Bryce-Zion Mountain Biking, September, 2001

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Over September 9-14, 2001, I joined a mountain bike tour lead by Escape Adventures.  The tour covered many great trails in southwest Utah around Bryce and Zion National Parks.  Escape Adventures is one of the three largest mountain bike touring companies in the US (along with Rim Tours and Western Spirit).  On most days, we rode different trails in the morning and afternoon, usually covering about 25 to 30 miles in 4 to 6 hours of riding.  The trails were mostly intermediate single track with a good dose of hill climbing.  The scenery was excellent.  Our guides, Jaques and Wim, were also excellent.

I spent Saturday night in Saint George, Utah and met the group there on Sunday morning.  Saint George is about 2 hours east of Las Vegas and most of the group drove up from Las Vegas that morning.  We packed our camping gear and bikes in the Escape Adventures van, which would become our rolling home for the next week.  Our group included 10 guests and 2 guides.  On a camping tour, the guides really have to work hard, cooking 3 meals a day in addition to leading the group, driving the van, shopping for fresh food, and managing the campsite.  Fortunately, we had a pretty mellow group who didn't cause any problems, except for needing a steady stream of bicycle repairs.

From Saint George, we drove a couple of hours to Brian Head mountain.  At 11,000 feet, this was the high point of our trip.  Most of our trip was spent over 8000 feet, where the weather was cool even during the summer.  The thin air did make the up hills a little more difficult, though.

From Brian Head, we rode the Bunker Creek trail.  This trail starts with a gentle climb through a meadow and along a scenic ridge, then drops 3000 feet with many narrow, steep, rocky sections.  I was holding on to my bike to tightly to take pictures on the downhill sections.

On Monday, we visited Red Canyon state park.  In the morning, we rode through Casto Canyon, where our trail crossed this creek over 40 times.  Fortunately, the water level was low.

On Monday afternoon, we rode the Cassidy Trail through an area where the bank robber Butch Cassidy supposedly hid out before he was chased out of the country.  The trail climbed steeply at times.  Our guide Jaques said he can make it up this section most of the time, but not today.  From the top we get a nice view of the Utah geology.

On Tuesday we rode a couple hours on dirt roads from our camp site to Bryce Canyon national park.  Tuesday is September 11, 2001.  A park visitor told us about the tragedy in New York.  We didn't believe it at first, but then a park ranger told us the same story.

In a way we were glad to be out in the wilderness where we wouldn't be bombarded by media reports about something we couldn't control.

Like most national parks, Bryce does not allow mountain bikes, so we took a short hike instead.  The scenery is spectacular, especially once you get below the canyon rim.

Tuesday afternoon we ride up and down Thunder Mountain, which is near Bryce, but allows mountain bikes.  This is the most scenic mountain bike ride I have ever done.  Much of the trail is along ridge lines with Bryce-like hoodoo formations on both sides of us.

On our 6 day/5 night trip, we camped in 3 different camp grounds (twice in one) and stayed in a motel on the last night.  All of our camp sites were comfortable.  Most have a lake nearby for scenery or (very cold) swimming.  All had running water and flush toilets.  At 8000 feet, nights are cold and some of the guys warm up with a nice campfire.

Since we're visiting mid-week after Labor Day, the campgrounds are all pretty empty and we can pick the best camp sites.

On Wednesday morning, we take a short hike in the morning to Cascade Falls, which is the outlet for Navajo Lake.  There's not much water in the waterfall this time of year, but it's a nice opportunity for a group photo.  Thanks to Sue for this picture.

After the hike, we ride a section of the Virgin River Rim Trail above Navajo Lake.  This trail takes us along a scenic ridge and through some pretty aspen groves.  The leaves are just starting to turn in mid September.
Thursday, we ride from camp to Zion national park.  This is a 50 mile day, following dirt roads to the park, then the main park road through the park.  Bicycling is the best way to see the park since we can stop frequently and enjoy the view.  Friday morning, we hike through the famous Zion "Narrows".  This isn't really a trail; you have to walk through the river bed.  The water is pretty low and only gets past our knees a couple of times.  Hiking the full length of the narrows would take 2 days; we hike the lower section for a couple of hours each way.

After lunch, we return to Saint George to say our good byes.  Due to post-9/11 flight cancellations and a hurricane in Florida, some people have as much excitement returning home as they did on the trip.  I spent a few days in Las Vegas, which was suprisingly sober in the week after 9/11.

If you're interested in riding these trails on your own, most are covered in Bruce Grubbs' book Mountain Biking St. George/Cedar City (Falcon Publishing).  The book is available on-line from Amazon.  Also, note that Western Spirit covers the same trails in two of their tours: their intermediate level Brian Head Singletrack tour (most of our single track trails) and their beginner level Bryce-to-Zion tour (mostly double track).

Here's a trip report from Will McNight, one of the other bikers on this tour.

Here's a trip report from a mountain bike tour I did in China in 1999.

Please send me your comments on this report.

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Copyright © 2001 by Kenton Lee, Palo Alto, California, USA.  All Rights Reserved.