The legendary Slick Rock trail in Moab, the Porcupine rim or the Gooseberry Mesa are just a few of the most scenic and technical mountain biking trails leading through the characteristic rocky terrain of Utah. However, with the popularity of mountain biking sky-rocketing these trails get crowded with avid mountain bikers from all over the world and locals alike, especially as they cannot be done year round due to snow cover in winter. Luckily Utah is a big playground and its most Southern West corner has not been touched by mass tourism yet! All the more reasons to hop on a bike to explore its trails!
The town of Saint George lies just two hours North of Las Vegas and on the border where two majestic deserts meet and provide a total different vegetation. Where the city itself might lack a bit of charm, its surrounding mountains and valleys are clearly a paradise for any mountain biker and its trails are waiting to be ridden. Church Rocks bordering the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, the Paradise Rim Trail, Bearclaw Poppy Trail, Barrel Roll Trail, Sidewinder and the Suicidal Tendencies Trail… just to name a few, have been all created to enjoy the natural scenery around. They rank from anywhere from easy to moderate to hard-core double black diamonds… Obviously we need to check out the latter. Hold on tight as this proves a roller-coaster ride!
Leaving Saint George behind on our rental full-suspensions mountain bikes we cruise through its neighboring town of Santa Clara before breaking in sweat to get up the dirt road leading to the information board by the Bureau of Land Management at the Cove Wash trail-head. A wide variety of single tracks in the Santa Clara River Reserve are displayed, including their difficulty and distances in miles. Some of them can be shared with hikers and horseback riders and they are clearly developed for any outdoor enthusiast to enjoy its extreme landscape consisting of the Mojave Desert and Great Basin Desert.
Making a few calculations we design our own loop consisting of three different single-tracks with the Suicidal Tendencies being the most difficult one. It’s still early morning but the May sun is already radiating with an unforgiving force when we slowly progress uphill on the Sidewinder trail. As it proves a long and slow climb we have time to take in the beautiful vegetation that is surprisingly colorful in this dry area. Barrel cactuses bloom as well as the desert poppies and a variety of other cactus flowers, tainting the sand-colored soil with intense purplish pink, bright white and deep red dots here and there.
In this extreme habitat it is hard to survive as rainfall is scarce. Still this desert is home to quite a few animals so we keep an eye out for the Gila Monster (the largest lizard of the USA), Red-Tailed Hawks, Rattlesnakes, Kit Foxes, Bobcats and the Mojave Desert Tortoise. The latter spends 95% of its life underground to escape the heat, so a bit more of a challenge to observe. Apart from spotting a Red-Tailed Hawk and some insects we are too focused on the trail as it getting more technical. Struggling to keep our balance right in the sharp switchbacks and on the steep and deceiving rocky drops, we descend into a narrow canyon that we will need to ascend again on the other side. It is demanding in the heat, yet challenging and fun along its steep rim and on parts of smooth slick rock. So far we haven’t encountered a single soul and we take in the views as we go.
After conquering what must have been the steepest part of the South Hills we keep climbing gradually towards the turning point of the Suicidal Tendencies. Balancing on more rocks the view gets more beautiful with each rotation of our wheels. On its top we clearly see both deserts, the different vegetation, the granite boulders, limestone mountains and sandstone cliffs. Behind us snowy peaks of the Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness Area contrast greatly with the lower Red Cliffs.
Satisfied with reaching the end-point we continue our loop on a dazzling downhill during which we cannot afford to look around nor lose the slightest bit of focus. Dropping off the narrow track would be unforgiving and potentially lethal at certain spots. With the adrenaline rushing through our veins we steer our steel horses down the switchbacks and up again to enjoy a long and smooth downhill. Towards the end we are out of water and it is time to head back into town to hydrate ourselves. We greet two mountain bikers who are just starting their afternoon loop and we are surprised to have had these fantastically designed singe-tracks in this stunning landscape in the South Western corner of Utah completely to ourselves. They are certainly waiting to be explored by foreigners. Until then, sporty locals will be able to have them for themselves!
Claire and Marcella
- You are not traveling with you own bike? No worries! Bicycles Unlimited in the city center of George rents great bikes for these trails and the staff will be happy to advise you on where to go based on your skills.
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Here is a short tutorial to download it.
Make sure to stay on the track as in many spots you will find the lively Cryptobiotic soil crust which enriches the soil surface and absorbs the water. It takes hundreds of years to develop in what it is today but gets destroyed with only footstep or tyre track. You also will have a high chance puncturing due to the many cactuses along the trail if you wonder off, so make sure to stay on track!
Even though it is a very obvious one to bring plenty of water, this area will dry you out so quickly that you really want to fill up excessively before venturing its desolated tracks. There is NO water at the trailhead at all nor anywhere along its tracks.
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This article was published in the Beyond Boundaries e-magazine by Xtreme Adventure: