Monday, June 6, 2011

Colorado, Ho!

Our summer started with a bang. Our friend Diane came in from San Fransisco and within hours of her arrival, we headed the Subaru north to Colorado for a camping/mountain biking adventure. When we take trips like this one, we have a general idea of where we'd like to go, but it's very flexible. We can do this because we camp on BLM and National Forest land. Reservations are not required and we can set up camp wherever there is space. Our first night we found a spot off of Hwy 160 in the National Forest. The sun rise slowly illuminated a rock outcropping across from our site and the birds flitted around singing their morning song. From there we went towards Cortez, CO where there are 100s of miles of mountain biking in the area.

After a very mediocre breakfast at Mr. Happy's (yes, that was the name of the restaurant) and nixing riding at the Canyon of the Ancients due to overcrowding, the three of us rode some sweet single track just outside of Dolores. Here are some pics from that ride:

We saw a coyote just after snapping this pic!

You may be wondering why on earth we carry such huge loads on our backs. Lane and I have had a few close calls and even had to spend the night on the side of a mesa while out in the backcountry. We'd rather be prepared than caught without provisions so our packs hold layers, tools, tubes, tires, water and plenty of food. Many mountain bikers tend to see how fast they can ride the trails. If you choose to ride that way, you don't need to pack too much stuff. We like to take our time, stop to admire the flora and fauna and eat more than some carbohydrate and sugar-rich goo. This extends our ride time significantly. With a great map we really enjoyed the 15 or so miles of riding we put in that day.

Feeling the call of the open road (and the incredible riding) we continued northwest to Fruita. That night we camped on BLM land and experienced the most incredible windstorm. It must have been gusting at least 50mph throughout the night. Diane was in her tent, with grit blowing in through both the fly and tent wall. Lane and I were in the back of the Subaru and the wind was so powerful it rocked the car enough to wake me several times throughout the night. Incredible.

This should have been an omen of what was to come. When we got to Fruita the wind had not let up at all. Dust devils swirled around the trailhead and they sky was beginning to be obscured by blowing dust. Not willing to be deterred, we rode some of the trails at the Kokopelli trail system. This is some of the most lovely single-track riding we've ever done. Some of the trails are right on the rim of the canyon above the Colorado River. The views are stunning and the wild grasses and wildflowers were incredible.

You can't tell here, but it was gusting like mad!

Redrock, juniper and wild grasses made up most of the landscape
One of our favorite trails is called Horsethief Bench. To get there you have to carry your bike down (and then up) a steep, boulder-ridden incline. The last time we did this our bikes were vintage steel, fully rigid and extremely heavy. This time our chromoly steel hardtails  were significantly lighter. I had no problem hauling my bike up and down this part of the trail.

This snake was pretty friendly. Can you identify it for us?

The wind blew all day and the sky became more and more the color of sulfur. It may have saved us from a major sunburn, but it became clear that camping in that wind again was going to be in tolerable. So we said farewell to Fruita and headed back towards Cortez.

The next few days we rode the Phil's World trail system which is absolutely mind-blowingly incredible. Although the lot was packed, we hardly saw anyone on the trails. The climbs were reasonable, the downhills fast and the giant whoopdeedoos on the Rib Cage were epic. All of us were smiling from ear-to-ear on that one.  We also saw a horned lizard, which was a first for me.

It doesn't get much better than this!

This is why our rides last so long. After nights of camping and days of riding hard, this nap was well deserved!

Don't get too close to that cactus, Lane!

Diane taking one for the team. What a trooper!
Part of our time near Cortez we found the village of Mancos. What a pleasant surprise! Mancos has a fantastic bakery, Absolute, that serves the most delicious breakfasts. If you get a chance to go there, have the veggie stack: hashbrowns, eggs any style,  topped with sauteed garlic & veggies like spinach, tomato and red onion with a dusting of parmesan cheese. You won't regret it. Mancos is also home to a few art galleries, the Fahrenheit coffee shop, and Zuma natural food store. The Mancos state park also has yurts you can stay in, which is a nice touch. Sadly they were all reserved while we were there.

While in the area we headed back to the Canyon of the Ancients to ride the Sand Canyon trail. This trail system has a decidedly different feel to it than the adrenaline rush of Phil's World and Fruita. You can feel the history there and the presence of people from long ago. Some ruins still remain and are accessible off of spurs from the trail. About a mile or so out, we saw our last hiker. The day was warm, with very few clouds in the sky and we were fairly exposed in the canyon. At mile 3.2 my bike odometer broke and we were hoping for a 15 mile ride. The trails so far were not marked very clearly and we were relying on the odometer to keep up with our position on the map. Several times during the ride we all remarked about how easy it would be to get turned around out there: the rock formations start to look the same and with the twists and turns in the trails, it's hard to keep track of your bearings. Luckily, the GPS saved us when we got confused with the map and a quirky trail marker. With our brains baking and water starting to run low, there was some confusion at a trail marker and we did some back tracking. The bonus was getting to ride some great slick rock twice and spotting the parking area from up on the trail. That ride really wiped us out, but it was gorgeous and a place of reverence.

All along the trail we had seen some brightly colored collared lizards skittering off the path. One even greeted us when we got back to the car.
After 6 days on the road, we decided to head back to Albuquerque via Pagosa Springs. We hadn't had a shower since leaving New Mexico and our weary muscles needed a soak in the hot mineral bath. Being clean was such a joy and I think I had my best night's sleep that night in the National Forest outside of Cuba,NM. Before Diane left we hiked Embudito Canyon on the west side of Sandia in Albuquerque. This hike was pretty exposed most of the time and we were all exhausted and cooked taking Diane to the airport. Here are some pics from the hike:

A great way to start summer, indeed!

1 comment:

a. said...

What a great adventure! Back in the day- I use to hike and pack my bag with me-- During those times, I wish I had a camera. Thank you for reminding me about the beauty in the hills.