Late summer gravel shot from the bike in Northern Colorado.
A small set of images from a recent sunset ride. Just for fun.
Desert riding season arrives as quickly as it is whisked away by the hot winds of summer. Trip planning and packing in this micro season is always delightfully frenzied and urgent. Preparation for this trip began in exactly such a fashion during a wet spring blizzard sitting behind the sewing machine. The plan: an overnight bikepacking trip into Moab's Cane Creek Canyon. The complication: The construction of a pair of frame bags to house our gear for the tour. The next level of delightful frenzy to be sure. Fortunately wet heavy spring snow is a productivity aid for all things indoors and necessity is the mother of innovation or something like that.
With the gear creation part of the equation complete all that stood in our way was the post-work gas burn over the mountains and out to the Desert. Mercifully, on this particular evening the spirits of the road had our backs and fair winds had us falling asleep to coyote song out in the big empty Desert after a mere six hours of contemplating the center line. Sleep, then time to ride.
The next morning there were rumors of rain and generally finicky spring weather moving in over canyon country. But rumors are rumors and you don't dare stop trip momentum once it has reached velocity. Saddling the rigs with 24 hours worth of sundries we couldn't help but notice the grey wall of precip starting to obscure downtown Moab's red rock sentinels as it drifted our way.
The cell unleashed just as we had lashed the last bag in place. Nothing to do but retreat to the back of the truck and watch our bikes and gear get washed clean by the heavens. An auspicious beginning but nothing more than a fleeting desert squall. We hoped. As the rain pelted the truck roof noisily I reflected on the reaction of the visitor center staffer to our intended route: " You don't want to go up there. It's going to be a mess with all this mud. I'd head out toward Chicken Corners." Nope. No Chicken Corners for us.
As the patter on the roof slowed we pulled on rain gear, locked the truck and pedaled our laden and water logged rigs out on to the main drag of 191 toward the mouth of the canyon. All the while visions of drivetrain clogging mud danced in our heads. At this point the tail end of the cell was passing over pelting us with intense bands of rain and wind followed by tantalizing interludes of blue and the desert sun we had ventured out of winter to find.
By the time we reached dirt the sun had won out and things were drying quickly as they do in this part of the world. As we pealed off of the main dirt road and onto the double track of the canyon proper it became apparent that the bulk of our route would be on sand nicely compacted by the rain and the mud monster would be more cosmetic than halting. By now our entire outfit was completely covered in earthy red mud. We had joined the desert.
Peddling south we watched as the storm moved up canyon darkening the horizon and filling the creek next to us with a brown silty flow the color of chocolate milk ;The tenuous flow that would enable our overnight presence in this arid land.
With the improving weather the whine of gas powered engines begin to ring through the canyon. Other users enjoying their public land. We instinctively peddled away from the racket branching off on a narrow track on the west side of the creek seemingly taking us away from the main route of the gas powered crowed. As we moved deeper into the canyon it became increasingly apparent that our biggest challenge in locating a nice place to camp for the evening would be finding somewhere the cows had not been. Dried cow pies were distributed in a seemingly systematic maner across the desert floor as far as we could see. With daylight beginning to run low and energy even lower we decided to gamble and follow some lone bovine tracks up out of the sandy lowlands adjacent the creek and on to a rock shelf just above.
Our faith in this lone cow paid off and we pushed our bikes into a perfect campsite overlooking the wash just as the light began to soften into the hombre hue of desert evening. A few marks of the heard remained but this spot had been visited by far fewer cows than the flood plain below.
Our home for the night sat at the boarder line running through this valley. Below us the heavily used canyon corridor scarred by vehicle tracks, litter and the impacts of cattle. Land pulled in too many directions. Above and behind us a gentle slope leading up to the vertical untouched domain of the raven. No cow tracks through ancient cryptobiotic soils. Just the quiet desert quiet existing as it has for thousands of years without worry of 2 stroke engines and grazing rights. As the stove hissed warming dinner I felt fortunate to be sitting on this particular boarder watching the oncoming dusk. We belong on this side, in the impact zone, among the cow pies but being able to look across that boarder from time to time into another world all together is what it's all about.
Morning dawned clear and blue. To the sounds of the canyon waking up we broke camp and filled our water bags with a silty slurry of water and desert for the down hill run back to town. As we cruised out of the canyon playing on the sandy berms and rollers we marveled at the beauty of the canyon mouth, a zone we had only driven through in the past. The slow, open air perspective afforded by bike travel revealed the expanse of the sun lit spires above the road allowing us a final stare across that boarder just as our tires hit pavement blasting the red dirt of a night in the canyon up into the warming morning air.
Light snow drifts down through crimson sky settling on red rock fins, - A landscape utterly unnatural and in turmoil, engulfed by an eerie and complete silence. The silence of a world re-awakening after an extinction. End-times. No sound to be heard save for the lonely whistle of a light breeze. As the clouds part, harsh desert sun illuminates a half buried pouch of coyote brown hue. A tool that had clearly known adventure and been put to hard use in another time. Made for a purpose. Laying in the fine red dirt waiting for more. The nuclear silence is shattered by echo of boot on gravel. The sound of A desperate yet confident stride. A strong weathered hand reaches down and grasps the pouch picking it up with out hesitation, then charges on towards the horizon into the unknown of a world reborn.
• 500 denier Cordura body fabric
• YKK #5 zipper
• 1” tubular webbing pull tab
• No BS – Built to last
We have a sort of tradition of incorporating a run down to The Great Sand Dunes National Park into our string of annual spring desert trips. The pull of Utah was strong but with only a standard weekend available we decided the dunes would be a perfect first mission in the new truck - The White Buffalo.
I have had a long string of wonderful relationships with camper shelled Toyota trucks and have spent many a night spooning a wheel well with a bike pedal jabbing me in the back. Loading and exploring the Kestrel felt like poaching the hot tub at some fancy hotel. I kept thinking someone was going to kick me out.
With the white Buffalo loaded and the dog riding in the navigator seat we rolled down the hill to grab the lady. She was out the office door like the building was falling down behind her. With a major wildfire burning near the eastern section of hwy 285 and not wanting to add any unnecessary traffic to the area we opted for the dreaded run down I-25 during Friday rush hour. Surprisingly we made it to the Walsenburg turn before we knew it. The quiet of 160 as it runs out into the airy expanse of the San Louis Valley is always when the trip really feels like it has started with the chaos of the Front Range fading comfortably in the mirrors.
As we neared the turn for the dunes we began the usual game of wondering whether the Pinyon Flats campground would have an empty spot for us. Not likely. Sure enough upon pulling into the loop around 10:00pm we were greeted by a full house. Not to worry. Been here before. Off to the usual very un-secret, secret bivy spot. Now this is where we usually have to pull the bulk of the gear out of the back of the truck and spend a half sleeping night between the wheels with the dog sitting bolt up right on century duty. Not tonight. As we hopped into the Kestrel and popped the top we looked at each other with unbelieving expressions on our faces. Dirtbag nirvana.
We awoke early the next morning to blue skies and warm temps fully rested. Rule one of the very un-secret, secret bivy spot is immediately upon awaking erase all indications that you just spent the night. Top down. Done. We cruised the loop again and found a few open sites and snagged one on the side closest to the dunes with a nice view. After a little bacon cooking and coffee drinking it was off to play.
Our annual dune trip usually happens later in the spring so as a result we had never seen the seasonal Medano Creek flowing around the edge of the dunes. Apparently the creek had just started running a few days earlier. As it flows out of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains in spreads out in the sand at the foot of the dune field much like an estuary of a river at it’s meeting with the ocean. We decided to hike up the shallow creek around the edge of the dunes and away form the parking lot crowd syndrome. Miniature waves surged around our feet like a sort of tidal bore. We later learned these little surges are caused when pockets of water trapped in the sand burst. We followed the creek for quite a ways as it skirted along the edge of the sandy Medano Pass Primitive road still closed for the winter just a ways past the campground. Driving this road is on our list and hopefully will happen this fall. The burn area of the 2010 Medano Fire was still highly visible on the ridges above the road adding even more drama to this amazingly sparse and diverse landscape.
After hiking the dunes for a while and running down some steep sections making turns as if on skis trailed by a dog absolutely in her element we decided to call it a day head for camp. We lounged around for a while with some canned Sierra Nevada (still not used to the idea) before getting the fire going and cooking a gourmet dinner: read sausages cooked over burning pine. As usual the setting sun put on an amazing show of shadows and colors over the dunes before giving way a massively starry sky and a waxing half moon.
We awoke the next morning to a stiff breeze out of the south. Breaking camp took on a new speed with the camper and we were soon climbing up to the high dune to give the dog a good romp before heading up to Salida and then on home to boulder. This place truly is a dog paradise and her shear joy while charging up and down the dunes is infectious.
We have driven by Salida many times but have never explored the town and I have yet to explore their touted trail systems. We walked the old down town and soaked up some sun on the bank of the Arkansas. Back on the road we headed back to 285 and up north to 24 where we cut east back towards the Springs to explore this stretch of road we had never experienced. Trout Creek Pass offered up some amazing views of the Sawatch and Mosquito Ranges then dropped us down towards Manitou Springs for a quick glimpse of the back side of Pikes Peak before jumping into the swift current of north bound I-25. Returning home from points south through this part of the state always spawns many ideas for future trips and makes it hard to head home. So many possibilities down here.
All and all an awesome first trip with the new rig. We can’t wait to get her out again and start really getting the camper dialed in for our purposes. Step one – figure out how to carry bikes before heading out to Moab weekend after next. A wonderful problem to have. Keep em’ rolling…