Scott Mercier: Heading west for some desert riding near Grand Junction
Special to The Aspen Times
I know. This was an “epic” winter and the Roaring Fork Valley is dominated by all things involving snow.
But, if you’re like me, you’re ready to ride the trails. There are only so many days I can hit the slopes. And, despite growing up in Telluride, it’s nowhere near 100!
The problem with hitting the trails is that most of them are still deeply buried under feet of snow and the ones in the lower valley are still closed for elk migration.
A road trip to the Grand Valley is the perfect solution. It’s a two-hour drive, is blessed with abundant sunshine and hundreds of miles of desert trails. The trail system is broken into three primary areas: The Lunch Loops, Kokopelli and Bookcliff. COPMOBA.org has great maps of the trail systems.
The Lunch Loops trail system starts just outside Grand Junction near the base of the Colorado National Monument. These trails are well marked and almost exclusively single track. Be warned, however, the Lunch Loop trails are technical. They’re ridable with a hard tail, but your internal organs will let you know for days that a hard tail is a bad idea on these trails. And don’t be arrogant and get fooled by the rating system. The trails in red are not for us; it’s not like the proverbial “double black diamond” that pretty much anyone can ski. The trails in red have huge drops and you’ll be walking a lot. In fact, my motto for most trails in the Lunch Loops is: “I’m not afraid to walk.”
From the Lunch Loop trailhead, you’ll have myriad options, from several quick one-hour loops to all day affairs. The three classics are The Ribbon, Gunny Loop and Holy Cross. They’re mostly ridable and a lot of fun. The Ribbon has a huge stretch of slickrock that is an absolute blast. It can be done as an out-and-back or a loop. The loop, however, involves riding up Little Park Road for a few miles. Expect a three-plus hour ride for the Ribbon. Gunny loop is one of the classic Junction trails and it takes about two hours. Holy Cross is the go-to ride for many locals who only have an hour to ride.
The Kokopelli Trail system, just west of Fruita, is along the Colorado River and has stunning views. It’s also the start of the infamous Kokopelli Trail, a 146-mile jaunt from Fruita to Moab. Almost everything on this trail system is ridable, with the exception of Moore Fun. Moore Fun is not fun at all; it’s terrifying. The same rule applies to these trails; if it’s marked in red, it’s not for us.
The classic ride in this system is a combination of Mary’s and Lion’s loop, with an addition on Horse Thief Bench. If you ride all three, expect about 2½ hours, but I’d add another half hour for view stops and photos. The majesty of nature is on full display on this ride. These trails are a combination of desert single track, old Jeep roads and slickrock. The trails aren’t flat, but the climbs are not long and not too steep. They’re technical enough to be challenging, but not frightening. You’re bound to have a smile on your face with these rides.
You’ll also get an idea of what I mean about the trails in red when you walk down the portage to Horse Thief Bench. You’ll think to yourself, “This is not rideable.” And you’re right, but some freaks ride it anyway. Don’t skip the “bench” however, it’s a great addition to the ride and gets you really close to the river.
The Bookcliff trails are just north of Fruita on 18 Road. These trails are the least technical of the offerings in the Grand Valley. They’re a great introduction to desert-style riding, but also fun for experienced riders. It’s the desert version of flow trails, with banked turns and small jumps. The trails are also very popular. Last weekend my son and I rode a few of them, and there must have been 1,000 people. It was packed, but still fun.
Regardless of your riding ability, the Grand Valley has a mountain biking option for you.
Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services teams. He currently works as a senior financial adviser in Aspen and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Keegan Swirbul was set to carry on with his nomadic career this summer with Ljubljana Gusto Santic, a professional cycling team based out of Slovenia