Hartman Rocks! BLM recreation area a paradise for mountain bikers
GUNNISON, Colo. – The cool thing about hiking and mountain biking in Colorado is there are so many “must-do” sites around the state that prevent you from doing the same routes close to home over and over again.
For years, my most frequent riding partner and I made an annual pilgrimage to Salida to ride the Monarch Crest Trail, which takes riders above timberline on Monarch Pass then steers them toward Salida on glorious and challenging single-track trails.
We try to go to Crested Butte, the mecca for mountain biking, at least once per summer. Last year, we “discovered” the Hartman Rocks Recreation Area south of Gunnison and had so much fun we returned last month.
Riding at Hartman Rocks is a lot like riding in the Fruita area. One minute, you’ve riding a tough trail surrounded by stunningly beautiful landscape, the next you’re cruising through sage brush at breakneck speed. Diversity, diversity and more diversity is the attraction.
There are more than 20 trails criss-crossing 8,000 acres of land looked after by the Bureau of Land Management. No single trail is all that long, but you’re constantly coming up with new combinations. Strung together, you can ride for miles and miles. The fun of learning the trails is determining which way you want to ride them. It does make a difference.
My riding partner, Bob, and I visited Hartman Rocks on Sunday, Sept. 9. We skipped the most heavily-used trailhead, which is just 3 miles south of Gunnison, and skirted to the west side of the massive playground to another well-marked entry point with a parking lot and the McCabe trailhead. We were the only car in the parking lot and over the next three hours or riding we saw fewer than five other riders, two vehicles and one dirt bike. Only one other person was close enough for us to say hello. The solitude matches the diversity of terrain. Crowds can be expected earlier in the summer, although there is a lot of terrain to absorb them.
After about one-half mile on a road, we hopped onto a single-track trail and spent the next three hours exploring the network of trails. The trails are more desert riding than mountain riding. Riders often find themselves climbing a moderate grade on a sandy but not soft trail punctuated with an occasional rock obstacle that requires technical skills and exertion. The elevation gain is never drastic, it’s more of that steady desert grind. The entire 8,000 acres is between the elevation of 7,700 and 8,400 feet.
Trail maps for the area designate the trails the same as ski area trails: green for easy, blue for moderate, black diamond for tough and double black diamond for extreme. There’s a catch, as we learned. We took a trail called Rattlesnake that was mostly black diamond with a few double black diamond stretches. We rode it north to south and encountered three or four jagged granite outcroppings that were nearly impossible to ride because of a climb. Coming at the trail south to north would have made a world of difference. The impossible climbs would have been challenging downhills that were rideable with the property amount of guts.
The beauty of Hartman Rocks is right after you grunt up Rattle Snake, you can hook into Sea of Sage. Riding that southeast to northwest was the payoff for the climb up Rattle Snake. Sea of Sage was a downhill blast on a sandy ribbon cutting through – you guessed it – a sea of sagebrush.
There are some unexpected gems among the trails. While much of the terrain goes through granite spires or dusty sage, a route called Josho’s takes you through an aspen-lined canyon that cools you down on a hot day and, in fall, provides the splendid yellow of the quakies.
The BLM manages Hartman Rocks to offer something for everyone. There is a motorcycle terrain park and the trails are open to dirt bikes, though they have been rare in my two trips there. The single-track trails occasionally cross roads open to four-wheel-drive vehicles. Equestrians and climbers are welcome. I’m sure they are there at times, though I haven’t seen them on either trip. It’s obvious that mountain biking is the predominant summer use.
There is no water available so ride with a full supply. Riders are never all that far from their vehicle, so it’s easy to resupply after a few hours, then hit more trails.
The trails are well marked, with attractive wooden signs at nearly every junction. The junctions are frequent so riders will often be stopping to check out a trail map and plot their next step. You can’t go wrong. Hartman truly rocks.
• Hartman Rocks Recreation Area is easily accessible from Gunnison. Take Gold Basin Road, County Road 38, south out of Gunnison to the main trailhead.
• Hartman Rocks summer season is typically April through November.
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