My girlfriend Ann suggests a wonderful idea for the first week of April: Drive to Utah and spend a number of days mountain biking and hiking at legendary Moab and Fruita. I’m thrilled by the idea. Mountain biking at Moab and Fruita have been on my bucket list for 15-20 years. I have repeatedly heard over the course of my life that these two destinations are ground zero for the best mountain biking on earth.
An April trip to Moab makes sense, as Moab is infamous for being a dry, parched furnace from May through September.
We pack the car with our bikes and gear. But we depart with some trepidation. We have heard, after all, that the week we have chosen was ALSO the annual “Jeep Week” in Moab.
That can only mean crazed, loud, dust-spewing sport vehicles packed in and screaming around the canyons and trails.
But the momentum that has built up for us to enjoy this trip compels us to press on. Even seeing a convoy of jeeps pass by our house on the morning of our departure – surely headed for Moab – does not stop us.
Our drive from Boulder to Moab is about six hours. We drive Interstate 70 west from Denver and veer south on Route 128. Much of our route follows the mighty, impressive Colorado River. Route 128 is designated as a “National Scenic Byway.”
With good reason.
Rt 128 takes one through a stunning red canyon landscape that shocked me with its impressiveness. Up till this drive, I had not known that Utah contained such a fantastic canyon land. I could not stop taking pictures from my passenger seat.
Our first taste of Moab is to mountain bike on the renowned Slickrock trail. We sample the “practice loop,” said to be as technically demanding and challenging as the main Slickrock trail, but just shorter. I quickly learn that this is true, as many of the trail sections are so steep that I am humbled to the point of repeatedly having to dismount my full-suspension iron horse and walk up the forbidding incline. In my own defense (and disappointment), however, my mountain bike has never really been tested on serious trails since I bought it second-hand last year. As it turns out, this was a mistake. My chain keeps jumping and slipping from chain ring to chain ring, which makes it impossible for me to power up steep terrain.
To get an accurate sense of how difficult the “practice trail” at Slickrock really is, one need only inspect the trailhead kiosk, where there is a map prominently displayed which shows DIRECTIONS TO THE HOSPITAL. Another obvious, macabre clue indicating the extreme difficulty a mountain biker faces at Slickrock: A graveyard is located close to the trailhead.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoy the sensation of riding the famously “grabby” slickrock smooth surface, which provides unusually high levels of mountain bike tire friction. At times, I feel like Spiderman – seemingly able to ride at any extreme speed or extreme pitch without fear of toppling.
Our first night in town takes us to Miguel’s Baja Grill, which is outstanding, delicious, wonderful and highly authentic. Patrons are served enormous portions of affordable yet superb Mexican food. The M.O.A.B. Mother of All Burritos is IMMENSE in size – so big that even big-eating Dom was forced to take half of it home in a left-over box. The Nopolo Style Ceviche is an “appetizer,” but is large enough for two to be a meal in itself. This dish is also superb in taste. Overall, Miguel’s is so outstanding that we end up having a second dinner here a few nights later. This says a lot, as I NEVER go to a restaurant more than once when I visit a new place (I ordinarily feel compelled to sample as many places as I can). This place, however, was so good that I had to violate my travel rule. Don’t miss it.
While Miguel’s is excellent, the Town of Moab is utterly disappointing. Most all streets are enormously, excessively wide, what I call “gaptooth” asphalt parking lots infest much of the town center, and even the street names are confusing. Main Street is a huge, high-speed four- and five-lane monstrosity. Like the town overall, Main Street is completely lacking in charm.
It is all about mountain biking (and hiking) in Moab…
Our first lodging night in Moab is at Cali Cochitta Bed & Breakfast. Very nice hosts, facilities (including a nice hot tub/spa), gardens, delicious breakfast, rooms, and quiet central location. Overall, a very pleasant place to stay.
Corona Arch Trail is our first hike in Moab. Outstanding. Once again, I am humbled. We are about the only hikers on this world-class trail. The spectacular scenery of canyons, scrub and arches has me shooting photos almost non-stop.
Later in the day, we drive to Arches National Park. Again, the canyons and rock formations has me clicking nearly continuously with the camera. We hike to the famous Delicate Arch. Impressive.
Next day remains unusually windy and chilly for this time of year in Moab, but it is much better than the normal scorching weather for the area. We visit Dead Horse Point State Park just outside of town. We mountain bike the Intrepid Trail, the Great Pyramid Loop, and the Big Chief Loop. The trails are relatively easy yet quite fun. Best of all is that much of the trail mileage hugs breathtaking views of immense, deep canyons that rival the Grand Canyon. Indeed, Dead Horse State Park puts many national parks to shame. We end our visit of this amazing park by heading out to the viewpoint that makes the park famous. Utterly spectacular (and yes, humbling) view.
We select the Moab Brand trail network, as our information indicates that this system provides a cluster of trails suitable for all skill levels. We warm up by riding the easy Bar M circumventing loop trail. We also ride the Lazy trail, which is incredibly enjoyable with its slalom “S” turn pattern, as well as EZ trail, which is surprisingly technical.
Ann opts to wait for me just after lunch, as by now I’ve not yet had my fill of mountain biking the Moab Brand area. With some mild fear, I set out on the 3-mile Circle O trail, which is somewhat remote from the rest of Moab Brand. Circle O is almost entirely slickrock in surface character. I have the unsettling feeling, however, that there are no other bicyclists anywhere near me. I start thinking about Aron Ralston, who similarly set out on his own for an easy dayhike in the nearby Canyonlands, ends up getting his hand caught under a boulder, and must amputate his right arm to save himself. More than once as I ride Circle O, I think about whether I am making the same mistake he had made as I ride in an area that has no others anywhere near me. Happily, I soon find that this trail is nearly perfectly matched to my advanced intermediate skill level on a mountain bike. I finish the ride without incident, and call Ann by cellphone to let her know I have survived.
I then make a bit of a mistake. My map indicates that I can negotiate my way back to where Ann is waiting if I opt for a trail I have not yet ridden. The trail is Deadman’s Ridge. The trail turns out to be exceptionally aptly named. It could also be called “Widow-Maker Ridge.” For much of the trail, I realize I have no business on this trail. In skiing terms, I would call it a Triple Black Diamond trail. To add to my woes, the very poorly and sparsely marked Moab Brand trail system results in my heading in the wrong direction (twice!) for a long distance (very few – if any – arrows are used on the signs). I also end up on the wrong trail on two separate occasions. Fortunately, a few bicyclists point me in the correct and opposite direction.
On our way back to Boulder, we stop in the almost-as-famous-for-mountain-biker Fruita, which is a town at the western Colorado border with Utah. It is said that Fruita has more trails and more technical trails than Moab, despite having a lesser reputation.
Like Moab, the Town of Fruita is nothing to write home about (or post on Facebook). The town is boring, and significantly dispersed (there is very little “there there”). Much of Fruita is unlovable sixties and seventies suburbia in need of demolition. Main Street is a very short, small sliver of potentially walkable charm in desperate need of town center housing and infill retail shop development to enliven it.
Bordering Fruita is the Colorado River State Park, which is very likely the most unremarkable, poorly designed state park in the nation. Best I can tell, the park features very little more than large asphalt parking lagoons. The park as it borders the Colorado River is a gravel moonscape area that has an unknown purpose. Perhaps the most attractive feature of the park is a small playground. And a sorry collection of small man-made ponds.
And absolutely nothing else.
Except an overpriced park visitor center that appears more appropriate for a huge national park.
Sadly, Fruita is now a shadow of its former glory days when it was an impressive, attractive hub of fruit orchards.
Fortunately, Fruita does indeed contain excellent and numerous mountain bike trails. We start on the Rustler’s Loop practice trail, which is quite enjoyable and offers great views of the Colorado River which it skirts for much of its length. Early on, we are happily surprised to encounter a good-sized yellow and black snake on the trail, and look up just down the trail to see that a bald eagle is circling above us. We also ride a section of the main spine trail here called Mary’s Loop. I also enjoy riding Wrangler’s Loop while in this vicinity.
We end our Fruita visit with another pleasant surprise. We stop to eat a hearty lunch at The Hot Tomato, just off Main Street. Excellent food and draft beer. I opt for a spicy, delicious calzone. Funky, lively ambience. Do not miss this restaurant either.
This link is a YouTube slide show of the photos I shot while hiking and mountain biking at Moab and Fruita: