Grand Junction, Fruita, Kokopelli Trail, & MoabBy Alex Lepert, Shop Manager
This fall I packed up the car and headed west for a week of mountain biking and tent camping along the Kokopelli Trail. Kokopelli’s Trail is a 142 mile multi-use trail from Loma, CO to Moab, UT. The trail consists of a variety of terrain from rocky singletrack, to sandy jeep roads. The ride starts at around 4500 feet and climbs up over the La Sal mountain range at almost 9000. The trail has a total elevation gain of 18000 feet. At each end of the trail are two towns that are some of the biggest names in Mountain Biking; Fruita, Colorado and Moab, Utah. Our trip was October 27- November 1.
My original plan was to load up the car with my girlfriend Alex in Plattsmouth, NE and drive the 535 miles to Denver, CO. In Denver I would meet up with my brother Elliott, and drive the next 250 miles west to Fruita, CO. Originally we planned to camp the first night and start the Kokopelli Trail the next morning. One person would drive the car to the next campsite, while the other two rode the trail. The first day we planned to ride 43 miles from Loma, CO to the Whitewater ranger station on the banks of the Colorado River. The Second day we planned to ride 52 miles from Whitewater to Fisher Valley. On our third day we were going to ride 48 miles from Fisher Valley, up to 8700 feet in the La Sals, and then back down to Moab, UT. Our fourth day was reserved for riding all the famous trails around Moab.
Unfortunately this is not how the trip played out. After we picked up my brother in Denver, we had a flat tire. We also found out that my spare had been plugged before and was probably not any good. We ended up spending a night in Rifle, CO, about 80 miles from the start of the Kokopelli Trail.
The next morning, I got up early to find some new tires. The Wal-Mart in Rifle was the only show in town for tires, but they only had 2 tires that were the correct size. My vehicle is a 2002 BMW X5 (see gear) and is All Wheel Drive. On an all wheel drive vehicle, all 4 tires have to be within a certain size spec to prevent damage from the drive line. To prevent damage to my car I decided to replace all 4 tires. Since Rifle only had 2 tires, the next closest place to get tires was Grand Junction, 60 miles down the road. I had them mount 2 new tires in Rifle, and limped to Grand Junction to get 2 more.
By this time, there would be no possible way to start down the Kokopelli and get to where we needed to be by nightfall. Since we built in that extra day for Moab trails at the end of the trip, we decided to spend the rest of our short day riding trails around Fruita.
After some advice from Over the Edge Sports in Fruita, CO, we decided to spend the rest of our afternoon riding the area known locally as 18 Road. 18 Road is an area of singeltrack trails at the base of the Book Cliffs north of Fruita. The trail system is laid out in a series of uphill designed trails and downhill trails.
From the parking lot we rode up Prime Cut, a great winding climb, and worked our way along the base of the cliffs to Zippety Doo Daa. Zippety runs down a series of ridges back to the parking lot. This was one of the best trails I have ever been on.The ridge riding was a bit unnerving. On some sections you are on a 24″ wide tread with a 70 degree slope on either side that goes down about 300 feet. One mistake here would result in some pretty serious injury. After the shock of the ridge wears off, you can fly across the top of the ridge and enjoy the spectacular views of the whole Colorado River valley. The trail had plenty of short, steep climbs and other technical challenges that made it one of the more exciting trails.
On our second lap we went up Prime Cut again to Joe’s Ridge, which is a shorter, less intense version of Zippety. At the bottom of Joe’s we went to Kessel Run.
Kessel Run is a moderately sloped trail down a small drainage. The cool thing about this trail is that there are like 200 turns that run from one side of the drainage to the other. This allows you to keep great speed and have a huge grin all the way back to the parking lot. I would have loved to spend more time here, but the days are short at the end of October, and I wasn’t comfortable riding in the dark.
Kokopelli Day 1
After waking up to very cold temperatures and ice on the tent on our second day we finally got started on Kokopelli’s Trail. The trail starts just off I-70 at the Loma exit at the Loma Loops trail area. The Loma Loops area is only about 13 miles but took us almost 4 hours to navigate. It is one of the best single-track trail zones in the region. It is also very technically demanding.
The first trail Elliott and I started down was Mary’s Loop. Mary’s is mostly a rocky doubletrack rim ride that overlooks the Colorado River. This trail was very fast, and had great technical challenges.
It was only a warm up for things to come though. From Mary’s we hit Lion’s loop, which was an uphill climb through some rock fields right along the River. This was a very tricky section with lots of exposure. After Lion’s we made our way to Troy Built, a rocky decent full of exposure and tight switchbacks. Troy Built took us to the end of the Loma Loops section and we headed on to the rest of Kokopelli’s trial.
After we left the Loma Loops area we noticed quickly that this trail was traveled a lot less than what we were on earlier that morning. After a long hike-a-bike section, we left the single-track sections behind and headed for Rabbit Valley along some Jeep roads. We meet up with our driver in Rabbit Valley for lunch and to catch the score of the Husker game.
After Lunch our goal was to ride from Rabbit Valley to Westwater, another 30 miles along jeep roads. This section was not as technical as the Loma Loops, but was very pretty. It had some great downhils and manageable climbs. The only section that was not ride-able was a steep 400 ft climb to the top of Westwater Mesa. Once on top of the Mesa, it was almost all downhill to Westwater.
Kokopelli Day 2
Westwater was a beautiful place to camp. It sits right along the banks of the Colorado, surrounded by huge Cottonwood trees. Unfortunately this time of year, it got very cold and the days were much shorter than we anticipated. It quickly became obvious that the miles we had planned for today would take longer than expected. In order to get the most out of the trip, we decided skip some sections of the trail and ride the exciting ones.
For day 2 we caught the trail again at Fish Ford and rode through the Yellow Jacket Canyon to Dewey Bridge. This route was only about 28 miles, but gave us more freedom to explore around in the car and see some areas that we would not have had time to get to on the bikes.
This was also my day to drive the car, so I took a nap and read a book while I waited for Elliott and Alex to reach the car. After lunch I did park the car and ride back into Yellow Jacket Canyon to meet the other two and explore on my own.
Kokopelli Day 3
Our day 3 plan was much different than our original one. We ended up camping at Bull Draw and shuttling the paved road up the La Sal mountain range. The plan was for Alex and I to quickly ride the 20 miles all downhill back to Moab after riding the short single-track sections of Upper Porcupine Rim, and cruise down Sand Flats Road to the World Famous Slickrock Trail parking lot before lunch. The rest of the afternoon was to be the three of us riding the local trails.
Shortly after Elliott left us at the top of the world on La Sal Mountain road, we quickly realized that today would not be so easy. The night before the high mountains had received rain and snow. The rain combined with the red adobe soil of the area makes a cement like substance. This stuff gets stuck to your bike and doesn’t let go. It clogs up your wheels and makes it absolutely impossible to roll. For the first 4 miles of the day Alex and I made very slow progress stopping every hundred feet to clean out our bikes with sticks we found on the side of the trail.
After we got down the mountain a little the mud started to disappear. We found the Upper Porcupine Rim trail and really started cooking. This trail is at the top of a 2000 ft cliff overlooking the Castleton Valley. It had really great flow, being almost all downhill. The trail was a mix of tight, twisty dirt track with big rock slabs.
There were sections of trail that were about a foot from the cliff edge. From UPRs we found Lower Porcupine Rim trail and rode that for a while until we found the turn off for Sand Flats Rd. We then took Sandflats road all the way back to the Slickrock Trail parking lot which was quite boring but had great views.
After a long cruise down Sand Flats Rd. we made it back to the Slickrock Trail lot around 3 with enough time to ride the short 3 mile practice loop before loading up the car and heading back to Denver. The trail was unlike anything I have ever ridden before. It was 100% rock. Slickrock is basically a series of petrified sand dunes that are very steep, but very grippy. I would recommend this trail just to experience it, but there are better trails in the area.
My Bike: 2007 Gary Fisher HiFi Deluxe. SRAM X.0 drive train with Truvativ Nior Cranks. Bontrager XR 2 Team Issue, 2.0×26 Tubeless
Alex’s Bike: 2011 Trek X-Caliber Stock, Tubeless
Elliott’s Bike: 2009 Gary Fisher X-Caliber, X-9 shifters and an ihome2go ipod dock, Tubeless
Tent: Sierra Designs Lightning XT4
Other things that I would not be without. Camelbak M.U.L.E backpack, Topeak Alien 2 multitool, Topeak mountain morph pump.