A desert trip hits the mark | AspenTimes.com

A desert trip hits the mark

A desert sunset illuminates the Henry Mountains from a campsite northwest of Moab.

Taking a hiking and biking trip to the desert in October is always a crapshoot with the weather. This year I hit the jackpot.

I headed out with some guys on Oct. 4 and encountered such ideal weather in western Colorado and eastern Utah that we camped for eight consecutive nights. We got in six bike rides and two hikes but were clamoring for more when we had to call it quits during a sandstorm Sunday morning. Mother Nature only threw us a curve Wednesday night, when clouds rolled in and obscured the lunar eclipse. It's just as well. We would have stayed up all night to wait for the 4:30 a.m. celestial show.

We started the trip with two good rides out of the Westwater and Rabbit Valley areas at the Colorado-Utah state line. I was with two brothers-in-law from the Midwest. Both had shiny new bikes but flatlander lungs, so I picked a couple of rides to boost their confidence and stamina. It worked. After a "rest" day of hiking in Arches National Park they tackled the Porcupine Rim Trail outside of Moab, Utah, on day four. Porcupine is fun, though harrowing at times. Every minute or so you encounter a slickrock plunge that threatens to send you on a header or you encounter a perfect stair step that's a breeze to fly down. You never really know which you're going to encounter until you are on top of it, so it requires constant focus.

The Bureau of Land Management in cooperation with trail groups in Moab and Utah's Grand County have done a tremendous job expanding mountain-bike trail networks. We got our fill of riding in the North Klondike, Sovereign and Magnificent Seven networks. Each of the systems offers just the right number of rock obstacles that require technical maneuvers with fun swathes of slickrock climbs and patches of sand. For the most part, it's riding that makes you feel like a hero.

We punctuated hard days on the trail with evenings perched under a west-facing sandstone cliff just a short climb above our camp. We threw a few beers and warm clothes into our packs, found a seat and watched the sunset. The sun streaked the few clouds in an amazing array of pinks, oranges and purples. Most sunsets qualified as spectacular. We would top it off with dinner and more beers around a campfire.

The weather was so good I almost felt guilty. Then I remembered all the nights I've been forced to eat a cold dinner inside the cab of a truck or the times I was huddled with camping buddies in a nook in the landscape to escape the howling wind and sandblasting. The guilt disappeared.