May 15, 2016
Before you balk at my rating, I will add two important caveats: I drove here from downtown Denver (so distance is a factor in my rating) and I am a relatively experienced endurance MTB racer (e.g. I ride a ton of trails and rarely less than 30 miles).
On with the show.
Oil Well flats is a newer (or newly renamed) collection of trails outside of Cañon City. That much you know. Descriptions and general "social media" buzz make it sound like a collection of trails on par with those at Buffalo Creek, or (even) Fruita. Those folks either have not done significant riding in either of those areas or are liars...
I drove down on what turned out to be a nice day, and managed to ride all of the trails (save for the "Path of Least Resistance" connector), several of them multiple times. That includes, Fracture (up and down), Tectonic Shift (up and down), Anticline (upish... it is rolling up and down either way), Islands In The Sky (once, the suggested way making the "rock crawling" part the climb and riding the more flow heavy section down), Unconformity (some of it up and all of it down, twice), and Fire Canyon.
The trails were fun, but they were not at all what I was expecting. They were overly hyped... by a long shot.
Normally on days when the weather is a bit off in the Golden/Denver area and I'm loathe to do more road training, I drive to Buffalo Creek and do Nice Kitty, Little Scraggy, Shinglemill, Baldy, Charlies, Millers, Sandy, etc. Usually to the tune of 30-40 miles (repeating or doubling back at times), and I can ride all of that terrain, up and down, without putting a foot down. (Blackjack is another story, though I can clean a good bit of it, if I'm feeling sassy) I say this to compare and contrast the two. Coincidentally enough, last week I was in Fruita for a few days at the Bookcliffs (18 road), and had just made a stop at the new(er) Avon trails (Lee's Way Down, etc). I've ridden all over Colorado, all of the big classics, all over the Front Range, from the Cheyenne Canyon (Upper & Lower Jacks, Seven Falls, St Marys, Jones, The Chutes) and Palmer Park ares of Colorado Springs, to all about Rampart Range Road (the reservoir, etc), all over Golden, all over Boulder, Ft Collins, etc. I mention all of this because I am not being mean with my review of OWF.
The rating system is a bit bizarre. It seemed to indicate the overall "roughness" of a trail versus the actual technical difficulty. For example, Fracture (as a descent) is the closest to a "flowy" trail there. It features high banked turns, lots of built up rock drops as optional lines (I hit all of them, because "duh"), but it is fairly flat. There are no steep grades either up or down and this means lots of pedaling even with minimal braking. This trail is marked as a "green" trail, or beginner. Then you have "Island in the Sky" which has two pieces. The southernmost part (going right where Fire Canyon goes left), starts off gently enough, but soon you are riding over rather rough rock fields that seem to go on for some time. This isn't technical, not in a way I would use the term (e.g. requiring handling skills and courage), but rather sort of unrelenting. It reminds me of climbing Jeep roads. Thump. Thump. Thump. It requires some skill, but is really just rough. The second part, after climbing to the top, is more of a "flowy" descent, but compared to trails that are commonly described that way (say the Kessel Run in Fruita or Sandy Gulch in Buffalo Creek) it is not. It is, however, bereft of the loose boulders and rocks that are strewn about most of the trails at OWF. The descent, is actually less technical than that of Fracture (assuming you ride the northern most leg that way). You could ride it in reverse, but this would be a rough descent. Perhaps most likely enjoyed on full suspension plus sized bike, but even then... That trail is OWF's sole "black" or "advanced" trail.
I always enjoy long, steep, somewhat technical climbs and fast, flowing, descents. I found neither in the Oil Well Flats.
All of that said, I feel I should expand on what I liked about it.
Fracture was fun, probably the best trail here only because it had the most "flow." Anticline, Tectonic Shift, and Unconformity are different. While fun, they are not overly technical, nor are they very steep. The upper part of Unconformity is probably the second most enjoyable trail (subjectively, of course). It did have some rather sharp switch backs I only cleaned once (which require some nose manual pivots, and trials skills I don't always get to employ).
That said, I do not understand the rating system and I really would not chose this over Buffalo Creek or even a day trying to clean Templeton (in Palmer Park)... which is not really physically demanding in the way a long MTB day normally is.
If I lived in Cañon City, I would ride here all the time and my ratings would be different, I'm sure. But as it is, I found it to be short, not especially technical, and just not steep enough to be up my alley. If someone has told you it is remotely like Fruita or BC (two of my personal favorite places), they just haven't ever been to either or not ridden the trails most folks speak of when they refer to the two.
But all said, kudos to the Cañon City Crank Pedalers, the BLM, and LAMBA for building them. They are good trails, but they were not even close to what I expected and I would not recommend driving more than an hour to ride them.