Sat, Jun 16, 2007 - Page 16 News List

Mountain bikers carve out dream terrain

Not far from the biking mecca of Moab, Utah, off-road enthusiasts have created a spectacular network of trails among the mesas near Fruita, Colorado

By Abrahm Lustgarten  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , FRUITA, COLORADO

The main attraction, though, is Fruita's several hundred kilometers of single-track trails.

They are grouped in three stylistically distinct areas. The smooth blade-like tracks and dirt mounds are at 18 Road. The Kokopelli trailhead, which eventually leads all the way to Moab, offers a dozen or so classic and difficult desert rides like Mary's Loop and Horsethief Bench on wide swaths of bright red stone, often with ledges overlooking the Colorado's chocolate currents.

And near Grand Junction, the Tabeguache area, also coined Lunch Loops, offers a mountainous combination of steep climbs, rocky washes and some of the most expansive slickrock riding outside of Moab.

One evening, I joined a group heading out for an ambitious descent of a Lunch Loops trail called the Ribbon. Damian Calvert, a wiry, energy-charged athlete from Albuquerque, New Mexico, was vacationing with four friends, including David Velez, who had come all the way from Roswell, Georgia, and had never been out West. They were hungry for trail.

"This won't take long at all," Calvert said. "I mean, it's all downhill."

We arrived in the Lunch Loops parking lot, a few kilometers outside Grand Junction, about two hours before sundown. Temperatures had reached 32oC, but as the sun went down a breeze picked up, and the red desert sandstone began to discharge its heat.

"You all might want to bring headlights if you're going up there," said a ragged, sweat-soaked biker in the lot. The Ribbon, starting 610m above us, is one of the original Fruita-area trails, and a classic. But on the Ribbon, unlike the paths at 18 Road and Kokopelli, such tourist-coddling accouterments as trail markers were never added.

Another biker drew us a map in the parking lot's dirt. "Stay to the right," he advised, stabbing a finger at an ambiguous shape that could represent a slickrock section of 12m, or 120m. Heading down the wrong drainage could leave you standing at the rim of a hanging valley with a long walk back up, he warned us. "Over here, it's all drop-offs. You ride off of that and you're finished." Calvert just grinned.

A bit later, riding fast in a tight group, we burst out of the brush and onto an expanse of sloping rock 90m across, pitched at a 30-degree angle. The sun's rays, now horizontal, glinted off our rims and theatrically lighted one edge of the rock, a white line drawn across the orange landscape.

This was the sandstone ridge we had heard so much about. On either side, the stone expanse gave way to airy drops of perhaps 30m to dirt-filled gullies below. We cruised along at 64kph as the platform narrowed to a 3m-wide tongue, then we slowed to a crawl to ease our bikes over a still-steeper bulge. Somehow the soft rubber of our tires stuck to it like glue.

From there, the trail earned its name, unfurling like a ribbon draped over the back of a chair and left to cascade all the way down to the floor. We dropped through creekbeds, climbed over ridges, shot across stretches of open sandstone that shoehorned down into the valley.

In the twilight afterglow, we rested. "Look at it," Velez said. "I've never seen a place like this."

Above us, red and orange rock swirled like flames in towering mushroom-like forms. Beyond them, the canyons and towers of the Colorado National Monument loomed shadowy in the distance.

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