Monday, May 17, 2010

Mountain Biking on Gooseberry Mesa in Utah

With the winter season coming to a close in Lake Tahoe some friends and I decided it was high time to get the mountain bikes out.  With snow still in the forecast in May, the biking in Lake Tahoe wouldn't be ready until sometime in June.  That meant only one thing - it was time to load up the cars and head for Utah!

After hearing a lot of great things about the mountain biking on Gooseberry Mesa, we decided that would be our destination.   With the car already packed, my friend Sean got off work at 11pm and we started the overnight drive through the Nevada desert.  After multiple cups of coffee, several delirious 4am conversations and 11 hours later we pulled into camp.  Sean and I set up camp and slept for the better part of the day - not too late though, since we had to fit in an afternoon ride.

"Wesley King takes a break at sunset on Gooseberry Mesa"

"Dan Keenan rides on Gooseberry Mesa with Zion National Park in the background"

Once we awoke we got the bikes unloaded and headed out to see what all the hype was about.  Within 10 minutes I could see exactly why we had heard so many good things about the biking on the mesa  - IT WAS EPIC!  Extremely technical slickrock combined with a mix of singletrack provided some of the most fun I've had on a bike in awhile.  The unobstructed view of Zion National Park in the background wasn't too shabby either.

Over the next couple days we really gave the place a going over.  It took a little bit to settle into the kind of technical riding style that Gooseberry demands. It is completely different from any type of riding that I have ever done.  In Lake Tahoe you become accustomed to long climbs with fast moderately technical descents.  Because of it's extreme technical nature, Gooseberry riding is much slower and precise.  Fast short sprints up very steep sections of slick rock, mixed with tight corners and sharp turns keep you on your game 100% of the time.

"Sean Cronin mountain bikes on the very skinny terminus of the North Rim Trail.  There is a 300ft drop on either side of him"

One of my favorite parts about riding on Gooseberry Mesa has to be the camping.  Because the mesa is on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land the camping restrictions are very loose.  You can pretty much camp wherever you want and it is all free of charge.  It is important though that you bring enough supplies with you.  There is no running water or much else in the way of home comforts on the mesa.  The only facility in the immediate area is a lone toilet that is, sometimes, stocked with toilet paper.

The biggest benefit to camping on the mesa is that all of the rides are accessible from camp.  You can simply crawl out of your tent, make breakfast and get on your bike and ride.  There is no need to drive anywhere. Within minutes of riding on one of the several double track roads you can be at the entrance to all of the trails.

"The view of Zion National Park from camp"

"Corey and Sean relax by the fire"

"The night sky from camp, note the shooting star"

After about four days we had ridden every trail on the mesa, in both directions.  We decided to go check out some of the other trails in the area.  We did a 15 mile loop on Little Creek Mesa (about a 20 minute drive from Gooseberry), and car shuttled the Jem trail (also about a 20 minute drive).

"Dan gets some air on the downhill section of the Jem trail" 

"Heading back after the ride on Little Creek Mesa"

Even though there was a lot of good riding off the mesa, the accessibility of the trails from camp won us over for the rest of the trip.  We continued to link up different sections of trails and come up with creative and cool lines all over the mesa.  Trails like God's Skateboard Park provided entire afternoons of entertainment. 

The possibilities on the mesa are endless and the trails are still definitely in the baby stages of development.  The appeal for a strong intermediate rider will be the ability to ride a lot of the terrain and simply have to walk sections one is not comfortable with.  On the other end of the spectrum Gooseberry has terrain for the most advanced rider with stunt possibilities that range all the way up to the extreme.  It all depends on how creative you want to get.  Our favorite trails included: God's Skateboard Park, South Rim Trail and Hidden Canyon.

"Corey finishing a climb on the South Rim Trail"

"Corey sprinting up one of the many short technical climbs on the South Rim Trail"

"Dan riding on a small ledge in God's Skateboard Park"

"Corey on the South Rim Trail"

"The merry go round section of the Hidden Canyon Trail"

"Sean climbing some slick rock in God's Skateboard Park"

The likely choice for many people heading to Utah for a mountain bike trip would be Moab.  Even though the riding at Gooseberry isn't as extensive as Moab, the mesa offers up some of the best slickrock and singletrack riding in the lower 48, with virtually no crowds.  So my advice to you would be to load up the bikes and get out there before everyone else figures out what they've been missing.

"Sunset on Gooseberry Mesa"

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