Sometimes, you catch the corner of an idea and eventually flesh it out into something whole. The idea of getting away for the Thanksgiving holiday had floated around in the back of my head for a little while but hadn’t quite fermented into a real adventure. I wasn’t headed home this year and many friends were either traveling or with family the entire weekend, so it seemed like as good a time as any. As the holiday grew near, I went through a mad rush of planning. There’s so many great opportunities near Denver that having two days off work opens up so many options. It was a bit overwhelming trying to narrow it down.
The first day of this adventure was a simple straight shot from Denver out to Fruita, Colorado. The only variable here was, since it’s winter, the drive and finding camp would be all in the dark. So I drove, passing the furthest point along I-70 I have driven since I moved to Colorado. Snow loomed out the windows as I drove past Copper Mountain, Vail Pass, and Vail itself. Eventually the highway twisted through what I could only really picture in my head as a canyon. I arrived in Fruita and drove north to the 18 Road campground area for the night.
Thanksgiving morning, fully expecting to be woken up by the sunrise, I woke to a cloud of cold fog and frost. I prepped some breakfast, hot tea*, shivered into cold bike clothes and then rode off into the fog for some adventure time on some 18 road singletrack. This trip I opted for my singlespeed partially because I need to do some repairs on my geared bike but also I just felt the urge to ride some singletrack and enjoy the journey. I climbed up Prime Cut which I found to be a fun twisty track through some juniper trees with some light easy rock sections. Then I hiked my bike up to Chutes & Ladders and made my way around that trail. This was steep and curvying, a bit soft in places, and some of the uphills were too much for one gear but a beautiful area to explore. That dumped me out onto a frost covered plain and eventually down to the trailhead. Still ready for more and still slightly ahead of whatever timetable I could say that I had for this adventure, I rode up Vegetarian trail to Down Uppity. Based on what I rode, I think it’s between Down Uppity and Prime Cut as my favorites … but there’s too much more to explore there.
I loaded up and drove west to Utah, hoping to leave the fog and cold behind me. For a few minutes that seemed possible. Down in Fruita the fog was clearing and there was a patchy blue sky as I made my way into Utah. But as I drove further, past the exit for Moab I could see snow to the south. Eventually I turned south to go to my destination of Capitol Reef National Park. It took about 20 minutes of driving and suddenly I was in a winter desert. Fog covered most of the low areas and the cloud ceiling capped the high mesas and mountains. I crossed frosted plains and washes and finally arrived in Capitol Reef to a snowy canyon. In camp I found a spot with enough space to for a tent (I was one of two people there with a tent) and then took off on a short hike to a near by overlook. The trail started out with red mud and snow, a flash back to a Grand Canyon trip years and years ago. Once in Cohab canyon there was a bit of snow and ice, but mostly it was just normal sand and rock.
Again, I expected to wake by the sun and see this place where I was camped in the sunlight. But it was still cloudy and foggy and very cold. I later found out it probably got close to 20 degrees in the campground. I also found that my neighbors (three deer) and their friends (three turkeys) had a bit of a party in my campsite including finding one hoof mark inches from where my head was! I had decided to go hike to Navajo Knobs and set out into the cold and fog. This trail climbed for a while which helped with keeping warm. It alternated between trail and sandstone cairn-finding and included some great views of the canyon. At two miles in I reached the rim overlook. Contemplating the time and a desire to get to Moab (where I hoped it would be warm and dry!), I opted to cut the hike short and drop back down. Capitol Reef looks like it offers some more exploring and if you happen to be there at the right time might even have pies for sale!
I drove to Moab, stopping at a gas station that was carved inside of a hillside, hoping to get a bit of sun. Even though the winter terrain I passed through the day before had changed to a slightly less winter version, the cold and the clouds remained. As I entered the Moab fault area, the tops of the mesas and canyons were hiding in clouds, barely showing some snow hiding along the rims. I opted to stay in Arches National Park and even got a small hike before dark. The next day I figured I would head out to some of the north Moab trails since they seemed out of the snow and were north of town which was slightly warmer (things like this seemed backwards…). Willow Springs Rd was soft in areas, but the trailhead itself was loose clay that I felt lucky to escape. So I resigned to riding Slickrock which isn’t a bad choice in itself. My bike choice was made because I was hoping to ride some singletrack in the area and wasn’t really planning on hitting anything really rough or technical. Having ridden part of Slickrock before I knew it was going to be a challenge with one gear.
Riding a hardtail out there wasn’t as bad as I anticipated (I didn’t hit some of the bigger drops and even some of the steeps), but one gear was difficult. Often I wasn’t keen on letting loose on the downhill to have momentum for the up and in some places this just isn’t an option. I grinded out a several tough climbs, feeling that point where you’re so far over the front of the bike and the wheel starts to tip up anyway. Some just required walking which is a challenge in it’s own right in bike shoes… In the end I did the practice loop, part of the main loop and the took one of the alternates back through the middle. The parts in the middle were often steep, off camber, or both!
Since there was still a good bit of daylight and riding options weren’t that prevalent I made the decision to head over to Canyonlands and check that out. Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky district was ensconced in cloud and winter and I as drove through the park I spied a coyote disappearing through the scrub brush. I went for a short hike and camera time to the Upheaval Dome area. It was fun skimming along the rocks in the frosty desert but the cold had started to really toy with my brain. Facing my third and last night camping in sub-30 degree temps, I decided to head into town and grab some food and brew at Moab Brewery. Sitting at the bar I chatted a bit with some other people that were visiting the area before rolling back up through Arches to my campsite.
The last morning was pretty much the same: rolling through low clouds and cold. But as I drove through Glenwood Canyon, the sun final broke out and I had a normal sunny Colorado day all the way home.
* I ordered a new coffee filter for making camp coffee but had it delivered at home instead of work. So tea was the beverage of choice the entire trip.