Over the years, I've visited Utah plenty of times, including about eight or nine trips to Moab, and I've visited Arches National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park three or four times each. But in all those trips to Utah, I've never driven past Dead Horse to Canyonlands National Park. No reason. It just never happened.
I'd heard great things, of course. Eighteen billion RV drivers can't be wrong. But I also heard that if you were going to the park's Island in the Sky district, the one nearest Moab, you had to get down into to it to appreciate it. Otherwise, you got the Griswold family view of things, just sort of standing at the edge and gazing out for a minute or two before driving away.
As luck would have it, I finally got the chance to visit Canyonlands last weekend, and far from standing and gawking at the view, I would be getting up close and personal with the park as my family and I rode a 100-mile dirt road called the White Rim Trail on our mountain bikes for three days and camped out for two nights with a couple of other families. Oh, joy!
As a disclaimer, I don't particularly like mountain biking, I can be a pretty reluctant camper and I knew squat-diddly about the White Rim, except that the two other dads in our party would both bike it in one day if they didn't have the rest of us slowing them down. Since I got my driver's license, my combined cycling distance probably doesn't equal 100 miles.
Anyway, as you can imagine, as the weekend approached there was a small part of me that was hoping for a rainy forecast in the desert, which sounds like a long shot, but isn't. Half the time when I'm in Moab, it's snowing or hailing. Regardless, the forecast was promising, so we packed our camping gear in the car, put the bikes on the rack and headed west.
We were told that our Toyota Highlander probably couldn't drive the road along with the cyclists (it probably could've), and in any event, we had two Ford F-150 pickups to act as our gear mules, so we parked our car where we were all going to finish the ride, and my wife, son and I piled into one of the Fords for the short drive to the trailhead.
There were 10 of us making the trip: three moms, three dads, three 8-year-olds and a 5-year-old. The first day's ride was 19 miles, starting with a long downhill that switchbacked down a draw between the towering cliffs to reach a lower shelf above the Colorado River. The ragged, circuitous edge of the shelf is rimmed by a layer of white sandstone, hence the name. Everything else is red.
I rode the whole way with no problems, and the scenery was as spectacular as advertised, and though the next day's ride was 47 miles, I was actually looking forward to it.
Well, as far as the scenery goes, it didn't disappoint. It was otherworldly. If it didn't exist, you couldn't dream it up. Soaring cliffs, sheer drop-offs, sweeping vistas, delicate sandstone spires by the dozens, arches, you name it. Unreal.
But the biking? Not so much. It was all fun and games for about 25 miles, but shortly after a steep uphill called the Murphy Hogback -- with my aching back and legs and, for some inexplicable reason, a pulled groin -- it just turned into a long slog in the merciless mid-60s warmth. By the end, only two people were cycling, and only one hadn't spent time in a Ford: one of the 8-year-olds.
I happily agreed to drive the entire 34 miles of the final day and was accompanied for much of the time by three of the kids. The rest of the crew did great from our campground along the Green River all the way up the cliffs to the upper plateau, but once we got there, we realized that the last 11 miles, which we could have avoided by parking closer to the edge, were another slog across rolling, boring terrain. By the end, most everyone was in the Fords again, except for that dang 8-year-old. He rode every mile.
Despite my dour attitude toward biking, I would definitely make the trip again. It's that spectacular. Only next time, I'll do it in four days, park in a smarter place and remember to stretch my stupid groin first.
Todd "Strange Brew" Hartley is the cream of no crop when it comes to cycling and stretching. To read more or leave a comment, please visit zerobudget.net.