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…


12 thoughts on “On Mesas and Mountain Bikes

  1. I too am in awe of the terrain some folks think is ride-able! Hans and I find ourselves riding less and less these days for a couple of reasons…1) fear of breaking bones, 2) you can see a LOT more on foot. That said, it’s hard to imagine giving up biking altogether because it’s a nice change of pace on the right trails or bike paths.

    Back when we first met and I got a new bike, Hans talked me into riding clipped in to my pedals. That’s worked fine for many years but I am now going back to regular pedals because I want to be able to combine biking and hiking without a shoe change in between. I also hope that having my feet free may take some of the worry out of rough trails.

    Good luck finding the right bike! There are some good sales happening RIGHT NOW, Hans just got a great deal on a new bike at Performance Bike.

    • Thanks, Lisa — I don’t think riding clipped in would ever work for me. I fell last year in the Zion Visitor Center parking lot, standing perfectly still! haha! But I do have some toe clips on my current bike that I love.

      I am still looking…found one, but it sold before I could make up my mind. It will happen eventually. Glad Hans found one he loved. I look forward to seeing it on the blog, hopefully.

  2. I am totally on board with not riding clipped in. Having my feet free makes me more willing to try trails that I wouldn’t do with my feet tied down. We ride in downhill shoes, they have a stiff sole so your feet don’t wrap around the pedal. Also – full suspension! It will improve your riding big time.

  3. Its always good fun choosing a new bike, and the choice out there is vast. Sometimes the last years model is a good buy, but you’ll get lots of good advice from your friends.

    • Thanks, Dave — Yes, I am hoping to find one a year or two old, because I sure can’t afford the new ones! And it has to ride on the back of the Tracker, so it will take some abuse. It’s tough finding a used one, though, when I rarely stay in one spot for long. So I think you are right, the older models are the way to go…

    • Gaelyn — I will always be a “hiker at heart” but occasionally I feel the need for speed. 😉 I was a biker (and an inline skate racer!) before I slowed down to hike, but I won’t stray far… 😉

  4. Good to see you inching closer to the abyss 🙂 And to Gaelyn… you know you can ride mountain bikes on paved bike paths as well as dirt back roads where you can enjoy the scenery too 🙂 We won’t let Suzanne get close to Guacamole for at least two years… right Jim?

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