Utah's Backcountry Monuments
Edward Abbey once described the deserts of southwest Utah as “light and space without time, I think, for this country with only the slightest traces of human history.” Mountain biking, exposed to nature’s elements, is the ideal way to take in the spirit of this land.
We’ll shuttle from Grand Junction to the high-desert outpost of Boulder, Utah, and begin exploring a corner of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument before descending the multiple switchbacks of the Burr Trail. This gravel road cuts dramatically through the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long monocline that defines the geology of Capitol Reef National Park. We’ll traverse some of the most spectacular and remote scenery of the American West, experiencing red rock hoodoos cast in unimaginable configurations, slot canyons, and petroglyphs carved into the sandstone. It will be a trip you’ll never forget.
"I thoughly enjoyed all aspects of the trip, but I most enjoyed the great group of fellow participants."
Day 1. Shuttle from Grand Junction, Colorado to Boulder, Utah
We'll hop in the Adventure Cycling van in Grand Junction, Colorado, and shuttle 240 miles through Capitol Reef National Park and over Boulder Mountain. Time permitting, we can visit Boulder's Anasazi Indian State Park, which showcases artifacts and ruins of the Ancestral Pueblo people who inhabited the Four Corners region more than 800 years ago. We'll spend the night in Boulder surrounded by a wilderness of desert and mountains.
Day 2. Boulder to Grand Staircase-Escalante, 26 miles
Setting out on our ride of discovery, we'll depart Boulder and roll onto the legendary Burr Trail, following a route blazed by John Burr to move his cattle between summer and winter ranges. The terrain on either side of the trail could well have given rise to the expression "hell of a place to lose a cow." We'll pass ancient sand dunes turned to stone and ride through Long Canyon, full of dark reds, white, and black colors, before reaching our campsite for the night.
Day 3. Grand Staircase-Escalante to Cedar Ridge, 35 miles
After breakfast we'll pedal to Capitol Reef National Park. In the distance, the Henry Mountains rise from the brown desertscape like a verdant, timbered island. After negotiating a series of switchbacks that crawl down a virtual rock wall, we'll reach the bottom and look back up, wondering, "How did they ever build a road going up that thing?" With any luck, we'll settle into our campsite just as the evening sun ignites Tarantula Mesa to the east, illuminating it in a fiery orange glow.
Day 4. Cedar Ridge to Cainville, 33 miles
Come morning we'll continue north on the Notom-Bullfrog Road, weaving our way along backcountry roads and joining the classic Cathedral Valley mountain bike route. Tonight we'll set up another makeshift camp in the warm desert sun of early autumn and enjoy a restful sleep in cool temperatures beneath a star-filled sky.
Day 5. Cainville to Goblin Valley State Park via Muddy Creek, 38 miles
Today we'll squeeze to the northeast between North Caineville Mesa and North Caineville Reef. The flat-topped formation of orange-brown sandstone is one of the most prominent landforms in what is otherwise largely barren mudflats. In fact, the open landscape here is some of the starkest terrain in Utah. Once we ford Muddy Creek we'll be riding along the base of the San Rafael Swell and the entrance to a number of slot canyons. Tonight we'll camp among the strange rock formations of Goblin Valley.
Day 6. Layover Day in Goblin Valley State Park, 0 miles
This morning we'll follow Wild Horse Road, which leads all the way to Goblin Valley State Park. We have a number of options for exploration today, including hikes in the Bell and Wild Horse slot canyons. If you also want a bike ride, the 18-mile loop encircling nearby Temple Mountain is a terrific ride, passing pictographs on canyon walls and descending through a sand wash, making it a great wrap-up of the area. A visit to the collection of soft sandstone "goblins" inhabiting the park can make for an excellent after-dinner hiking and photography outing. So alien is the setting that 1999's Galaxy Quest, a sci-fi parody/cult film, was shot in Goblin Valley.
Day 7. Goblin Valley State Park, 15 miles
The San Rafael Swell, part of the greater Colorado Plateau physiographic region, is home to a maze of slot canyons and sand washes to explore. With over 3,000 square miles, it's doubtful we'll have time to explore them all! But we do have a fantastic 15 mile largely downhill singletrack ride picked out that is big fun to do.
Day 8. Shuttle from Goblin Valley to Grand Junction
Today we'll shuttle back to Grand Junction from Goblin Valley. Yes, our time in Utah is over, but chances are you'll be back. Rare is the individual who can visit this region once and not return again and again.