On Mesas and Mountain Bikes

It was tough few weeks here in Zion for the mountain bike contingent.  Both Bobbie and Chris had flat tires.  Mark had his chain break while grinding up Flying Monkey Mesa.  The only bike that hasn’t broken is my “vintage” Trek with the rusty bike chain and raggedy old seat.  ;-)  It has made three very respectable rides fifteen miles up the Scenic Drive in the Zion canyon and back.

But it’s not a mountain bike.  And it has no suspension.  Or disc brakes.  Which means it’s mostly confined to the paved paths.  And it’s old.  And the seat is falling apart, one memory foam cell at a time.   I keep leaving the lock off, no doubt subliminally hoping someone will claim it as their own, giving me the push I need to finally replace “Old Faithful.”   But I think being mounted on the back of a 21 year old car serves as a bit of a disguise.   Who would carry any bike of value on the back of a car that burns oil, the back window won’t close, and it can’t exceed  55 mph??

Still, lack of a fancy full suspension mountain bike didn’t stop me from exploring the mountain bike trails in and around Zion….on foot!   I missed these last year, and had no idea there was such an abundance of biking trails on the mesas that make up the Virgin BLM.

I walked at least a portion of three panoramic bike trails during my visit to Virgin.  Here’s a rundown:

J.E.M. Trail

The first trail, the J.E.M. trail (named for trailblazers John, Ellen, and Mike) was right out my back door, and I didn’t even realize it until the night of the annual bike ride, “25 Hours in Frog Hollow.”  This is a 24 hour bike race (the additional 25th hour happens when the clock “falls back”) where the blue glow of bike lights can be seen in the hills all night long, as riders negotiate the curves, dips and drops around the canyon rim in the dark!   The day after the race, I walked up to the “staging area,” and stumbled upon the J.E.M. trail….which should be named the “Gem Trail,” because it is such a gem!   What a cool bike path, most of it downhill all the way.  I think even “Old Faithful” could have made it down most of it, with just a few sections to be walked.  But the spectacular scenery makes for a great walking trail as well.

Entrance to the J.E.M. Trail.

Entrance to the J.E.M. Trail.

That mesa at the end of the J.E.M. trail is Flying Monkey Mesa.

That mesa at the end of the J.E.M. trail is Flying Monkey Mesa.

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Flying Monkey Mesa

The notorious Flying Monkey Mesa, made famous by being featured in the Box Canyon Blog as my second mountain bike trail experience.    Bobbie, Chris and I drove up to meet Mark at the top, where he was waiting patiently (uncharacteristic, I might add) with a busted bike chain.   But the day was not lost, as we were there for a picnic on the overlook.   Nothing like a Flintstones-sized turkey leg to ease the pain of a bike ride unfulfilled.   This trail can be made into one monstrous loop, with the “flying monkey”  landing at the end of Kolob Terrace Road.

Looking out from the rim of Flying Monkey Mesa.

Looking out from the rim of Flying Monkey Mesa.


A natural arch along the rim.

A natural arch along the rim.

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Yabba-dabba doo!

Yabba-dabba doo!

Guacamole Trail

The third and final bike path explored was the Guacamole Trail, scene where Jim left some body parts behind back in 2013.  Mark was conducting tours of the “scene of the accident,” complete with 3-part re-enactment and the opportunity to look for souvenir “stones” afterward.  ;-)

This was one reee-dic-ulous bike trail!   We walked the entire seven miles of continuous serpentines, up and over boulders, twists and turns, “natural” bridges across chasms constructed of loose rock.  I completely “get” the thrill of riding such a trail on a bike…leaning into each turn, leaping over the rises in the rocks leaving one’s stomach behind in a 5 second delay at the top.  But as a hiker, one can get dizzy following that trail!  I thought we were headed back to the car at least twenty times, only to find myself pointed the opposite direction five minutes later.    I must have said it a dozen times, “The scenery here is ‘otherworldly!  But who in their right mind would ride a bike over this insane terrain?”

This trail has the most elaborate cairn system I have ever seen!  This one points in three directions at the trail intersection.

This trail has the most elaborate cairn system I have ever seen! This one points in three directions at the trail intersection.

IMG_6742 IMG_6743 IMG_6745Next time I return to southern Utah, I have set my intentions to ride some of these trails rather than walk them.  (well, two out of three of them, at least!)   It’s been fourteen years since I bought my Trek bike, “Old Faithful,” back in New Jersey.  He was brand new that September day I rode down to the Hudson River and watched the towers fall.  After “re-tiring”him several times, I think I am finally ready to “retire” him.   Let the search begin…


Taking Time on Thanksgiving

I recently read an article in my NPR newsfeed suggesting that instead of “What,” we should be grateful for “When” this Thanksgiving. The premise is based around “time,” that rather than give thanks for things or even people, instead we be more appreciative of time.

It’s been an odd year for me where time is concerned. It seems as if the days are either flying by as fast as the cartoon version of pages flipping off the calendar, or as slowly as my blood red pen waiting for midnight so I can cross off yet another day. There has been no in-between for me this year. Continue reading

Not-So-Hidden Canyon

Hidden Canyon is a popular hike along Zion National Park’s main Scenic Drive.   The 1,000 ft elevation gain and exposed areas are cause for its “Strenuous” rating.  It’s also one of only two hikes I turned back on last year, so it was on the radar to explore this year.   The hike starts out with an aggressive maze of relatively steep switchbacks, up some sheer canyon walls with the aid of chains, and finally reaches a small canyon where the “official” trail ends and the scrambling begins. Continue reading


noun, [pen-tuh-men-toh] Painting. The presence or emergence of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over.

(From Wikipedia) “A pentimento is an alteration in a painting, evidenced by traces of previous work, showing that the artist has changed his or her mind as to the composition during the process of painting. The word is Italian for repentance, from the verb pentirsi, meaning to repent.”IMG_6425 Continue reading


There’s nothing like losing two immediate family members and attending three family funerals within the past six months to make one ponder “impermanence.”    When I used to see places like “Tripod Rocks,” I would ponder the probability that they would still be standing this time next year.  After the loss of my brother seven years my junior followed by my Dad, now I wonder if I will be… Continue reading

Many Pools, Many Favorites, and Many Memories

I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite hike in southern Utah.  I have loved them all.  So many different personalities from the cold dark canyons of Buckskin to the sunny warm glow of little Snow Canyon.   Each one has something spectacular to offer, though it’s not always about “The Destination.”  Some offer an ever changing variety.  For this reason, if forced to pick a favorite, the “Many Pools” hike in eastern Zion has to rank way up there.   It’s like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates; Continue reading

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

Now back in the shadow of Zion National Park, I have to say, it feels good to be back.    As I have moved at a fast clip through Southern Colorado, down the Green River, and across the southern state of Utah since July, this stop has been a bit of a “carrot” at the end of the stick.  I have looked forward to just “parking it” for awhile.  No more route planning, campground research, navigating unfamiliar territory, hitching and unhitching.   Just a couple of weeks to relax, visit with friends, and make my favorite time of the year, the autumn season, stretch as long as possible. Continue reading

Fifty Shades of Sandstone

The day after the big adventure in the slot canyon warrants a late start.  Mornings have been cold here in the Paria River Gravel Pit, so the last thing I want to do is put on a pair of wet, cold, sandy hiking boots.  So Chris and I agree to meet up mid-day and explore some of the nearby area. Continue reading

Seduced by a Slot Canyon

Buckskin Gulch is known as “The Longest Slot Canyon in the World!”  (Allegedly.)  Yes, I have fallen prey to “destination marketing” once again.  But it’s not just about “the longest, the tallest, the most dangerous.”  No, you see I am a sucker for a slot canyon of any length.  In fact, it’s my absolute favorite place to hike.  I can never seem to get enough Continue reading

Probing the Paria

As I continue on across the southern part of Utah, I am getting ever closer to Kanab, present home of one of my favorite bloggers, Gaelyn, better known as “Geogypsy.”   I began following Gaelyn’s blog during one of her visits to South Africa.  We corresponded this past spring as I was making my plans to visit the Grand Canyon North Rim.  She was very helpful in giving me some advice for my lofty goal to hike the “Rim to Rim.”  Unfortunately, life took a different turn Continue reading