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  • Jamie

Further in to the red: Utah continued

A couple of days off the bikes were in order after our adventures on the Kokopelli trail. We took this opportunity to go for a day hike in Arches National Park and had our socks blown off! There was so much incredible scenery crammed in to such a small area. The Devils Garden loop took us through sandstone arches and buttresses, hoodoos and canyons, all interspersed with weird and wonderful desert plants. It was a real adults playground, and we had great fun exploring all the nooks and crannies of the hike.

We were itching for more desert biking, however, and had our sights set on riding the White Rim, a 156km loop through the Canyonlands National Park. The trail, popular with fully-supported bicycle groups and jeeps follows the tops of the canyon cliffs, along a hard layer of white sandstone which lends its name to the trail. This layer of rock was deposited in the Permian period, somewhere between 245 and 286 million years ago. Formed from wind-blown beach sands, it contrasts starkly with the rusty red of the surrounding rock.

Although the riding itself is relatively mellow, the White Rim s a logistical challenge due to an almost complete lack of water. We planned on riding it over four days, and wouldn’t be able to access water until the third day, at the silty Green River. This necessitated a water cache - so the day before the ride, we hiked in about 30 litres of water between us and dropped it off at the side of the trail, near where we would camp on our first night. The hike itself was fantastic - a narrow trail etched in to the sheer canyon cliffs wound its way down 1000 metres to the canyon floor. We were thankful we weren’t carrying the weight of the water on the way back up!

Early the next morning we parked our vans at the trailhead and started down the Shafer canyon road. This incredible dirt track winds its way through numerous switchbacks down to the white rim itself.

The scenery was so otherworldly that we made slow progress that day - slowed down by the number of photos we were taking! Gabi even spent some time in the yellow jersey at the head of a peloton...

We had planned on backcountry camping that night, which would have required hiking off the road a few kilometres. However we misjudged our timing and didn’t reach the turn off until the sun was setting. Luckily, a group of Dutch travellers let us crash their campsite, so we avoided a late evening scramble.

The second day held more beautiful riding, and a campsite almost beyond belief, perched high up on a cliff’s edge, with stunning views spreading out below. It was a perfect place to experiment with some astrophotography.

We launched in to the next day, straight from our campsite with a daredevil descent to a lower plateau, followed by more beautiful riding.

We didn’t think our campsites could get any more spectacular, however the third day found us setting up camp beneath a beautiful cottonwood tree in the late afternoon.

Mid-morning on our last day of riding, a group of campers called us over and offered us brunch. They had lots of left over food from breakfast - homemade scones, brownies, frittata, hash potatoes and freshly brewed coffee. What a treat for hungry cyclists! We happily loaded our plates and spent a pleasant half hour with them chatting about our respective adventures.

The rest of the morning was spent on a long, hard slog up a thousand metres. The clouds on the horizon were threatening, and we certainly didn’t want to get stuck in the mud again, so we kept up a pretty good pace. We were left with a few hours of rolling hills back to the vans. We all agreed that the white rim trail was some of the most enjoyable riding we had ever done!

We spent halloween camped in the desert with Adam and Julie, drinking wine and laughing around the campfire. It was our last evening all together, as the next day Gabi and I set off west, heading first for Capitol Reef National Park, followed by Grand Escalante National Monument, then Bryce National Park and finally Zion National Park.

Bryce was quite stunning with its maze of hoodoos. We watched the sun set over the bizarre formations and even managed to force ourselves awake in time to see sunrise the next day.

In Zion we went on an overnight hike on the first section of the West Rim route. It was a beautiful hike through stark rocky terrain, which we had all to ourselves. It always amazes me (and pleases me) how the crowd thin and out normally completely disappear as soon as you get away from the main "attractions".

The final kilometre followed a steep track carved directly into the cliffside.

From our campsite we watched the evening sun play on the folds and crests of the land. We made acquaintances with a family of dear the next morning.

On the way back down, we dropped our packs and scrambled up to Angel’s landing. We had been talking about how we wanted to get back into rock climbing - inspired by the beautiful cliffs around us. However the Angel’s landing hike soon quashed this idea! We were so scared! It was such an exposed track, with huge thousand metre drops on either side of the ridge line, poorly protected in areas by a rusty metal chain. Yet there were plenty of people up there, trying to ignore their own fears so they could get the perfect instagram photo at the top. We passed many people who we could tell were only just managing to keep their terror in check, just like us!

Back on solid, safe ground we were undecided whether it had been a completely worthwhile experience. We both definitely believe you should push yourself and step outside your comfort zone, however we felt that it had maybe been a step too far. Strangely, in the past when I used to rock climb a lot, I never felt that same degree of fear. I’m not sure if it is because I am getting older and the level of risk I am comfortable with is changing, or whether it is because having a harness and a rope attached makes me feel more secure, rightly or wrongly. Regardless, the view from Angel’s landing was sublime.

We drove on, and camped that night just short of Las Vegas, on some BLM land on the shores of Lake Mead. We would be dropping the vans back the next day, so spent the afternoon trying to squeeze all our belongings back into our bikepacking bags. Somehow we managed to cram it all back in!

And so our van adventure drew to a close. We had enjoyed the change of pace and the flexibility having a van offered. However we were looking forward to being back on the bikes and camping in a tent again. But before this, we had planned a few days in Las Vegas…

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