With Mont turning 40 this year we're taking time to look through the archives. And when we say archives, we mean unmarked boxes sequestered here and there in the Mont Warehouse. In one of these dusty boxes, we found a stack of slides along with this story regaling a day mountain biking in Moab in 1999 by Mont staff member David.
Utah has come up with the goods once again. Skiing some of the best snow on Earth has helped to shrug off the daily grind. Three days of fresh powder had Damian, Jude and I totally primed for more steep and deep. But with the weather forecast looking ordinary for new snow, our focus changed to heading down to the Southern Desert Country.
I had left Australia with the idea of exploring southern Utah and the hope we may stumble into Moab. Well, “bugger me”, when the next morning at breakfast Jude came up with the idea of trying some mountain bike riding in Moab, on something called Slick Rock. “You know, the stuff at the beginning of the Imax Everest movie”. Quivering with the thought and more excited than a Wolverine zipped inside a sleeping bag full of Prairie dogs, I calmly said: “I’m keen”.
Salt Lake City was barely visible the morning we left, due to rising temperatures and gathering smog. It was a good time to be leaving Wasatch.
‘Vast’ best described the high desert plateaus of southern Utah. Extraordinary does not do justice to the magnificent geology. Massive sandstone structures chiselled out of solid bedrock by wind and water dominate the horizon.
“Are we the only people here?”. Incredible as it seems, February is the low season for Moab. There ain’t no one around. Americans must love their summers and riding in those 100F+ days on the slick rock. Crazy.
Great bike shops are sometimes hard to find in the Rockies, but not in Moab. As you would expect, Moab is the centre of the universe for the coolest of bike shops and one of the coolest was ‘Chile Pepper’. Great gear, great bikes and a chili sauce that kicked, no, burned serious butt. Hey Johnny!
Bikes organised, cheap accommodation found, we kicked back ready for the next day on the rock.
“Yeah, from town, it’s only a short warm-up ride to the trail head”. Sure Fred (Chile Pepper manager). 3.6 miles of mostly up found us arrive at the start of the ‘Slick Rock Trail’. I must catch up with Fred when we get back to town.
This was it. Would my extra chunky tyres work on something called Slick Rock? Wha Hoo! Let’s find out. Quickly I realised grip is something that you’re not short of on Slick Rock.
No more than 50 metres into the ride we are off the bikes, grabbing cameras and going ooh ahh! You couldn’t help it as the terrain was nothing short of spectacular.
“Danger” painted on the rock just ahead of the rider.
After a few km’s we hit the first technical section. “Danger” painted on the rock with a cliff band symbol pretty much summed up what lay ahead. A steep winding descent with nasty off-camber corners and substantial drops into drainages both sides if you got it wrong. Way off the back of the bike I snaked down the track edging my way to the other side.
There are some short, stout climbs, some killer steep descents and technical drop-offs. The riding is as varied and challenging as you want to make it. White dots painted on the rock mark the track. Though this seems kinda lame, the further you go the more you realise how easy it would be to get lost in the vastness of the sandstone.
Slick Rock landscape seen through a slide viewer.
The serene beauty and silence was truly mesmerising, that was until we ran into Bubba and his mates. We were quickly reminded of ‘The Slick Rock Trail’ history. It was established in 1969 by a group of local motorbike enthusiasts.
A motley looking bunch, Bubba and his mates lamented the fate of the last Aussie they met on the trail. They had hauled this guy out with a broken collar bone and hypothermia. Alas, the dangers of doing the trail on your own. Bubba took a photo for his “Crazy Aussie” photo collection; we reciprocated the gesture taking a photo of Bubba for our “Crazy Bubba” collection. We said farewell and rode on with the dull drone of Bubba’s big four-stroke quickly fading into the distance.
There are several marked features along the Slick Rock Trail, and the first notable one was ‘The Abyss’. Now ‘The Abyss’ was true to name but more impressive than that was the amazing perfect echoes that Damian discovered could be made from, you guessed it, Echo Point. A triple repeating echo kept us entertained for quite a while.
Cool sweet desert air filled our lungs as we continued to ride across the rockscape. Small oases of vegetation comprising mainly of small cacti and other succulents broke up the unrelenting expanse of sandstone. On we rode passing the occasional prairie dog lounging around in the warmth of the winter sun.
The few riders that we came across were all on hard trails. They drooled over our duallies wishing that they had something to take the constant harshness of the convoluted rock out of the ride. The bikes we had hired in Moab were in great condition and were individually set up for each rider. Mine looked as if it had only been ridden for a couple of days. Being the low season, bike hire was US$35.00 per day, including helmet and a complimentary drink bottle.
Some sections of the trail rode like a downhill slalom course. Rolling down over giant sandstone domes, snaking through naturally formed berms, the downhill line clearly marked by tyre rubber. Pushing the edge more than once, I found myself heaving on the brakes as I over shot the line. It pays to check out your brakes before you start as I did an impressive nose wheelie the first time I hit the brakes not noticing that they were the reverse set up. Its America, they do things like that.
Our lunch stop was impressive, sitting atop a 300-metre cliff overlooking the flow of the mighty Colorado River. Kinda weird that the Colorado River had a strange luminous green shade to it. Perhaps there is a connection between Moab’s history as a Uranium mining town, the large pile of Uranium tailings that you drive past on your way in and the colour of the water. Mmmm! Nonetheless, it made for a great contrast against the intense reds and oranges of the sandstone cliffs.
Transfixed by the ever-present snow-covered La Sal Mountains I found myself continually riding off the marked trail. This can be extremely dangerous given the many drop-offs, not to mention the rather high cliffs.
Even four-wheel drivers can get their fix of Slick Rock action. As incredible as it seems 4x4’s are permitted on their own little bit of Slick Rock. We witnessed a couple in the distance get stuck in a precarious spot just managing to reverse out of a major drainage after wheel spinning and burning lots of rubber.
At the end of the trail, we kicked back in the sun, wondering if we had time to do a quick second lap. It was not to be, so we hammered back down the road to town and went on the impossible search for full-strength beer.
You can ride the trail in under two hours; we took close to five making a day of it and ensuring that we thoroughly explored all that the trail had to offer. The ‘Slick Rock Trail’ is not just another ride, it’s an introduction to the natural beauty of this part of America. In the words of a local “This is Gods own Country”.
Ancient Indigenous rock art seen through a slide viewer.
Other things to check out around Moab include ancient Indigenous rock art, petrified dinosaur prints, backcountry skiing in the La Sals, climbing and walking in Canyonlands.
By David, circa 1999.
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Earlier in July I went for an overnight Ice Climbing trip at Blue Lake in Kosciouszko National Park.
I setup camp with my Moondance 2FN tent in a nice sheltered spot that I often enjoy under Mt Twynam.