April 10-11, 2004
Question: what is Jeep Safari Week?
Answer: take the usual 3,000 fat, beer-swilling rednecks who come to Moab on an average weekend to ride their motorized couches, then add 10,000 more. The resulting traffic jam of gas guzzling, big-tired, trail munching machines does its best to imitate LA at rush hour.
So why did we decide to head out to Moab during Jeep Safari Week? Well, my wife Molly usually works weekends, but this time she was free. The weather was looking questionable everywhere but Moab, and we do love that place, so off we went.
Saturday morning we discussed our ride options. Eagle's Perch sounded good at first, until we remembered how popular the Gemini Bridges trail is with the motorized couch set. It would be a dustbowl. The Monitor and Merrimac trail looked interesting, however. We had no idea how many jeeps and ATVs would be on it, but decided to give it a try anyway.
The trailhead was a mess. It was packed with huge RV's loaded down with trailers full of ATV's, jeeps, motorcycles, and dune buggies. Random kids zoomed around on their motorized toys, stirring up as much dust as possible. Fortunately, it looked like most of these folks were staying in the vicinity, not heading out on the trail itself. We pedaled out and quickly put the commotion behind us.
Our first stop was the crumbling remains of the Halfway Stage Station, just a mile up the dirt road. Back in the late 1800s, the nearest train station was 35 miles north of Moab, an eight-hour trip by stagecoach. The Halfway Stage Station offered a place to stop, have lunch, and rest before the last half of the trip. Of course, today we could do the whole trip on our mountain bikes before lunch, if we wanted!
We made the scenic trip around Joe Camel Butte without seeing another soul. After blasting down a section of slickrock at breakneck speeds, we climbed Mill Canyon toward the two prominent formations to the west: Monitor and Merrimac Buttes. Thanks to recent rains, the infamous sand on this section was quite bearable. We made it through with only a few grumbles, and then climbed onto the slickrock between the huge rock formations. Molly spotted a pair of climbers high above us. Though far away, we could hear every word they said. One of them mentioned that he was "friggin' pumped" and that he was afraid he would rip all his gear if he fell.
Rounding the far corner of Monitor, we entered a slickrock playground. The slopes were deceptively steep, however. Fearing loss of much skin, we didn't stay long.
Soon we ran into a procession of four wheelers creeping along at an agonizingly slow pace. We zipped by as the procession came to another halt. Fat men climbed out of Jeeps and UNIMOGs to examine the next challenge...a steep slickrock section that Molly and I had already ridden in the time it took them to climb out of their vehicles. I wanted to shoot some video of these guys tackling the challenge, but we lost interest and hit the trail again after five minutes.
The highlights on the way out included a trip to the base of the Determination Towers and a quick jaunt along the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail to see fossilized dinosaur bones and petrified wood. It was a great ride; much more interesting than we had expected, visually quite stunning, and surprisingly empty aside from the large pack of four wheelers we encountered earlier.
That afternoon we had a pleasant run up Negro Bill Canyon ("African American William Canyon," as my politically correct friend Erik calls it) to the amazing Morning Glory Natural Bridge, an incredible formation spanning 243 feet. We finished the day with lots and lots of food, and a sampling of Utah's finest beer(?) at the Moab Brewery.
Sunday morning we woke up to clear skies and a cool breeze. Continuing with our exploration of the trails north of Moab, we geared up at the Sovereign Trail. This relatively new singletrack may not be in most guidebooks yet, but it's certainly no secret. We would see other riders on the trail, but fortunately, being singletrack, we would avoid all the four-wheelers today.
I have to commend the trail builders responsible for the Sovereign Trail. They did an excellent job creating a superb singletrack that snakes through the rocks between Willow Springs and Dalton Wells Roads. It throws lots of little challenges at you here and there -- rock ledges, steep dirt climbs, switchbacks, and slickrock -- but there are many sections of smooth hardpack that flow like melted butter. On those sections, I just stood up, lay off the brakes, and let the trail come at me. As the speed picked up, my grin only got bigger.
At Dalton Wells Road, we took a left and zoomed down to a parking area. Here we headed northeast on another dirt road, but soon we found a faint singletrack heading left up a wash that paralleled our road. We'd been warned about the trails north of Dalton Wells, but I somehow convinced Molly that it wouldn't be too bad. She agreed, on condition that she would be allowed to whine if necessary.
The trail, though officially part of the Sovereign Singletrack, was nothing like what we'd just ridden. Only a few moto tracks and the occasional blue blaze indicated we were on the right path. The technical challenges were a bit too much for us, but the location was fantastic. We were traveling up a narrow canyon with some very cool eroded sandstone formations. One place was almost like a cave, but if you climbed inside, you could see daylight shining through a thin crack in the ceiling. The trail was steep and loose, and we were happy to make it back to the main road again. We hit one more section of Sovereign Singletrack -- this one quite enjoyable -- before hitting Dalton Wells Road again and backtracking the original six sweet miles of trail to the car.
It was only 2:00, so we decided to do a ride in Fruita on the way home. What's a short, fun ride in Fruita that's just off the highway? Moore Fun Trail, of course. We rode it East to West (the "easy" way) and I had a great time. Molly did surprisingly well, although she did mention at one point that she wished she could have a little "Less Fun". At one point we saw a teenaged Barney scrambling 50 feet down a steep slope with his bike to cut a switchback.
As we got up to him, I said, "Man, you've got to stay on the trail."
He stared at me blankly.
"All right?" I asked.
"Uh, ok," he mumbled, then rolled his eyes as he passed by. I still haven't figured out the best way to reach these people, but I suspect the real problem is diminished mental capacity.
I was having a great day, succeeding on everything the trail could throw at me (with a few "do-overs" of course). But I still dreaded the last and biggest challenge: a tight squeeze between two boulders followed immediately by a big rock ledge to surmount. I had to pedal so slowly through the squeeze that it was difficult to get any momentum before hitting the ledge. Plus, I couldn't just hit the ledge head-on, since there was yet another boulder squeezing in from the right side. Success would require me to re-align my bike at a very slow speed, and then do a strong pedal kick to pop onto the ledge.
Try as I might, I couldn't get my bike lined up properly after the squeeze to make any type of good effort at the ledge. I succeeded a couple times in getting my front wheel onto the ledge, but had no chance of getting the rest of my bike and me on top. I positioned my bike between the two boulders and clipped in. I stared at the ledge, envisioning the different ways I could tackle the problem. Finally, I stared at the top of the ledge, and pictured myself getting there. One quick move, and suddenly I had done it. It wasn't the completely clean effort I'd ideally like to make, where I ride through the whole section in one motion, but I was happy. And I'm sure Molly was happy that I was done, too!
On the drive out, we again pondered the age-old question: why is Diorio's Pizza closed on Sundays?
Ok, I keep getting error messages when I try to attach photos, so I can't insert them in the text where I want them. Anyway, here are the captions:
1) Indian paintbrush, dunes, and Joe Camel Butte
2) Merrimac Butte
3) A closer look at Merrimac...note alien head
4) Molly on Moore Fun Trail
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Thread: RR: Jeep Safari Week in Moab