Sunday, April 04, 2010

Desert Not So Solitaire

Our spring break destination this year was Moab Utah with a few days in Fruita Colorado. Just days before our departure for Moab we learned that this week was also the jeep festival week which is the busiest time if year for Moab. While there were many more people there than we had even seen, it didn't bother us too much. The jeepers generally use different trails than we were on.

It Blows and it Snows

The first few days were dominated by nice weather, but then the wind took over. We had multiple days of high winds with weather service warnings. The winds were generally 30-40mph with gusts up to 60. This put a damper our many of our ride plans, so we spend a great deal more time hiking. Late in the week came the rains and then the snow. I guess that is what you get during spring break, a little bit of everything. We moved from Moab to Fruita hoping to get in two days of riding there. The weather cooperated and dried out just in time.

The Rides

Our first day in Moab, we headed out to the Gemini Bridges trail. This trail is not especially challenging, basically a dirt, rock, and sand road. It does have a pretty good elevation gain and provided a good first day experience in the desert. We passed a number of people participating in an adventure race - kayaking, running, biking, rapelling, etc. We were glad that we were on the bike.
The highlight ride of the week in Moab was the Porcupine Rim trail. Many ride this with a shuttle, but we chose to ride the loop. It took just under 5 hours. This was a big ride for us this early in the season. Fourteen miles of the loop includes a fairly technical and jarring descent. We had ridden the trail many years ago on our older tandem. We were looking forward to the ride on our newer full suspension tandem. We asked before leaving town if the trail was free of snow and ok to ride. The BLM guy said yes. As it ended up, many of the middle portions of the trail were still covered in snow, making it even more difficult. In hindsight, we shouldn't have been on the trail. The tandem handled great, but there is no getting over the fact that this trail is rough and takes a great deal out of you. It is technical from start to finish. Near the finish, as we were both highly fatigued, I tried to ride a technical ledge and we lost it. The drop was about six feet, but could quickly turn into 30+ if a clean landing wasn't made. Surprisingly we both made it off, landed on our feet, and didn't go down the hill. Close call. Earlier in the day we seen a guy walking out with a broken wrist. This trail rarely gives a break, but we were lucky. When we made it off the trail and back to camp, we were exhausted. It was time to eat everything in the van.
For the final two days of spring break we moved from Moab Utah to Fruita Colorado, just up river about 60 miles. Here we spent two days on some of the best tandem capable trails around. My second and third favorite trails of all time are located here. Number 1 is Fisher Creek in central Idaho where we were married! Our favorite Fruita trails are Joe's Ridge and Kessel Run. Each consist of a 5-6 mile loop, so you can ride each a couple of times in a day which is what we did on each of our last two days. The trails are 100% single track with lots of dips and turns. No time to relax! Here are a couple of videos of our descent. If you only watch one, watch the second half of Joe's Ridge video.
Joe's Ridge
Kessel Run

The Hikes

One of the fun parts about Moab is that there are many great hikes available. Our first hike was the morning that we rode Porcupine Rim. Knowing that we had a big ride, we chose a short hike, about 4 miles. This hike took us to Bow tie and Corona arch. These aren't actually inside Arches National Park, just nearby. The trail climbs up through desert cactus and finishes crossing slick rock. The two arches are near the end. Its a great short hike.
Corona Arch. Near Moab.
One of our favorite hikes is Klondike Bluffs. This hike is at the far end of Arches National Park down an 8 mile gravel road so it receives little traffic. The trail climbs up a series of rocky ledges, crosses a sandy shrub plateau, then ends at Tower Arch. From there you can explore a number of slot canyons and rock fins, before returning via the same route in. Today we would see a Golden Eagle perched on one of the bluffs, then flying over being harassed by ravens. A group of Pinyon Jays flew close by. A lone Loggerhead Shrike was looking for a lizard meal, a pair of Says Phoebe flycatched for us, then my first ever Juniper Titmouse proclaimed his territory by singing from tree to tree. We had hoped for a Collared Lizard but there were none to be seen. Many other lizards though.
Tower Arch. Arches National Park.

Juniper Titmouse. Klondike Bluffs. Arches National Park.
Another favorite hike of ours, and apparently many other people, is Negro Bill Canyon. This trail is close to town and gets a lot of traffic. The trail ends at Morning Glory arch. We once repelled off of this arch many years ago. It was fun to return to and partially relive this experience.
Negro Bill Canyon. Near Moab.
How many great recommendations can I make? The most fun we had on a hike this time was the Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park. To enter this area you must stop and pay extra for a special permit. They do everything they can to discourage you. This is a jumbled maze with no trails, do you still want to go? Yes. Navigation is difficult, GPSs do not work, and a rescue can take more than 4 hours. Do you still want to go? Yes. You must now watch a video... Anyway, it is a fantastic maze of slot canyons. We had been in it before with a guide, but it was much better exploring on our own. We only saw one other group near the entrance. The rest of the time, we were all alone. The maze seemed endless. We spent nearly 3 hours in there exploring, and yes I was able to navigate back out again. It was a blast.
Fiery Furnace. Arches National Park.

Karyn in slot canyon. Fiery Furnace. Arches National Park.
I performed a web search for birding hotspots near Moab before leaving on the trip. One of the places they recommended was a wetland on the outskirts of town called Matheson Wetland. We ended up going there 3 times. It was a great short trail system where we saw lots of interesting things - birds, deer, snakes, mice, etc. The first night was spotted a Cooper's Hawk hunting low through the trees. During the short loop we saw him/her three times. Clearly hunting for a meal. We wished him well.
Mule Deer. Matheson Wetlands. Moab.
Up river from Moab are the Fisher Towers. This short hike provides great views of the towers and of the surrounding landscape. On our hike we would see a male and female Peregrine Falcon circling the towers then landing on the ridge above. Very Cool! Hopefully in a matter of months there will be a new generation circling the towers as well.

The Drunks

In Moab we found ourselves nested between two groups of Idahoans in the campground. One couple was extremely nice. I spent an evening playing guitar around their campfire. It ends up that his brother is an ex-captain at the Boise fire department who we used to rent a McCall condo from. The other camp would represent a much more questionable side of Idaho. One night this group of drunks threw quite a party. They sat around, music cranked, and partied late into the night. Getting louder and louder, drink by drink. The evening started with stories of spotlighting rabbits in the desert, killing as many as they could in a single night. This moved on to comparing stories of visiting prostitutes. It got even more classier when all the men started to tell the only women in the group that they all wanted to have sex with her. Of course, their language wasn't quite as clean as that. Her husband wasn't even phased. Very classy. It only got better as one of them was throwing up outside their tent at 4am. We hoped they would be too hung over to party the next night. Apparently they were, it was quiet all night.
In between all of this we spent a number of hours birding other areas. Fruita offered much more varied terrain and many more birds. I was able to add a Western Scrub-jay in addition to the Juniper Titmouse mentioned earlier to my life list. Not bad. In all we had a great time. We weren't able to ride as much as planned, but we made up for it for more hikes. In the end, we made it home very tired. It was a successful spring break. Tomorrow I return to school for the last 5 week push to graduation.


Dan Huber said...

interesting post and pictures. too bad about the drunks ruining such a nice spot


Birding is Fun! said...

My mom was born and lived her first decade in Moab. Back then, it wasn't much of a tourist attraction. Her old house is now a Bed and Breakfast and costs $150/night.

Birding is Fun! said...

This Friday I am hosting “I and the Bird". I know you've hosted it before. I’d like to make a good Idaho showing while sharing your blog with the world. Would you look over your last month or so of blogs and send me a link of your favorite that I might include it?

Amber Coakley said...

I am here visiting from IATB - really enjoyed your post. Those videos from your bike are just breathtaking! Sounds like you had an incredible time in Moab, and saw a lot of great birds.