Around The Block

Last fall I had a few weeks off from work and a new bike I wasn't ready to park for the winter. When the weather began to take a turn for the worse here in the Tetons, I loaded up the wagon and Clark Dog and I headed south.

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After the trip I’d taken the previous year, I wasn’t prepared to spend more than a few hours at a time behind the wheel, so I charted a course around the block that would take me to visit some old friends and a few new riding destinations.

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First stop was Logan, UT where several good friends of mine call home. I seem to end up down there at least once a year and always manage to get a few quality rides in. This time I revisited a couple of trails I had ridden several times before. The first of those, Green Canyon, which I’ve mentioned here in the past, is a short but fun out-and-back that will leave you grinning but wanting more. Alex and Laredo were both in town visiting family and were easily coerced into coming along. After a gradual 6 mile uphill, you reach the wilderness boundary where you turn around and ride it all in reverse. The descent is a bit pedaly but is loaded with features. Several small jumps, a couple larger hips, and a few ramped up boulders. And then you’re back at the car. Alex had some errands to run but Laredo I decided to keep going. From the Green Canyon trailhead we accessed the Bonneville Shoreline trail which we rode over to Logan Canyon and then down an unnamed path along the canal until we reached downtown and Jack’s Pizza. Killer homemade, woodfired, brick oven pies. Definitely worth checking out if you’re in the neighborhood.

The next day, Laredo and I got our friend Heidi to shuttle us to the top of Providence Canyon. Another quick fun ride that we made just a little longer with some added pavement miles back to town.

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After a couple of days in northern Utah, I set out for Nederland, CO making one quick stop in the town of Lyons to meet up with my friend Patrick for an after work ride. I met Patrick a few years back on a meetup with another good friend in Moab, UT and have managed to keep in touch through the magic of social media. With Lyons being on the way I decided to look him up and make a tour guide out of him. I pulled into town just as Patrick was getting done with work, he’s a teacher and and the school’s mountain bike club coach. With the sun setting we started pedaling from the school’s parking lot and had accessed singletrack in just a few minutes.

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The Picture Rock trail was exactly what I needed after a few hours of driving. A mellow climb with a gradual increase of technical features. The trail continues for 5 miles before reaching a saddle and the Wild Turkey/Ponderosa loops (~5 miles), from which you can access the Wapiti trail (another ~2.5 miles). Seems like starting at either the Picture Rock or Wapiti trailheads and riding the whole thing as an out-and-back would make for a pretty fun ride. This whole area is known as Heil Ranch and is very near (riding distance to) Hall Ranch, which has another ~12 miles of singletrack. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time before it got dark on us so we ended up turning around just before the saddle and ripping back down to the school. After the ride we went to one of Pat’s favorite eateries in the neighborhood, the original Oskar Blues Grill & Brew.  Great food and even better beers from the only brewery I know of to venture intomountain bikes and bike parks. After dinner I said goodbye to Pat and continued south to Ned. For more info on the 30+ miles of mountain biking in the downtown Lyons, Co area, take a look at the MTB Project page.

I made it to Travis’ place in Nederland and called it a night not long afterward. I spent the next day sight seeing, catching up w/old friends and stuffing my face. The following morning I woke up feeling the need to conquer the West Magnolia trails.

The last time I tried riding here, I spent 2 days getting turned around and riding in circles. With little to no signage and not much in the way of beta from the LBS, I had a hard time figuring the best route to link up the little maze of trails in this area. By the time I left town I had taken several laps and felt like I’d almost figured it out.

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I was back and had a fairly clear recollection of all the wrong turns I had taken last time. I set out that morning with every intention of taking the right turns this time. I mostly accomplished that. I took one wrong turn about halfway into the ride but realized it before I had gotten very far and somewhere towards the end I missed the turn that would’ve taken me back to the trailhead and my car. This ended up being totally OK as the wrong turn led to a fast, wide open downhill section that lasted all the way back to town, where my car was not. Still, the climb back up the Peak to Peak road to the West Mag trailhead wouldn’t be so bad if there was a shoulder, there isn’t one. Overall, a great ride with some interesting scenery (pine beetle infestation and a resulting major deforestation project have cleared out huge swaths of timber here).  Next time I’m in town I’ll have to do some more exploring over in East Magnolia. If you’re interested in doing some riding here, the MTB Project has a bit more info on the West Magnolia trail system. You’ll probably do well by printing off a copy of the map before you go.

Travis isn’t a mountain biker but we did go on a hike at Lookout Mountain near Golden, CO one day. I didn’t realize it until after we’d arrived but this trail allows bikes and looks like it would be a lot of fun. I was sad I didn’t bring mine to ride that day.

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After a few days in Nederland I was off to my next stop but had read about some trails that were on my way down Boulder Canyon that looked interesting. The Betasso Preserve is located just a few miles up the canyon from town and connects through to Fourmile Canyon. Starting at the Betasso Link trail there’s a grunt of a climb to access the preserve. Once there, you ride the Canyon Loop and Benjamin Loop trails in a figure 8. Both are super fast and flowy. Pay close attention to the signs as these trails are one way and the direction changes depending on the day of the week. Each direction on either trail would be fun. Although, I managed to hit the Benjamin Loop on a clockwise day and was rewarded with a pretty sweet downhill (check out the video below).

The Fourmile Link trail connects you through to Fourmile Canyon from the far end of the Benjamin Loop. I rode this and it was really pretty but probably unnecessary. There are a couple flights of stairs on this section of trail that I had to walk up and they weren’t as fun as I thought they’d be to ride back down.

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The way back to Boulder Canyon was just as fun as the way out, especially the downhill section on the Betasso Link. Starting with a few medium sized hits, followed by a technical, rooty section, and then a high-speed descent back to the trailhead. In all I had a 12.5 mile ride but that’s only b/c I wasn’t paying attention to the directional signs and turned around halfway through one of the loops to ride it the proper way. Minus the backtracking and the Fourmile Link you end up w/an ~8 mile ride. This mileage can be doubled by starting in town and taking the Boulder Creek path to and from the trailhead. One of the better rides I’ve done in this area, highly recommended. The MTB Project has more info on this trail system as well.

After leaving Boulder I met up w/another friend, Christy, in Steamboat Springs, CO to check out Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Christy is also not a mountain biker but was willing to give it a try so I found a short trail near the hot springs called Lower Bear. With just under 3 miles one way, and less than 1000′ of climbing, it wasn’t the most exciting ride I came across on this trip but the views and the sunset that evening were pretty awesome. The look on her face while attempting her first descent on singletrack was even better.

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The springs were awesome, mostly natural with minimal improvements. Unique lodging options are available there as well, such as the caboose or covered wagon. The aptly named Hot Springs trail is another quick ride option that terminates directly at the pools.

The next morning we headed over to the Howelsen Hill ski area to check out some of the trails on Emerald Mountain, just across the river on the west side of town. At the parking lot we ran into a family I knew from Teton Valley who had just moved to Steamboat. I gathered some intel from them and we took off on a short tour of a well maintained network of buff singletrack w/a few challenging rocky sections and great signage. If you link everything up, you’re looking at an ~8.5 mile loop that starts and finishes just a block from town. If you find yourself trolling around downtown Steamboat, this area would be well worth checking out. There are tons of options for riding in this town, but you’ll probably want to give yourself more than 24 hours to explore them.

From Steamboat, I drove north towards Laramie/Cheyenne. My next stop was Curt Gowdy State Park. I’m not sure where I even heard about this place but after a few internet searches and some info from a couple friends who had been there (thanks Andy & Nic), I decided to check it out. Mid October may not be the best time of year to visit a mountain biking destination this far north, at first it seemed that the weather was not going to be cooperative on this occasion. As I crossed the CO/WY state line, a storm began moving in and I decided to wait it out for the night in Laramie. My friend Christy, who lives there and attends school at the University of Wyoming, offered to put me up. That evening she took me on a two-wheeled tour of downtown Laramie, which took all of 20 minutes (not quite the Tour de Laramie), before going to dinner at one of her favorite local restaurants. Sweet Melissa Cafe & Front Street Tavern, located just across S 1st Street from the railroad yard, is a great vegetarian restaurant w/a full bar that holds its own in the heart of cattle country. If you have any reservations about that last sentence, the reviews on Google Local should help to put you at ease.

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The next morning I woke up to a much snowier Laramie. Thankfully, the sun came out and by the following day there were clear blue skies and temps in the upper 40’s. I couldn’t wait to ride any longer so Clark dog and I stopped by Pedal House bike shop for some info on the local trails. If you need beta, a bike mechanic, or any of replacements, Pedal House can probably take care of you. They also have some pretty awesome stickers and logo gear for sale. After talking with the folks in the shop for a bit, me and the muppet went for a recon mission to the Happy Jack area just outside of town.

Tie City & Happy Jack offer over 30 miles of singletrack which can be easily connected to another 17 miles of trail in nearby Vedauwoo & Blair, all of which are varying in smoothness, flow, difficulty, and technicality. But, these trails are all located at 8,500′ or higher and were still mostly covered with snow by mid day, Clark and I got a short climb in before the trail disappeared completely. At that point I parked the bike and we scrambled up some of the rock formations just off the trail to get a better view. By the time we got back to the car, some of the lower trails had melted off and were starting to dry. Everything would be good to go by the next day.

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While waiting for it to warm up that morning, I studied some maps and had breakfast at Coal Creek Coffee Company, a cafe in downtown Laramie with a nice atmosphere and a solid cup of coffee. Curt Gowdy is ~1,000′ lower in elevation than Happy Jack so it was a safe bet that the trails there would be dry, they were. The drive up from Laramie was surprisingly beautiful and only took 30 minutes (also 30 minutes from Cheyenne), something to keep in mind if you don’t feel like camping. If you are inclined to rough it, a camp site only cost $10 per night and includes the daily use fee ($4 w/o camping, $17/$6 for non-Wyoming residents). Once there, I was greeted by a completely empty state park, I didn’t see another person or car that whole first day. I think it only got up to the low 50’s, aka perfect long sleeved riding weather. So yeah, not sure where everyone was that day but I didn’t mind having the whole place to myself.

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I started my ride with the Stone Temple Circuit, a series of loops on the west side of the park that twists and rambles through layers of granular singletrack, sandstone, and Pre-Cambrian granite. I went from cruising high plains with views of the electric blue reservoir, to navigating boulder fields with gaps barely wide enough for the bars (Rock ‘n Roller/El Alto). Which then led to several choose-your-line granite field descents in the multiple “play areas”, followed by a forested downhill rip with enough speed to give the trees that accelerated effect like the speeder bike chase scene on Endor the forest moon in Return of the Jedi (Albert’s Alley/Mo’ Rocka). The ride ended with a scenic traverse around the southwest finger of the Granite Springs Reservoir and under one of the more impressive rock features I’d seen on the whole ride.

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After a quick lunch break I got back on the bike to explore the central and south eastern sectors of the park. The Granite Ridge trail climbs straight up from the trailhead, quickly gaining elevation until it tops out on a large dome with unbelievable views of the surrounding features and reservoir below. I posted up here for a while to take it all in before descending the other side. The way down was awesome. Sections of gritty singletrack switchback to link up steep, solid granite declines, exposed by centuries of eroding topsoil. From there the trail meanders through an open meadow alongside the road before crossing over to the Canyons trail, a gravel shelf that hugs the topography and chases Middle Crow Creek to lower elevations. The creek connects Granite Springs and Crystal Lake reservoirs. About halfway in between I found the Middle Kingdom loop. When ridden clockwise, a strenuous climb leads straight out of the creek bottom to the meadows above before rounding back and down hill.

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The second half of the Middle Kingdom loop presents a couple of options. You can either take the main trail back down, a sweeping blue run full of banked turns, or you can opt for one of two different freeride lines know as Nut-N-Butta and Let-R-Huck (video in link clearly shows most of the features). All of the above will merge back into Canyons. At that point the trail gets rough. Loose, golf ball sized rocks made adhering to the traverse above the creek difficult and ultra-sketchy. Climbs that should have been effortless became strangely low angle hike-a-bikes. I continued as far as the Blue’s Cruz loop, taking that around before running out of steam and heading back towards lower Mahogany Ridge. I made it back to base and drank a beer by the lake while Clark dog swam and the sun set behind the hills.

A close approximation of this ride has been designated as an IMBA Epic, details of which can be viewed on the MTB Project.

The next day I pressed repeat + fast forward, riding a shorter version of the same loops while picking up a few sections I had missed and exploring reverse directions on several of the trails. The temperatures made it into the upper 50’s and brought a handful of riders out to the park. After another great day in Curt Gowdy, Clark and I loaded up, said goodbye to the middle of Wyoming, and began the long haul back to the Tetons. It started snowing just as we reached the Hoback River Canyon.

Later that week, the sun came back out for just a few days. I was able to squeeze 2 more rides out of 2014. A solo Hagen/Putt Putt lap one day followed by a Grumpy/Nemo’s w/Lander and Pete the next. By the next morning, winter had turned on.

More photos from my trip:

This winter started out strong but turned out to be a bust. Good days were few and far between, while truly great days were rare if ever. That being said, a greatly underwhelming snow pack has left us in close proximity to mountain biking here in the Tetons. Already, nearby trails like Wagonhammer (Salmon, ID), the Bus Loop (Lander, WY), and City Creek (Pocatello, ID) have been open and dry for weeks. A few weekends ago, Mitch and I rode the Sterling Justice trail in Pocatello. I’ve heard that the Snake River Bench trail, aka Sidewinder, near Heise is good to go. While you’re in the neighborhood, you may as well take lap or two through the newly built mini mountain bike park at the 7N Ranch in Ririe, ID. There’s hardly any info for the place on the webs, but from what I understand you just have to sign a release waiver at the trailhead to absolve the private property owners of any liability in case you jack your yourself up in there.

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It won’t be long for our trails.

The next post you see from me will probably come bearing major news for the site. Big updates are coming. Stay tuned.

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