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.

Thunder Mountain Trail

The Thunder Mountain Trail is a bit out of the way, and it’s ok

I haven’t ridden this trail as much as I should have. I grew up in Utah skiing and riding bikes. It makes sense that I should know all the trails here. But last fall was the first time I’d ridden Thunder Mountain in the Bryce Canyon area.

Zach cruising up the Bryce Canyon bike path looking for a certain Thunder Mountain Trailhead

The trail parallels Red Canyon which one generally has to pass through if headed to Bryce Canyon from Interstate 15. The only other route is to come from Escalante, Utah. Anyhow, this ride is totally sweet and worth a mission send. That being noted, Zach and I packed up right quick after work and made the 4 hour drive south from the Wasatch mountains.

Traffic southbound I-15 was light as we zoomed through the darkness with our rigs fastened to the back of the trusty automobile. With only one stop for stretching we made camp in less than 4 hours. It was 31 degrees farenheit… the night got colder but we slept in the relative comfort of winter sleeping bags.

Trail starts out in the red dirt and pine trees, iconic terrain of this part of the world

Morning time brought seriously cold air and we slept until about 9AM with our warm hats covering our eyes so they wouldn’t turn into ice balls.. Morning also brought a warm fire, coffee, and a cowboy breakfast. After all morning routines handled, we were ready to ride and hit the road. After a quick ride up the Bryce Canyon bike trail to the top of Red Canyon, we took a right on a Forest Road and through an equestrian campsite. The Thunder Mountain trail starts at the end of this road but is somehow called Coyote Hollow, so heads up.

Previous Year, Riding through hoodoos with my wife and friends

The trail quickly becomes your favorite trail. Whoever dug it had a vision. While I believe that it was initially a horse trail, and it shows in places, it’s a fantastic bike trail also. Rounding every punchy climb with a ridgeline, the hoodoos and red valleys come into view against the deep blue hue of a U2-esque desert sky.

It’s too fun of a trail to miss, you have to ride it. Or not. I’m completely fine with no one but a few riding this place. It is after all largely out of the way. If you’re headed to a major bike mecca, forget about heading here. There’s no bike shop that I can find.. So you’re on your own.

The trail sweeps up and down ridge-lines for the first 4 miles or so. Each turn brilliantly formed, off-camber straight-aways, rocky non-sense, some loose dirts; all for your riding pleasure. And every time you look up you see this kind of crap:

Karen riding up the ridge; just beautiful views, forever




Last year I rode Thunder mountain for a birthday party with my wife and friends. Yes, my wife has that SE grin that all of us mountain bikers know is absolutely contagious.

Zach surrendering to a photo op

Zach and I made less time for pictures. You could literally spend the whole day getting the best action shots in your portfolio on Thunder Mountain if you weren’t interested in maintaining the thrilling flow of two wheels down this remarkable trail.

We broke riding at the mid-trail horse camp. It has a little vista there while you eat a well earned date roll. The only thing that would have been better would have been to camp there. Bike packing is a serious possibility, even though the trail is really, really short.

After the horse camp the trail climbs and descends flowing down ridge-lines and through hoodoos all over. The descending here gets a little more rowdy. We dropped tire pressure because we are just that cool. As the trail descends there are two sections of tight switchbacks. This is usually where you’ll see the best crashes.

Crystal descending, happier than any other moment in her life

As the trail winds around and through some drainages, there’s a short climb which leads to a 1.4 mile straight-away descent back to the Red Canyon highway and bike path. We let gravity guide us back, using our huge tires to make up for not using brakes. Oh yes, we rode this trail on 27.5+ and 26 Fat hardtails.

Mountain Biking Vernal

Got up this morning with one thing in mind, “I need to ride my bike.” With household approval to take off for the next 30 hours I packed up kissed my lady and again I was off to adventure, much like my bike packing adventure.

The drive from Heber to Vernal in Utah is only 2 hours and on the way out along US Highway 40 I can watch Utah change back into what it mostly is. Good fortune has allotted that I live in a tourist driven area where folks come to take advantage of a largely unmined landscape. By this I mean, none of this:

oil derricks
All along highway 40 you see these things on the horizon

Yes, Utah is a lot of oil and gas drilling. I guess there’s money in it. While it’s not east Texas, it seems like oil is the name of the game out here.




The drive out was dreary until the clouds started to break apart. Then for hours on end there were some cool opportunities for amazing contrast shots. The ground was lit, being reds and yellows, it contrasted heavily against the deep gray clouds of the northern skies.

Around sunset, the contrasts between earth and sky were amazing
What happens when you want the picture but the clouds keep the sun in

The Riding:

What leads someone to consider mountain biking Vernal, Utah, you ask? Well this:

While these aren’t all the trails, I covered a few of them and they are stellar

McCoy Flats has always been spoken of as the riding in the Vernal area. There are plenty of other fantastic places to ride; however, this is simply off the highway on the way into town arriving from the rest of Utah.

It’s some of the best desert riding single-track around. When you go to Moab, the rock is nearly stiflingly awesome and there’s usually a lot of double track as many of the existing trails are mine road remnants. After some time on it you’re ready for dirt again, single-track dirt. The trails at McCoy Flats are full spectrum: easy to technically challenging. There is dirt here, not so much sand. Talk about refreshing desert riding!

While all seems ride-able, there are few obstacles that trick the eye. I got temporarily hung up on some of these. But oh such great riding. My new favorite line is called “Fire Sale” which branches off of “Retail Sale”. Ride it from West to East. It takes up all the available real estate on two hills.

A few of these trails are directional. It makes for a nice consistency. You can’t ride up certain rock drops. Also, you won’t find yourself riding up a skid. All the trails are well marked and circumnavigate the parking area. This added convenience is nice for a pit stop, snacks, and refreshments.

This is why folks pack their bike and head to Vernal.

A Discussion – Bicycle Commuting

Yesterday I drove 50 miles to the car dealership to drop off my car for service. Rather than having my wife follow me in her car I decided to make a day of it and ride my road bike over our mountain passes to get home. I’ve never been afraid to use the bicycle as a means of transportation; bicycle commuting is my most common way to get to work. With fuel prices and the resulting pollution, riding a bicycle is much more friendly on both environment and wallet.

High Mountain Pass at 9000′

The ride home started off pleasant, as all rides do but I needed to climb 5700′ vertical over 43 miles. The pitch basically ramps up steeper and steeper as the day wore on, the cool air turning warm with sun and elevation thinning the available oxygen…

Seriously, elevation gain

Although I was home by noon, I was useless in regards to getting on with my day. The commute took 4 hours, the climbing unrelenting. But I made it home. Get this, I rode an 2001 steel Bianchi to do the job. Think of it this way, instead of using the bike for fitness and recreation, why is it not used more often as a primary means of mobility?

Bicycles can be more for just the occasional business professional or everyday college student. Bicycles should possibly be used every time we go out to dinner, the movies, shopping.. sure, it takes more time and more planning, but you end up with just the essentials when shopping, a bigger day floating the river, and a nice way to get home after sitting in a theatre for too long in one uncomfortable chair.

You and I might say that a lot of folks do this. Well it isn’t enough. Imagine having to go into the city with your bike from your rural home. It could be a long way off. You make a day of it. In Europe there are trains to help people move about in this way. Between Heber City and Salt Lake City, Utah, there are no such options. So.. We ride our bikes over mountain passes?

I don’t know the answer here. But I’d like to think that it’s possible, with proper planning to be able to do bigger and badder things in the name of simple economy and saving the world from the effects of all types of pollution. We might spend more time shopping local, buying much less of the things we don’t need, living healthier lives with our bodies in motion, and other things.

We could spend more time breathing the air rather than polluting it. Anyhow, check out The League of American Bicyclists page. It may help you out.

Fat Bike Packing day 1 of 3

Headed out from home in down town Heber, Utah, I was in the completely wrong hour of the day and I knew it. The sun was in its full strength for the day and it was near 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I knew the hours following the ride would be fitful and I was right. But that could mean anything from a minor headache from the heat to full blown heat exhaustion. Whatever awaited me at the terminus of the days’ ride would be acceptable. It was time to head out.

With everything packed and my shift done for work all I had to do then was kiss my wife goodbye and hit the road. I left her with all the maps of the areas I’d cover, which Forest Service roads I would be on and what timing to expect. At the end I would meet her in the high alpine area of the Mirror Lake Highway through the Uintah Mountains, a location approximately 60 miles from home. I would either find her or her car. We had radios for getting in touch once I was close enough to where she would be in the mountains on Sunday.

She watched me ride off in a romantic kind of way, sweet and exciting. “I’ll see you in a couple of days,” she said with a kiss. Or that’s how I remember it. Anyhow, it was me and the open road. Traffic on surface streets was light. I was on the most rural roads of our rural city. It was hot. After 7 miles the pavement ended. It was all dirt from that point. I took a photo of the bike all loaded down to mark the occasion.

I had lightly chosen my gear for this, based on the availability of Specialized’s bike packing bags and my experience in backpacking. The “Specialized Adventure Gear” suited me well, was up to the task, and looked good. However I would like a different choice of color than black… my lightest and most minimal gear was with me. I had a few things along I wouldn’t take again.

The view from my route

With water and repair gear I had 34 pounds added to me and the bike. My final post will be a gear review. For now, on with day one’s ride. I made the dirt road by 5:00 PM. That was an hour later than I had hoped. I was also hoping that the canyon I was going to be climbing would be sheltered from the sun. Disappointed as I found no shade. Fortunately the road had been recently graded and relieved of most serious ruts. Once the road pitches up it doesn’t relent. I had programed the route into my GPS which has this annoying yet informative feature that shows where you are on the elevation profile, in real time.

I realize the chart doesn’t do this climb justice, but the brute of the climb was over the last 8 miles climbing 3500feet with a bike that was 34 pounds heavier than normal. The benefit was knowing when to anticipate breaks in the climbing which would last for mere seconds. The last climb of the immense slog appeared to have no end, at no point could I estimate a break or relief, it just kept on climbing. And the hours were passing. I knew that there was no way for me to make Wolf Creek Pass that night. I had half an hour of daylight by the time I finished the climb.

With a heavy bike and tired legs I finally hit a plateau in the climb and the ridge line riding started. I needed to find a camp so I wouldn’t be setting up in the dark. The place I found was next to some drunk bow hunters. They went on into the night. “Remember that old time back at Stinky Springs?” and other nonsense that they reminisced sung across the gentle breeze of the cool mountain air.

My one man tent was a great shelter and pretty comfortable. I was a 15 mile bike ride from home. I had a nice phone call with my wife, something that surprised us both because of the seemingly remoteness of my location. We said good night and I turned in, sleepily hearing the nonsense that my drunk neighbors were rambling.

But sleep was fleeting. The exertion and heat had rewarded me with a moderate headache. It was the price for traveling when I did. It made it near impossible to sleep. My heart rate wouldn’t settle either. I promised myself that I would sleep in if it were possible but when morning came I couldn’t’ help but leave that camp. Adventure awaited me and I knew it.