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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)


This desert is vast, and ancient. Both of these scales boggle the mind. The essential hugeness of this place plays tricks with your senses. If you stop and sit and gaze at this landscape, you soon realize that it is even more huge than you thought. And it is old, so very old. This is not a landscape that can be glanced at and understood, which is why seeing it from a bicycle is so satisfying.

In early May I joined Mike and Maggie, proprietors of Magpie Adventures for a three-day tour of the White Rim Road in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. The White Rim road is an 84 mile long double track jeep road that skirts the southern edge of the Island in the Sky district of the park, following the incised meanders of the Colorado and Green rivers. The road stays, for the most part, on the White Rim sandstone, which is an erosionally resistant dune sandstone that was laid down on the underwater side of an ocean shore some 260 million years ago.

I feel compelled to start out with some statements of intent. It has become something of a badge of honor to crank this ride out in a day. "White Rim in a day" has become a battle cry for the goal-oriented cyclist. In fact I hear nasty rumors of "two White Rims in a day." Whatever. I repeat, whatever. After having done a White Rim in three days, I want my next trip to be five days. Or seven. It is simply too amazing, too beautiful, and too mind boggling to rush through. You could do Cincinnati in a day. This area deserves to be lingered over. Savored. Processed.

I have a friend who drives this route on occasion. He mocked me for replacing a derailleur cable prior to the trip. "You won't be shifting much." He told me. "You won't be shifting much…"

Finally, this is not singletrack. There is a fetish in the mountain bike community for singletrack. With particularly choice bits of singletrack being bestowed with coveted laudatory terms such as "buff" "ripping" and "choice" I have been lucky enough to ride a lot of really great singletrack. This ride is different but by no means pedestrian. Maggie put it all into perspective on the third day when we were tooling along an undulating section of doubletrack and she said "This is one of my favorite parts about this ride, rolling Ponch and Jon with a friend." Yes. That's it. Cruising, enjoying the sights. Being there.

So here I am, caught in the middle ground between the aggressive ambition of blazing through the White Rim in less than a day and driving through it in a truck. Epic singletrack and "boring" jeep road. Middle ground…unresolved territory. This seemed just about right.

One last observation. Harry, one of the folks on the trip, was making apologies for his aged mountain bike. "But you know what" I said, "It's here."

Mike and Maggie have been guiding for years. A couple of years back they started their own concern, Magpie Adventures. They have a national park concession, which is a fiendishly complicated set of permissions to obtain. Between them they have probably done 200 or so laps of the road, and their experience and knowledge of the area shines through.

We met up at Poison Spider Bicycles on a Monday evening for a pre-trip meeting. I had gone into work that morning and left Golden at about noon, which rolled me into the parking lot of Poison Spider in Moab at about 5:10. Not too bad. We had a brief meet and greet, went over the route, and discussed logistics. Then I headed up Sand Flats road to crank out a quick loop on the Slickrock Trail at sunset, and find a flat place to set up my cot for the night.

The next day, after a hearty breakfast at the Jailhouse Café, we met up to shuttle out to the beginning of the trail.

I'm going to resist the urge to quantify and explain every moment of the trip. I took a lot of photos, so I'll let those do the talking and interject when necessary. The route was clockwise through the park.


Mike and Maggie, our little group leaders. That's Patches the faithful truck there as well.



Maggie, telling it like it is.







You can see a sliver of White Rim down there, just to the left of the road on the canyon's edge.



Rolling down the Shafer Trail.

This is the initial descent onto the White Rim from the Island in the Sky. This 1000 foot drop takes you off of the Wingate and Kayenta Sandstone formations and down 70 million years of geologic history to the Paleozoic Era and the White Rim Sandstone. Thrilling stuff indeed. I guess that is part of the lure of this landscape, so many millions of years of our earth's history are laid bare by the forces of erosion and incision, upheaval and collapse. In comparison, we are so temporary, so fleeting. And we blithely blunder through it, on bikes, in jeeps, or on foot.As Bruce Cockburn said,

"We're the insect life of paradise:
Crawl across leaf or among towering blades of grass
Glimpse only sometimes the amazing breadth of heaven."

 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·










Safely at the bottom of the hill, we now commenced the White Rim Road proper, pleasant cruising along canyon's edge. You know, the "boring jeep road". It's probably not even worth looking at the rest of these pictures. Move along, nothing to see here.





 

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At Lathrop Canyon we stopped for lunch. Mike and Maggie put out a fantastic spread, organic food whenever possible, and plenty of it. Tapenade, Hummus, sandwich fixin's. Good living, that.







Mind the gap.



We arrived at our camp for the night, Gooseberry. More amazing food was prepared:



Salmon Slabs and…



Dutch Oven Cake. Nope too late, Maggie and Mike have already promised to adopt me.

We slept the sleep of the just. Somewhere in the middle of the night I woke up and gazed up at the stars. For whatever reason, the stars in Utah always seem mind-bendingly amazing. I was in the Sahara desert earlier this year, and made a point of doing some star gazing there. Yes, they were amazing there too, but Utah seems to be just a tad more intense.

The next morning we woke up, breakfasted like kings on French toast and fruit, and saddled up for the day's ride. Today we were riding along the southern section of the White Rim, a 25 mile cruise from Gooseberry to Candlestick. There were some sotto voce comments about a "little bit of a climb" at the Murphy Hogback, but I wasn't gonna be shifting much, right?





I don't mean to whine, honestly, I don't. But I was starting to get a wee bit tired. The process for taking these photos is to load myself down with many pounds of photographic equipment, along with the usual riding gear, and sprint ahead of the group to scope out and set up a photo (which often means getting off of the road or trail a ways, which in the desert means finding a non crust-busting route), pull out the camera, adjust for light conditions, snap a few pics, stow everything, hop back on the bike, SPRINT to catch up and pass the group, and do the whole thing over again. I've been traveling through this part of the country since I was a small child, which is helpful because I have developed some sort of instinct for how the landscape is likely to unfold and what might be a likely shot.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·


There's a rider in there somewhere...





It fell into a very comfortable simplicity. You ride, you see, you talk about it. The group would ebb and flow around me so there was a constant shifting of people to talk to, or long meditative stretches spent alone. These were nice in their own way because I could settle into a cadence, feel my body working and turn my brain off for a little while.



Ah yes, the Murphy Hogback climb.



A wider view.



The view from the top. Patches is down there somewhere... Where's Waldo?





Once atop the hogback, we set up chairs in the shade and had another lunch that couldn't be beat.



And then it was blissful descent. I see 5 White Rims in the above photo....

 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·






A profile portrait of the White Rim. It gets quite thick here.





Mmmmyes, Black Crack. Looks fairly innocuous, eh? It is about 3 feet wide, and 65 feet deep. That along with the gusty winds that decided to kick up right then made for some nerve-wracking picture taking.



Perhaps my imagination is overactive, but as I stood astride this gaping chasm I had a pretty vivid mental image of what would happen to my body as it tumbled and clattered down into the void, and the abrupt, wedgy stop at the end.

OK, enough of that, let's expand our view a bit.



Ah, better. Evening's light from Candlestick.

Another great meal (buffalo burritos, with grilled veggies and fresh salsa) More stars, sleep of the just. And blueberry pancakes for breakfast.

The next and final day started with brief warmup before a nice little side excursion into a slot canyon in Holeman Spring Basin.





 

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Azurite embedded in the walls.



Cross-Bedding. Yes Virginia, there is climate change.



That's a freakishly huge drop.



I'm still in therapy from taking this photo....



Now here's an interesting side trip into the slot canyons of the human mind. I'm riding along and I see a big yellow bull snake in the road. So I stop and take some photos, thinking others will see the snake too. But everyone rode right by. No one else noticed it. I have a theory:

Supposedly when Christopher Columbus' ships popped up over the horizon, the Native Americans didn't see them because they simply did not have a mental construct that included ocean going vessels. I'm not sure if I believe that, but if we accept the basis of that hypothesis, I submit that this snake may have registered in the brains of my fellow riders, but no one wanted to see it, so it wasn't seen. I rolled up to the next stop, halfway convinced that maybe there was no snake at all and I was the one hallucinating. But there it was, preserved in digital memory. One of the girls jumped back several feet from the camera when I showed her the picture of her next to the snake.









The Hardscrabble climb, with the Cleric's Pride in the background.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·


This pic sort of reminds me of this picture taken halfway around the world.



We are nearing trip's end here. The final climb up out of the White Rim and back on top of the Kayenta Sandstone weighed somewhat heavily on our minds.







A granary near Hardscrabble Bottom.



A little desert friend. He is but a tot.



And here we are. For those of you who have been keeping notes, the red color of the rocks should be an obvious clue that we have reached the climb up through the Kayenta Formation.







At the top.



And (of course) one final lunch that couldn't be beat.

And there it is. The White Rim. It was amazing, beautiful and quite satisfying. This was a fantastic trip and if anyone out there has any interest in doing a similar trip, I encourage them to give Mike and Maggie a ring.

https://www.magpieadventures.com/
 

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Fantastic pics and narrative! Takes me back almost 10 years to when I was last there......really need to get out there again!
 

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Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, you go and raise the bar on your already spectacular work. Mind bendingly awesome report, A, thanks for posting.
 
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