Riding the Moab trails

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Snow is melting and the weather is heating up, a signal to snow-lovers to soak up every minute of winter by getting in last runs down the ski mountain and final cross-country skis through the woods.

But for dirt-lovers, spring means a first chance to get mountain bikes back on cars and speed west to the red deserts of Utah.

Mountain biking in Moab before Steamboat's trails are free of snow has turned into a spring tradition. If you go, expect to bump into friends from town who also had the itch for something warm and dry.

Spring is one of best times to check out the miles of singletrack and slickrock that Moab offers: days in Moab are hot but don't come close to the sweltering 110 degrees that is common in the summer.

The trip is best made during a long weekend -- an extra day makes the 5 1/2 hour drive from Steamboat a lot easier. For less of a drive, check out Fruita, another mountain-biking mecca. It often is less crowded, has miles of trails, but lacks the dusty feel and odd rock formations of Moab. Fruita also can stay muddy after Moab's rocky trails have dried.

Pulling into Moab by late afternoon, a good warm-up trail with gorgeous views is Klondike Bluffs, which is 17 miles north of town on Highway 191. Drive up to the trailhead, get out the bikes, and spin up through a few sandy sections, moving onto slickrock hills and easy singletrack. The surrounding views are breathtaking, and a short hike at the end of the out-and-back trail gives a stunning overlook of Arches National Park.

The ride is straightforward and good for newer bikers or those getting their biking legs back in shape. It's about 10 miles starting at the trailhead, or 15 starting at the road pull-off.

Surrounded by U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands, the trail also is a good starting point to find a place to pitch a tent under the stars. There is even a slickrock "playground" with great views and lots of room to play across Highway 191, just before mile marker 143.

For a longer trip and a classic Moab ride, check out Amasa Back, a 21-mile out-and-back ride when starting from town. The singletrack is only about 10 total miles and is easy to drive to for those who want to keep their fat tires off the roads.

The singletrack drops off Kane Creek Road, which heads west from town, by way of a rock staircase. Watch for unexpected drops. There's a creek crossing right away, followed by some uphill, rocky climbing, with the trail moving into two-track with a steep drop-off to one side. Watch for a series of big drops that are typically best to walk through.

After a climb on slickrock, stop and take in the 360-degree views. Then turn around and go back the way you came, or take one of two spurs if you dare: Jacob's ladder, a rough hike and bike down to Jackson Hole, or a steep, loose singletrack back to the road.

Another classic Moab ride is the infamous Slickrock Trail, which many say is more tough mentally than technically. Beware of busy days: the trail can end up feeling like a trip through Disneyland, with unavoidable waits behind a line of bikers to go up and down the slickrock pitches.

But the trail offers more slickrock and crazy terrain than most others and is something of a rite of passage for all first-time Moab riders. It even has a practice loop for bikers, and on blue-sky days, you just might see a Hummer commercial being filmed on the trail.

For other trail options, such as the fun and famous Poison Spider Mesa and Porcupine Rim trails, or the easier Gemini Bridges ride, stop at a bike store in downtown Moab and fire off questions. Most employees are knowledgeable and can help you find a trail that fits your riding style. Or, pick up a trail book and flip through the miles of terrain the area offers.

On all rides, be sure you have lots of water, have slathered yourself with sunscreen, pay attention to maps and trail markers, keep a close eye on the weather, and have proper tools for repairs. Most of all, don't push harder than you are ready for. Moab's trails are tough, and when you fall, you typically hit a hard rock surface.

To give your biking legs a rest, take a side trip to Arches National Park and explore other hiking trails such as the popular Negro Bill Canyon, which starts just north of town on Utah Highway 128. Downtown offers fun stores, with the same small-town style that Steamboat has.

For a tucked-away camping experience, check out the campgrounds off Utah Highway 128, which sit along the Colorado River with steep rock walls rising to both sides. As the sun sets and rises, the shadows and colors on the rock shouldn't be missed.

After a long day of riding, there's nothing better than a trip to the Moab Diner, where milkshakes are thick, burgers are hot and the green pork chili can't be beat.

By the end of the weekend, clean off your bikes and prepare to head back to snow country. Put the mountain bike back in the corner, get the road bike spinning, and wait for the snow to melt.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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