme maneuvers but that’s part of the uniqueness here. Your mind picks up something left by time and you never lose the thread, meaning you’ll always be back to ride another day.

My last visit was 1 and 1/2 years ago. I live 4 hours away. My excuses are many, kind of like why there’s dirty dishes in the sink. My last ride on the iconic Whole Enchilada was two years ago. One of the reasons, a very valid one, is that the town experiences way too many visitors these days. These are the days that Edward Abbey described in his prophetic prose about the region. If you don’t know about Ed Abbey, leave this page and go find out.




It wasn’t a place that was ever supposed to become a mecca for mountain biking. But let’s face it, mining towns always find a way to thrive. Look at the mining towns of the west, especially the hard rock mine towns of the Rocky Mountains, they became ski resorts!

I’ve started to stay north of town in my recent years of riding here. It’s easier for me to avoid town. Which I hate doing because I love town, or the ghost of it. Emotionally, it’s easier to spend as little time there as possible. I’ve counted on trails like the Brand network, Sovereign, and Dead Horse Point area to become my go-to tracks.

North 40 Trail
North 40 Mountain Bike Trail - Moab, Utah
The sun was setting and this was not a moment to let slip by

I discovered that someone had built a new one out on the Moab Brand network called North 40. This is a spectacular trail and offers the kind of riding that can only be found in the deserts of Utah, uniquely in the Arches and Canyonlands proximity.

The last 14 years Moab has been expanding its trail system. And it is gorgeous. The Brand Trails hadn’t always offered challenging rides but now things are different. This North 40 trail has flow and punchy climbs, it has technical moves that will kick you right off your bike, appropriately. Riding a fat bike made things less challenging and I enjoyed a good deal of continued momentum.

I remember a specific section where I was rallying through, little bits of desert dirt flying out from the sides of my huge tires, and I emerged from behind some rocks. There, on the trail, two people were listening and watching as my huge tires rolled into their memories. I charged past them on a mission to maintain rhythm, chased by a romantic dream of a desert I used to know.

The sun was setting, in more ways than one on that ride. I love Moab, I love the desert. The time in my life where the deserts here play a critical role in my well being is coming to an end. It’s a place to enjoy and defend and will always be special. I don’t cherish my new memories of the place the way I cherish the old ones. All my experiences are great but something about the old Moab holds on; it persists, it drowns out the voices of the present.

Maybe it’s just me, a lost rider still on a trail that has gone away. One day, though, forty or fifty years from now you’ll find me as a pile of bones on a rock over-looking a deep canyon, next to a burned-out fat bike.

Day 3, Soapstone to Washington Lake

Morning light shone through the pine tree limbs in a warm orange tone. It was chilly. The temperature had dropped to 43 degrees by early morning and I was grateful to have a warmer sleeping bag. I laid there and tried to drift back off to sleep. It worked.

After a bit I got up and made coffee and breakfast, wrapped up camp and headed out by 8:30. Honestly, wasn’t thinking that breaking camp would take so long. But when you’re solo and all the gear has to get on the bike it takes more planning, arranging and time. Then you attach all that crap to your steed. Securing the load is part of the packing ordeal. Unlike backpacking, this is an extra effort.

I headed up the mirror lake highway early enough that traffic was still light, for a Sunday. It was still cool outside until the sunlight hit me. The road I was looking for was off to the left about 3 miles up canyon. It was called Spring Canyon. Aptly named and gorgeous, it is lightly trafficked and dispersed camping is here and there on primitive spots.

Climbing and climbing, the trail wouldn’t relent for 1600 vertical feet. The dirt road was rocky, loose, and dusty. It made for great riding, even with the gear. It was rowdy enough that it kept most vehicles out on the highway. For a laden fat bike it was easy work. My mind is still kinda blown, looking back and thinking there was no way that this guy with his fat tires was gonna clear the incline that looked like a rocky river bed. Surprised, I rode to the top of it. Not sure I understand the physics of how that all happened but it did.

From there it was all 4×4 road; I meandered through the forest seeing lakes and spur roads all over. I noted that this would be a great spot to explore by bike with good times to be had. It was beautiful. Haystack mountain was the backdrop for the entire area. So everything looked like it had to be amazing.

I found a few campers. But because of the nature of this road it was more like normal, with high clearance trucks and jeeps, and tents! Tents, friends. No tin shelters. It was great! And quiet. And soon the road became a graded thoroughfare with the appearance of more RVs. I was way past the point of disappointment in our society.

I was really close to finding my wife and hopefully some yummy snacks. I was approaching Washington lake, an upstream neighbor to Trial Lake. Lots of people. After the two days with relatively few people around I felt like I had shown up at a mall.

Filtering water out of Trial Lake and then taking a swim in the same I was ready for some relaxation. The car had been left with a hammock. I turned on the radio and laid in the hammock for hours. The radio was a hand radio. I was waiting for my wife’s sweet voice to come over the air and let me know where she was.

She radioed in at two miles away. She was surprised to hear my voice come back. I swung gently in the hammock, in the cool mid-day air of the mighty mountains of the Uintas. It was a good day.

Fat Bike Packing Day 2 of 3 (cont)

Dry spigots. No water whatsoever. I had half a liter of water remaining from the last stop. And there hadn’t been much water to draw on between that point and Wolf Creek Pass. There was a family hanging out at the campground. They had children all about. The shade was cool. They were on their way out and kindly asked if I needed some water. I said I would love some. 1.5 liters later I was a bit less concerned about my situation and impending search for water. I could wait for water until I got to Soapstone Basin where I would be able to fill at the RV station.

I enjoyed my oatmeal for lunch with some coffee, to help speed my muscles’ absorption of the nutrients. I repacked my bags and made some modifications that I will use down the road to stabilize my bags.

These ideas proved to be gold. I lowered the front bag framework so it would hold the bag out of the way for my GPS unit so I could navigate without taking my hands from the bars. The saddle bag was creeping lower and lower and my rear tire would assault it from below. I made use of a cord to tether the rear of the bag to my saddle, drawing it tighter and hence up. This worked quite well. After one hour and twenty minutes at Wolf Creek it was 1:20 PM and time to move along. The clouds had moved in.

To Soapstone Basin:

Soapstone Basin is kind of activity hub along the Mirror Lake Highway. There’s a big pullout with an outhouse, standard Forest Service issue. Across the way is a scenic nature trail for those who want to get out of their car but retain great fear of being far from the road. A side road leads away from the highway and presents the RV sanitary station with sewage service and fresh water service. Further up the road are summer cabins, Forest Service cabins, the main area Guard Station, and the road continues up over the mountain to a pass also called Soapstone.

The road over the pass is steep in places. In order to avoid cutting down the mileage and riding really steep roads again I opted for a route that took me further out of the way but skirted the most significant climbing to the pass. The route would start right down the way from the Wolf Creek Campground where the spigots were dry.

This was a fantastic plan. I assumed since it was all Forest Service roads I’d have a clear shot to my destination. I did. As I headed out from the Wolf Creek Campground I took the highway east that lead toward Hanna. It was about a minute of pavement travel and then to dirt again as I turned onto FR174. I climbed and climbed. After two minutes of climbing I was on the descent. For miles and miles I rolled effortlessly through the undulations of the alpine hills.

Then the ATV in their million variety appeared on the road. It was like a super-highway of ATV, RV, side-by-side, motorcycles, and all the other funny, petroleum driven toys that folks never hesitate to haul into the backcountry. Every few minutes I was dusted entirely by the passing by of one of these powered vehicles.

About every twenty minutes or so I would pass a veritable village of RV’s. All corralled like the olden days when pioneers would circle their wagons for the night. Then, it was a survival thing. Today, not so much. They’ve brought the comforts of home to the backcountry in order to “get away”. That’s a little unbelievable. I was happy to zoom by quietly on my fat bike. The end of their kind is near. Petroleum based fuel prices will halt even the most stalwart redneck.

So, the climbing. I hit one decent climb that took about thirty minutes. On that climb traffic was so bad that I had to stop several times to let the myriad vehicles make their snail-paced way up and down the track. Ridiculous wasn’t the appropriate word. The only words for it are all offensive.

Then I crested the climb and came to a sandy quarry where four-wheelers were playing on mounds that had become something of a four-wheeler stunt park. The quarry was clearly used as the source for the road bed I had been riding. Moving past this point the road was literally all downhill, for nearly 11 miles. It was like a ski day.

I let the momentum take me along with it. My two wheels and gear coasted along some of the most scenic backcountry I’d ever seen in the Uintahs. It was breathtaking. There were alpine meadows, conifers as far as the eye could see, and this one dirt road cut across the southern part of it unobtrusively. The sky was blue with the occasional large cloud. The cloudy shade was nice. The altitude made the heat of the sun so much more radioactive, and it could be felt.

All the camps I passed were roughly all the same: RV’s everywhere and hordes of ATV’s outside. Except maybe a couple of them. One in particular had horses and one of the horses was eating grass untethered. That seemed to be a possible problem. I rolled right on by with no possible problems of my own.

I found one camp that had been vacated and if I’d had the water I would have camped there. But I didn’t. I was still on borrowed water. So I stopped there as if it were a gas station and ate some smoked oysters. The smoked oysters were probably the single best addition to my excursion’s meal plan.

While I was sitting there like a bump on a log, that lone, untethered horse ran by… followed by its owner on another horse. They didn’t come back. And I didn’t run into them when I headed that same direction. That horse was long gone. My fat bike was just hanging out, not running away from me, eating nothing but a little chain lube.

Fat Bike Packing Day 2 of 3

I looked at the clock, 7:23 AM. It was early enough. It was late enough. I hadn’t rested much, heart rate still somewhat elevated I felt better in motion than trying to lay there. This day would start off a little dry, water-wise. The last stop I made for water was far enough back down the road that I drank about half my stash. After making dinner and trying to re-hydrate I didn’t have a lot to ride with to the next water stop. It definitely meant I couldn’t make coffee or oatmeal. I reversed my lunch and breakfast meal plan, which mean’t I could cook oatmeal for lunch.

About 8:20 AM I was back on the road following the undulations of FR309. I would experience some of the highest points of my ride on that ridgeline, riding spans of road over 10,000 feet. I descended quickly to the road junction, the intersection that would become a road back to Heber through Lake Creek or the other direction that would take me further out. This was FR054. Once on this road I quickly found West Fork’s headwaters.

This was the spot where I would have liked to have been camped. There was running water. Either way, I hadn’t made it that far the night before. So I enjoyed a coffee and water break there. It was my personal creekside cafe; I had some snacks and hit the road again.

My break was possibly too enjoyable. I had a long way to go. From the ridge top I’d ridden moments before I could see the major peaks of the Uintah mountains that congregated around the Mirror Lake highway. They seemed so far away and I was trying to get within 10 miles of them that day. As I broke my rest and started back up 054 and on to 091 I could see a better view. I tried taking pictures but it was so far away. I couldn’t capture the grandeur of what I was trying to do that day.

Up onto Lightning Ridge I rode and finally enjoyed some quiet from the backcountry traffic that had pestered my route. The views were spectacular and I was in the highest country around. The pines had set in all around me and the scent of old pine sap and oxidizing pine needles filled my nostrils with nostalgic rumination of all the places I’d known with that lovely smell. The dirt road had become less traveled and less maintained. My bike was content. I was content. The experience was peaceful.

The bike I’d chosen for this trip was a Rocky Mountain Blizzard -30 fat bike. I’m not a believer that their sole use should be for winter. I ride it all the time in the summer. In fact, this is my only bike. I have a RockShox Bluto on there. And it’s pretty sweet. For this bike packing thing, it was perfect for carrying the load while maintaining some kind of smooth ride. The tires could deal with the rocks and ruts below while comfortably suspending my body and gear above the bike.

Needless to say, there were plenty of comments from the backcountry peanut gallery. The “backcountry”, as it were, was loaded with bow hunters and folks in side-by-sides, RV’s, campers, trucks, four-wheelers, etc. I was never quite alone. There were sections of my ride that I experienced highway level traffic, but not trucks and cars; atv’s of all sorts were buzzing like they had business to do. There were villages of campers, the RV type, not the tent type, everywhere.

I buzzed quietly by, the sound of my DT Swiss ratchet-drive the only signal of my passing through. The whir of my huge tires didn’t manifest since the road had become so dusty. My only emissions for the day would be some expelled gas from my gut. I was really the only small polluter out there.

Riding along the ridge I pitched down toward Wolf Creek Pass and Campground. This was where I had planned to make a water stop. Well, I made a stop, started cooking my lunch and nearly out of water headed for the spigot. Dry.

Department Store Bikes (part 1)

Let’s take a look at a few things: Without insurance it will cost you roughly $16,000 (possibly more) to surgically repair a broken wrist. A broken wrist which could result from riding a bike that wasn’t assembled correctly. This is a mechanical failure that can lead to a crash.

Now, you want to start mountain biking, just for example. You see that Fatbikes are taking hold and you think it would be fun to have one. You go to a bike shop and find that an entry level Fatboy from Specialized is $1400. Whoa! That’s a ton of money.




Specialized Fatboy

Then you visit Walmart and find that they have a Mongoose fatbike called the Dolomite. It’s on sale online for $207.53.

Mongoose Dolomite

Thinking about this, “oh, it’s just a bike” runs through your mind and you fail to see the implications of “just a bike.” You buy their bike. On your first test-ride around the neighborhood you realize it doesn’t shift through its meagre 7 gears like you think it ought to. With a thump you hit a curb and the handlebars spin to a 90 degree angle from the forward direction they should face. As you tumble slowly over the bars into the grass next to the curb the handlebar pokes your abdomen causing a painful charlie-horse. You sprain your wrist breaking the fall.

But you’re fine. It’s at this point that you realize this bike wasn’t assembled correctly. In the bike shop we see these bikes all the time. While they fit a budget quite nicely they come with absolutely no guarantee of quality or proper assembly. In fact, we see them improperly assembled all the time. Forks on backwards, bolts left loose, bottom brackets loose, and pedals mounted half-heartedly.

Aside from this, we see the cheapest use of materials possible. The fork dropouts (basically responsible for holding your front wheel in the frame) aren’t substantial enough to take the mildest abuse from trail riding.




Bikes like the Fatboy are 1. assembled correctly at your local bike shop and 2. are built with quality parts and materials. I don’t care if you’re a Specialized brand hater, that’s beside the point. The fact is, if you injure yourself on a bike that comes from a shop, it’s usually a result of the way you’re riding. It’s typical for a beginner to crash in mild situations. It happens to experienced riders all the time. But you’re not crashing as a result of improper bicycle assembly or use of poor materials.

Would it have been worth paying $1400 to have a bike that shifts correctly, was safe to ride, and has the guarantee of a local shop? You can judge for yourself. $16,000 for a broke wrist? You could buy 14 really great and well built bikes for that price.