Several hundred feet below us, red dust obscured our view of the helicopter. The whop-whop-whop of rotors whirling drowned out the sound of our conversation, and we all fell into a companionable silence. We didn’t mind the halted discussion about our ride plans—our mouths were consumed with burritos and beer.
At the far western edge of the mesa, there is an optional spur trail that heads to an overlook. Due to a parenthood-induced fear of heights, I resorted to crawling on my hands and knees to the edge. This led Blair, and several other mountain bikers, to poke fun at me, but didn’t cause me to stand up.
Despite riding on a Saturday, the trails were surprisingly uncrowded. At the overlook, however, a small group had formed. We chatted with a couple from Denver, a father/son team from Oregon, and several other out-of-state visitors. This geographic diversity made it clear that Gooseberry Mesa has become a bucket-list destination.
Leaving the overlook, things got a little rowdier. We were temporarily hesitant thanks to the bright pink “extreme” designation on the South Rim Trail. Despite the warning, there wasn’t anything that we couldn’t avoid or walk, if needed.
In several spots, we stopped to re-ride features and goof around. The Gooseberry Mesa trails invite this sort of playfulness. It’s the kind of place you come to play, not to hammer. That said, we were still exhausted by the end of our ride. Despite a near total lack of climbing, the technical nature of the riding and the exposure to copious amounts of sunshine were surprisingly grueling.
When we finally made it back to the yurt, 13 miles and a whopping 4 hours later, we were ready for beers and hot dogs. We roasted our weenies in an above-ground fire pit precariously close to the rim. Once again, I trapped my son in an iron grip while we chatted with our yurt neighbors—a trio of mountain bikers from Southern California. Like any good neighbors, we shared a couple brews, and our two groups told mountain bike stories until bedtime—which felt late but which was probably 8pm.
It’s this camaraderie among mountain bikers that has kept Kenny Jones, one of the owners of Gooseberry Yurts, from advertising on AirBNB or other vacation rental sites. “About 90% of our guests are mountain bikers,” explains Jones. “My partners and I are all mountain bikers and it has always been our goal to create a really cool accommodation for like-minded persons.”
During our visit, Jones was camped out with his van just down the dirt road. He was friendly, and his enthusiasm for “the Goose” and sharing the magic of the place with others was evident. He has recently installed a BLM-style pit toilet, and will eventually add an additional two yurts to the existing ones.
No doubt the new yurts will have plenty of demand from the mountain bike community—hardcore hammerheads and casual Saturday riders alike. While most of the trails on Gooseberry Mesa are quite advanced and technical, anybody with a bike can have fun here. On Sunday, I rode with my 60-year-old mom (who, let the record note, is no slouch but doesn’t love the techy stuff). She loved the “Practice Loop,” easily conquering features she wouldn’t normally ride. While we were out sessioning the slickrock, my husband took our toddler for a ride. It turns out even the balance bike crew digs sandstone.
As we were finishing up our Sunday ride, the sky began to turn dark. A few fat raindrops stained the yellow and red rock, and we scrambled to load the bikes on the car. The sky lit up with a flash of lightening, illuminating the walls of Zion. And just like that, we were barreling down the dirt road, outrunning a storm that would inevitably turn the road to impassible goop. It was an abrupt departure, but not a goodbye. Gooseberry Mesa is too good not to come back.
Plan a Visit to Gooseberry Mesa
The yurts rent for $100/night on weekdays and $120/night on weekends. There are bunk beds that sleep 6 adults, lanterns, a cook stove, outdoor solar shower, and a wood stove for heat. Reservations can be made on the Gooseberry Yurts website—just plan ahead, as weekend dates fill up quickly.
The BLM provides a great downloadable brochure with a trail map and driving directions to the mesa. As previously mentioned, Washington county has recently made improvements to the dirt road so you won’t have to fear the mud like we did.