The Draw of Moab
By Rahana Jarvis
In October my husband Matt and I hatched a plan to visit some friends in Montana, USA and have an MTB road trip along the way.
We found an airline that would take a bike as a bag no worries and picked up a van from Jucy in Los Angeles.
Relieved to fit the bikes in the van we hit the freeway with a loose plan to camp just outside Las Vegas for a few nights and head up to Moab. We’d seen videos of Slickrock and that was enough to draw us in.
A bit skeptical about the camping and riding close to the Las Vegas strip, we were stoked to find a well set up camp right on the edge of Red Rock Canyon with trails nearby. Waiting for our friend and a missing bag to fly in we spent a couple of days acclimatizing and checking out the trails. Vegas was hot but we enjoyed scenery, prickly flora and fauna. We rode the Blue Diamond and White Mesa Project Trails.
Putting the bikes together at Red Rock Canyon Campground, Las Vegas
We found the trails in both areas a good mix of mellow flow and harder steeps with some fun slab features. We had most of the riding to ourselves, but folks we did come across were super friendly and encouraging – it weirded me out a bit at first but soon got used to people cheering me on while slogging up the short climbs. I was struck with how awesome biking is as a sport to explore a place and see some sights well off the beaten track. Considering the reputation of Vegas as a place to get wild our experience felt relatively wholesome but still surreal.
Happy to be riding in the heat, Blue Diamond Trail Network, Las Vegas
Reluctant to leave but looking forward to Moab we got on the road again. Three people living out of a van with bikes was a little squashed, but we stayed in high spirits cruising through the Zion and Bryce Canyons. A swim in the Virgin River as the sun set over Zion was a welcome contrast to the dry desert heat.
Evening swim in Zion NP
Arriving in Moab we rented a bike for our friend Anna who is not a rider but fearless in all pursuits and somehow, we talked her into it. Thankfully the shop crew supplied a sweet bike as well as a rack that could take two bikes making entries and exits from the van less like gymnastics.
Matt decided the first trail we would hit would be Slickrock. Anna and I had plans for a more mellow introduction to the Moab riding scene (Fins & Things), so we went our separate ways. Our mellow ride ended up being a mix of rock hills and sand pits, populated by ATVs. We bailed out early and were surprised to find Matt back at the trailhead after smashing out the loop in about half the expected time. His face lit up when we saw us and convinced us we would be riding it together immediately. We had expected it to be busy, but a windy day meant there was hardly anyone around.
Matt and Anna enjoying some downhill.
The 17km loop is entirely on petrified sand dune, marked with dashed white lines. It was originally a trail for motorbikes and still is – just shared now with MTB. Rolling the rock was a lot of fun, the surface is super tactile making it easy to push up the short sharp steeps. The hard part can be keeping the front wheel down. No need to worry about the motorbikes either, anyone we came across slowed right down and gave way. The trail is also intersected by the 4x4 trail Hells Revenge in several spots. We started out giving way to ATVs but soon realised they were much slower than our bikes. Fun to watch too, especially heading down the steeps.
Getting some perspective at Slickrock.
Push it real good!
I was keen to check out Dead Horse State Park and happy to find a 25km loop to ride pretty much circumnavigating the park. We enjoyed a relatively cruisy trail with epic views. Surprisingly, given the ATVs and motorbikes in Moab, this was the only trail we knew of that allowed e-bikes in the area.
Navajo Rocks was another awesome ride, a nice mix of slick rock riding and dirt (hard packed sand) single track. Those slick rock sections are a lot of fun! We intended to do the 28km Chaco Loop but after riding a good chunk of that we cut it short for lunch and decided to take an afternoon off the bikes to explore Arches National Park instead. Stumbling around Arches at sunset with a full moon rising was yet another surreal experience. By this point we had found a sweet camp spot by the Colorado River and settled into camp life, cooking over an open fire, chatting to camp neighbours and watching climbers on nearby hot spot Wall Street. I started changing plans to spend more time in Moab and we decided we would take the same route back to LA so we could spend more time there.
Home sweet home, across the road from the Colorado River with petroglyphs and world class climbing on the doorstep.
Our last intended day sealed the deal. Keen to get technical we set our sights on the HyMasa/Captain Ahab loop. This is where we found the riding crowd of Moab! It was easy to see why; trail builders here have kept excitement levels high. We were grateful for relatively fresh legs as the climbs seemed endless but were soon forgotten with fun downhill action. The lines were advanced for the most part with rock ledges and gardens and plenty of exposure. Matt and I split before it got too serious on the lower sections with him keen to check out the more advanced stuff and me to keep my bones intact, no regrets!
Matt scoping the lines, Captain Ahab/HyMasa
Returning a week or so later we found the sun still shining in Moab. We got straight into it riding Slickrock again this time camping near and exploring Fischer Towers in our down time. Sharing large sections of Slickrock with a local rider I struck up some chat with him and we agreed that the rock has a way of drawing people in, a special energy that is more than the stunning landscape and fun bike trails. Recently I heard the Bureau of Land Management may open a large chunk of land that incorporates Slickrock for oil and gas drilling, it is unbelievable and probably needless to say, something I hope never happens.
Not being organised at all we left booking a shuttle for the Whole Enchilada too late and decided instead to ride the Porcupine Rim as part of our own 50km loop from our last camp in Sand Flats. This was an epic ride taking in a pretty serious climb before meeting up with the WE junction and start of Porcupine Rim.
The trail is built for serious fun with the builders creating what were sometimes seemingly unachievable lines but many of the drops had chicken runs and with the place pretty much to us we enjoyed scoping when needed and going back for the good bits. Dropping down to the Colorado River was jaw-dropping and we enjoyed making this a loop by riding along the purpose-built trail that follows the river back into town. Hitting our camp at sunset with nothing left to do but light a fire and cook dinner we were more than satisfied we’d been drawn to Moab.
Good signage at Slickrock there was a practice loop but we never did it
Matt sorting my bike out Blue Diamond Las Vegas
Some Nitty Gritty:
We typically opted for first come first served camping at around $15-$20 per night (per site) giving us the luxury of pit loos, fire pits and a designated spot.
Trailforks and MTB Project gave us most of our trail information. With plenty of friendly local advice added when needed.
We paid to enter Dead Horse State Park and Sand Flats Recreation Area – these were not covered by the National Parks Pass we bought but were well worth it.
The bike shop we rented from and frequented in Moab was awesome, there are plenty of them but the one we went to was Chile Pepper Bikes.
Moab got a lot busier on weekends which seemed to kick off Thursday. It’s a cool town that’s a base for many adventurers with lots of places to eat, stock up and get all the required stuff. A lot of people comment on the coffee in the US but we wholeheartedly enjoyed it everywhere we went, especially with donuts.
In October Vegas was hot and Moab was cool, daytime temperatures were around the mid-teens (celsius) and at night we were right on the edge of being too cold in the pop-up top of our camper.
Bike bags would have been a great idea and we plan to rent them next time.
On returning to NZ we had our gear thoroughly inspected by customs due to the risk of stink bugs, it took a while.
Next time I’ll get my bike serviced right away on return to NZ, it needed it.