29er, canyon, Dead Horse Point, hard tail, Intrepid, Moab, Mountain biking, sand flats, sandstone, slickrock, slickrock trail, Stumpjumper, white rim trail
I’ve been a bit absent from posting lately. I just got back from a family spring break vacation, and it was actually somewhat bike related. Back in ’94, I took my first road trip to Southern Utah canyon country and fell in love. I had my ’92 Stumpjumper Pro with at the time, and my brother in law and I rode the famous Slickrock Trail in Moab. It was a memorable experience, and caused a few repeat visits over the next few years. My last time there was in ’97 when a friend and I rented a jeep and some bikes and did a portion of the trail in addition to jeeping around the White Rim trail in Canyonlands.
“Slickrock” is sandstone laid down during the Jurassic period (200 million years ago). This area of Utah was once a giant inland sea, as well as a desert the size of the modern Sahara. Over time the dunes and seafloor were compressed into the sandstone, and then erosion took over to sculpt the landscape into a serious wonder. The Slickrock trail is like a stroll across frozen sand dunes. Well – more like a struggle to get through them over and over again. The really cool thing about mountain biking on these is the amazing traction and grades that you can climb. The traction is like sandpaper pavement. When I was there in the ’90s, some folks were using nearly slick tires – kind of early cross tires. The knobbies only help in the fairly infrequent sandy drainage areas eroded at the bottoms of some of the rock dunes, and are as worthless on the slick rock as they are on pavement.
If you look at this picture, you can see the white painted trail on the rock. This is the only way you will find your way back to the parking lot before you pass out from lack of water! Seriously, it’s not too bad in the spring and fall. The temps were in the 70s (F) while we were there. You still need to pack water – a 64-128 oz size camelback would be the best option if you choose to do the entire trail depending on the time of year. I would also suggest bringing some energy food with – you will need it. This trail is listed as advanced/strenuous.
I only had time to do the practice loop (2 miles) this time, but I’m not in my 20’s anymore either. I can tell you that randonneuring doesn’t prepare one for slick rock. The riding here is like repetitive short burst climbs followed by short steep descents. It is really vertically focused. The whole trail is only 10.7 miles long, but it encompasses about 1000 feet of climbing. I’ve always seen plenty of varied fitness levels in the folks riding, however, and you can surely walk the trail if needed, so don’t be discouraged if you’re not in top shape.
Bike notes from the trip: I rented full suspension 29’ers from Chile Pepper Bike Shop on the main drag in town. My rental experience was good as far as the shop goes. My personal preference for riding this trail would be to do it on a light hardtail. I had a bit more trouble climbing with the big, heavier full suspension rig, and I’m not sure the 29″ wheels helped me on that account either. I couldn’t really lock out the shocks for the climbs as they happen constantly, so I left it in the XC setting. The bike was a Giant Trance 29er.
My wife and daughter also got the same bike (daughter had size XS and we had Medium). For our more mellow rides, we chose to go on the Intrepid trail system in Dead Horse Point State Park. This is a really nice beginner/intermediate series of 3 loops of growing lengths that rides along the canyon rim.
We all had a great time, and it was cool introducing my daughter to the area that inspired so much adventure for me. I hope we planted a seed that manifests in her own adventures in the future!
Here are some links to the Slickrock and Dead Horse Intrepid trail systems: