While I am gathering thoughts and pictures of my trip to Africa, I thought I would quickly post about the spectacular trip I took to Canyonlands National Park. This is the second major mountain biking trip I have been on but what made this trip even more special was the absolute remoteness of this venture. At the farthest point of our trip we would be over 40 miles from the nearest ranger station, which would take at least 6 hours to cover.
On day one my girlfriend Jess, friend Brandon, Uncle Dave and I drove from Keystone, Colorado to Goblin Valley State Park. This place was like another planet! Maybe that's why they filmed part of the movie "Galaxy Quest" there. Goblin Valley is widely know for it's hoodoos, tall thin spires of harder rock topping soft sandstone. There were thousands of them! And the best part was we could wander and climb wherever we wanted! We got there around 5:00 in the afternoon and were there until dark. We spent the entire time climbing up spires through tunnels and even found a cave! Deep inside the cave was a small room with tiny gaps in the rock that let in small beams of light. It was great to just hang out there but then we got the bright idea of trying to squeeze through one of these gaps and pop up on top of the cave. It looked almost impossible especially to do it without help. Jess finally went for it! Brandon let her stand on his back and sure enough she squeezed through the hole! It was amazing! After Jess got through Dave and Brandon started heading back out of the cave to explore more, but I stayed behind. I was going to give it a shot! I found a small ledge on the wall of the cave, reached up through the tiny opening searching for any small handhold and made my move. It was fairly easy to get my head through but as soon as my shoulders went through I felt trapped. Only the tips of my toes could reach the rock wall and the upper half of my body was precariously positioned. I felt trapped but I was determined to get through. After was seemed liked an eternity, I wiggled my arms through. I finally was able to get enough leverage to pull my legs through the small opening. It was such a blast! After the cave experience, we wandered all over the park until the sun began to set and finally made our way to the car. What an amazing first day!
We awoke to a beautiful sunrise on day 2 with plans to see petroglyphs in Horseshoe Canyon and then meet up with the rest of the team. After such an amazing day at Goblin Valley I was pumped to do some more hiking and exploring in Horseshoe. The decent into the canyon was breathtaking. The different shades of red and white rock lined the 500ft canyon walls the began to engulf us. We were once again transported to a different world. The only difference today was that the bottom of the canyon was full of sand. Lots and lots of sand. The temperature soared into the 90's and sand piled into our shoes but the immense canyon made to somewhat miserable walk completely tolerable. We hiked for several hours towards the Grand Gallery, one of the most well known petroglyphs from ancient times. When the gallery came into view I felt as though I was transported into the ancient world. I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what the petroglyphs meant with very little luck. I'm pretty sure they are pictures of aliens because they don't look like any people I have ever seen. The hike out was fairly grueling, mainly because of the temperature. Brandon looked as though he would drop at any second but we made it back to the car successfully. We headed to our campsite for the night, setup a game of horseshoes and waited for the rest of the team to arrive and the real journey to begin. Around 8:30 that evening, John, JC, Mary and Bill arrived. Our team of eight was complete. Here comes The Maze!
Day three (section marked in red)started with a visit to the ranger station, an explanation of all the rules of the park and strange looks and comments about the trucks we were taking on our trip. Little did we know the roads that lay ahead were extreme! We started down the Flint Trail (Red highlighted trail), 5 bikers, 2 trucks and my Explorer. I was kind of glad I missed the first part of the ride since it was all sand. We left the Explorer at the top of the canyon and I jumped on my bike for the amazing decent. A steep switchback road descended into the canyon. Nothing beats the feeling of flying down a trail, over loose rock, sand and large boulders, riding just on the edge of crashing. It was a blast! I reached the bottom of the steep decent and gazed back at the road we had just descended. I could barely even see it! It was so narrow and the canyon walls so steep, the "road" disappeared into the walls. So far the highlight of the trip. The rest of the ride that day was much calmer but absolutely beautiful. Around every corner were magnificent views. We were riding on the edge of a cliff with the expanse of the Canyonlands laid out before us. It felt surreal. I finished up the almost fifteen mile ride from where we had left the Explorer and felt surprisingly good. The first day of the Maze set the bar high. Little did we know that day 2 would be much much different. We spent the night at Teapot Camp, enjoying the sunset and a few nice cold beers, completely unaware of the hazards that lay just around the corner.
Day 4 (orange) started with a quick breakfast and encountered some fellow travelers. We had noticed a small Toyota truck cruised past camp early in the morning heading farther into The Maze. Just as we cleaned up camp the same truck crawled back past. We asked the occupants what the road was like and there answer immediately changed our mood. They had broken the leaf springs on their truck and with a slight grin said, "your gonna have fun with those Dodge's." Undaunted by their remarks, we loaded the trucks jumped on our bikes and dispersed from camp. We didn't get far before we origins of the hesitant reactions about our trucks became very clear. Some intense four wheel drive trails lay before us. The great part about our group was that it was full of optimists and problem solvers. We weren't going to let a few rocks get in the way of our fun. It would've been a hilarious sight to see the 6 mountain bikers running in front of these two trucks, scrambling to figure out the best routes to get through the rock trail. We were doing amazing, working as an amazing team and feel incredibly confident until we saw the craziest obstacle of all. After a steep narrow rock filled decent the trail turned almost 180 degrees to the edge of a cliff face. The cliff wasn't even the intimidating part. The trail had three huge steps! The first was a somewhat mild foot drop followed immediately by a two foot uphill step. I thought our trip was done. There didn't seem like any possible way our trucks would make it up. My counterparts, most of whom had much more off-roading experiences then myself, were undaunted. They simple began stacking rocks like ramps on both parts of the steps, guided the trucks gently onto the rocks making sure nothing scrapped, and continued on. It was amazing! I couldn't believe it! Getting through this treacherous section was one of the last truly difficult parts. Those of us that were biking that day jumped on and pedaled like crazy! The white colored rock gave way to rich red dirt. As we pedaled farther and farther the slot canyons became more visible eventually leading to a breathtaking overlook. That nights camp sprang into view. The amazing pillar known as Chimney Rock grew on the horizon. Our camp that night is probably the best camp I have ever been at. The maze of slot canyons spread out all around us with the massive up canyon walls looming in the far distance. Even the La Sal Mountains could be seen in the distance. To make the night even better, John made paella! If you have never had paella, you are missing out. I ate so much I thought I may get sick. Going to bed that night I felt like I was in heaven.
As I unzipped our tent on the morning of day 5 (blue) is was once again greeted by a spectacular view. The slowly rising sun lit up the spectacular canyon, slowly flooding it with light. I just stood at the opening of the tent for several minutes relishing the view. Unlikely the previous mornings, todays would be a bit different. Not only would we be preparing for an overnight backpacking trip but it was time for an infusion. Everything was a bit chaotic but Jess and I took some time, sat down, and mixed up my factor. I was filthy and a bit dehydrated so I chugged a Nalgene of water and used about ten alcohol wipes to clean the infusion site. Jess volunteered to do the infusion and I wasn't going to argue. So while I sat in the camp chair staring out over the Canyonlands, Jess infused me. I always forget about taking pictures of infusions since I am a bit preoccupied with infusing so my friend Brandon took some pictures. The only problem...Brandon hates needles! So he blindly took pictures, trying to not pass out. Jess nailed the vein as usual and we packed up our packs and got ready to hike into the canyons. The trail we would be taking was only about 5 miles long but descended steeply into the canyon. At one point we dropped about 600 vertical feet in less then a quarter mile! It was awesome! Carrying everything you need to survive on your back into an environment like this was a great experience. We quickly learned why this place is known as The Maze! Every few hundred feet there is another slot canyon diverging from our current canyon. Luckily a clearly marked trail lead us through the ancient sandy river bottom towards our destination. I was incredibly excited to to reach out destination, a massive collection of petroglyphs known as Harvet Scene. Harvest Scene is especially unique because of its remote location deep within the canyons. As we were approaching these ancient writings a brutal windstorm rushed through the canyon followed abruptly by a driving rainstorm. The temperature plummeted quickly as we scrambled to put coats on and find cover. As we huddled under a small tree, some of the more well prepared and equipped members of our team ventured into the rain. They disappeared around the corner but quickly returned with exciting news, Harvest Scene lay right around the corner! As the rain died down we hurried around the corner and the beautiful petroglyphs covered the canyon walls. We all stood in silence, mesmerized. It was strange to think that thousands of years ago, ancient people stood at this very spot communicating through this bizarre draws. We set up camp across the wash from Harzest Scene and explored the surrounding area. It was a perfect end to a great day, sleeping in a remote canyon across from ancient petroglyphs...it doesn't get much better then that.
Day 6 (pink and yellow) in the Maze would be one of the longest days of my life. I woke up with the knowledge that we had a four mile hike out of the canyon, a five mile bike ride to the next camp where Brandon and I would leave the rest of the crew, a 30 mile drive to the canyon rim over tough 4x4 roads, a 50 mile drive back to paved roads, then another 8 hour drive back to Denver where I would hopefully be back in time for a NHF Colorado board retreat. I was kind of dreading the drive to come but the hike out of the canyon was unbelievable! We hiked a few miles at the base of the canyon then saw the route out. It looked completely vertical! Carrying our large packs we began making our way up. There were several tricky moves and falling would not have been good. This was my kind of hiking! I love scrambling and throwing a huge pack on your back makes it even more interesting. It probably took us over an hour to climb the 900 vertical feet but when we finished I wished there was more. It was a blast and the views from the sides of the climb were the best! The rest of the hike back to our cars and bikes was uneventful but still full of spectacular views. Taking our packs off felt great and we quickly jumped on our bikes to head to Doll House, the rest of our crews next camp. The ride started out great but ended with several large sand pits. Sand sucks for riding bikes! Reaching Doll House was a great accomplishment. We made it to the final camp now the tricky part for Brandon and I began. We loaded the truck up with empty coolers and things the rest of our group didn't need then started our journey out of The Maze, it was 3:30 P.M.. We drove the next hour and a half on relatively calm roads then ran into a familiar sight. We were back at the crazy off-road portion of the trail and this time we were alone. We didn't have a crew to help through the crazy terrain. Brandon and I did a great job of working through some tricky spots and despite almost getting stuck twice, we only put a small hole in the front of the truck! Not bad for just the two of us. It took us 4 hours to reach the top of the canyon and we still had 50 miles of rough dirt roads to go before we could really make progress on paved roads. Those 50 miles took us another 3 hours! We finally reached a gas station an hour later and loaded up on Red Bull and 5 Hour Energy for the long drive home. We finally reached Denver at 5:30 A.M. and despite being completely exhausted I made it to the board retreat! What an epic adventure!
Thanks for reading this. As you can probably tell I'm not great at summarizing trips like these so I appreciate you spending the time checking these out and being patient waiting for my posts. The Africa post is in progress and will be out soon! Keep checking out the blog for more post and now the facebook page for all the extra photos from the trips!