Last year’s Ultimate Spring Break Mountain Bike Vacation was so successful, Miniskibum and I decided this year we’d make like Hollywood and do a sequel. Of course, sequels are never as good as the original and, given the near-perfection of last year’s trip, we had no illusions about being able to recapture the magic. Would this be a second straight Oscar-winning vacation a la The Godfather 2 or would we fall flat like Caddyshack 2, Blues Brothers 2000, and so many other failed attempts to recreate success?
Unlike last year, when we were able to time our trip and destination with my wife’s family visit in Arizona, there was no opportunity for overlap. The drawback here is spending over a week away from the Mrs., but the upside was now being able to choose a different destination. So, rather than repeat Arizona 2013, we scoped out a path across Southern Utah, with 12 rides in 5 destinations over the 9-day period. A remaining family requirement would prevent us from using the full 10 days of Miniskibum’s spring break like we did in ’13, so we were already “degrading” the experience from our baseline. Nonetheless, the trails planned looked excellent, and Miniskibum is now fully competent to handle anything thrown at him, so off we set, full of high hopes and great expectations.
Our first stop would be Green River. Green River, Utah, is little more than a wide spot along I-70. Find a map of “Nowhere” and look in the middle of it, and that’s Green River. The official population is just under 1,000, but it seems like less; the place looks… well… pretty deserted. The few buildings in town are spread out, and many of them are empty and look like they have been so for some time. Dining and lodging options are severely limited. Being scarcely an hour from Moab means they don’t even get much of the tourist traffic, despite having a pretty good set of venues in their own right. Green River is the natural base camp for many an excursion into the unique geographical region known as the San Rafael Swell, a magnificent uplift of rock which has been carved into by the forces of nature for the last 40 million years.
Our first ride for the trip would be a new addition to the Singletracks database, a primarily ATV route called “Devil’s Racetrack,” named for the canyon it parallels. Just getting to the trailhead would prove to be interesting. While the trailhead is only a mile from I-70, it takes over 10 miles of rugged dirt road to get there. The dirt road parallels the interstate for the first few miles, then veers south for a while, and one must then keep making right turns on increasingly rugged and narrow paths, used mostly by ATVs, before crossing back under I-70! Why couldn’t they just put an offramp here? And that crossing under the interstate is very low—too low if you’re carrying bikes on the roof. Parking is available before the underpass or, if you can keep driving, the road has now deteriorated into sandy doubletrack. A couple more sketchy turns delivers you to Dutchman’s Arch, the start of the ride.
So, you’ve got 10 miles of bad road to get to an ATV doubletrack in the middle of nowhere—why would anyone bring a mountain bike here? Because it’s an exceptional ride, that’s why! If you want a Porcupine Rim-like experience all to yourself, this is your best shot. The trail is not without its difficulties, but they are all so very well worth it. The first mile is mostly bottomless sand, then there’s a stiff, often technical climb. Then comes the reward. After bearing right and starting the descent–Bam! There it is, right in your face, The Devil’s Racetrack, an awesome canyon reaching deep into the San Rafael Swell. The magnitude of the canyon and its sudden appearance are exquisite.
At this point, the trail begins dropping rapidly and on mostly technical terrain. There are uncountable ledges and seemingly endless opportunities for air. The next two miles of this trail are as good as you’ll find anywhere, as you bomb down obstacle after obstacle, always with the magnificent scenery to distract you. In addition to the Racetrack, there are natural rock geologic wonders all around. The stark beauty of this landscape rivals anything in the Southwest. Of course, we knew we’d have to reclimb all that steep, technical terrain on the way back, but it was a small price to pay, and we could tell that there were opportunities to recover between stretches of maximum exertion. The climb would be almost as fun as the descent.
After a few miles of techy bliss, the trail turned to buttery smooth, flowy doubletrack through the various rock formations and then…
While riding the flowy stuff a couple miles after the gnar, I felt and heard my knobs rubbing a chainstay. I’ve been through this before—a broken spoke sending a wheel so far out of true that it wobbles far enough to the side to rub. No problem, I was carrying spare spokes and could do trailside repair if necessary. However, upon inspection, I could find no broken, or even loose spokes. I remounted and set out again, only to achieve the same result. Looking down from the saddle, I could clearly see the tire rubbing against the swingarm on the right side of the bike. I dismounted again and began another, more thorough inspection.
Upon sliding my lizard skin back, I could see the swingarm had sheared vertically. Here it is, the biggest honkin’ piece of metal on a long-travel all mountain bike, and it had snapped like a cheap cracker! So we shortened our ride a few miles and began the trek out, Miniskibum in the saddle and me on foot, six miles back to the van. Having broken the frame on my Yeti 575 a couple years ago and my Yeti Seven here, every footstep on the return journey increased the probability that my love affair with Yeti was probably coming to an end.
Fortunately, I had brought a spare bike on this trip! The Yeti 5 Carbon was waiting in the van (would have rather had the Seven for this gnar), so we spent some time fooling around on the rock formation there, including riding across Dutchman’s Arch, before heading back into town. Despite my broken bike, I had a wonderful experience on this trail and would gladly return. Miniskibum was even more effusive with his praise, recommending we scrap the next day’s ride and return here for round two!
Physical difficulty of our route: 3.5/5
Technical difficulty of our route: 4.5/5
Skibum’s grade: 4/5 stars
Miniskibum’s grade: 5/5 stars!
The next day would take us to a ride even more remote, the Good Water Rim Trail. Despite it’s even-more-in-the-middle-of-nowhere location, this is a highly-regarded ride due to a combination of excellent singletrack and way-beyond-excellent scenery.
The drive from Green River included many miles of remote and very rugged dirt road. Upon our exit to the west, we found the road much more reasonable. I definitely recommend making the approach from the west if you can.
On the trail, we rode close to 22 miles, at least 16 of it hugging the edge of the Good Water Canyon. The canyon has countless inlets, and the trails squiggles along the edge along each and every one of them. Around every corner is a new and unique vista, all served up on relatively-flat, mostly novice-friendly singletrack, with a few intermediate moves.
Despite the high mileage, the lack of elevation change and relatively easy singletrack make this a pretty quick and less taxing ride. At the head of some of the inlets are nearby campsites with trails to the Good Water Rim, so there are bail out points along the way for those not up to the full ride.
While Miniskibum and I were glad to have done the whole route, I doubt we’d do it again. While most people who’ve ridden it rave about it, after about the halfway point, we started to find it a bit monotonous. That singletrack, which is so wonderful to begin with, lacks variety, and after about 8 miles of the same-ol’-same-ol’ , we were definitely ready for a change. We actually reached a point of wondering “When will it end?” Believe it or not, we were glad to hit the dirt road for the six-mile journey to close the loop, just to mix it up a bit! But that’s just us—if you’ve got a longer attention span than we do and appreciate quality singletrack with stunning views around every corner, then you’ll likely join the vast majority who positively gush about this trail, and it’d be well-worth your making a trip here.
Physical difficulty of our route: 2.5/5
Technical difficulty of our route: 2/5
Skibum’s grade: 3.5/5 stars
Miniskibum’s grade: 2.5/5 stars
Our two days in Green River were a smashing success (literally speaking, with regard to “smashing” my big bike), and we looked forward to day three as we traversed the state for its southwest corner. Next up: Cool Cedar City and Stunning St. George.
Those views at Goodwater Canyon look incredible. Despite the low rating I think I’ll still add this one to my wishlist for the scenery alone!
Love the arch photo! I want to ride that!
Jealousy factor: 9/10. Great article John…it makes me plan things in my head for when my son is going to be old enough to take a trip like that with me. Of course, I may be using a walker by then, but hey, where there’s a hill there’s a way.
Keep chugging, there Delph! If junior takes to riding, he’ll make a great riding partner.
Just be ready:
When I started taking my son out, I loved it, but it was really good father/son time, not really great riding time as he was limited both physically and technically.
Nowadays, I’m the limiting factor. It’s great riding together, but there are definitely times I’m holding him back.
The period inbetween, when we were perfectly matched, was far too brief!
(my girls did the same thing to me with skiing)
That’s awesome that you and your son have such adventures. My oldest is 4 and rides local trails with me, but as bad as I’d love to take him to Moab next week, he just wouldn’t be able to do many things yet. In time, makes me stoked for the future. Also, I feel you on the lower rocker …last summer when I got after it on the Ozarks and Ouchita mountains, I discovered a crack along my weld after an inspection and wash. That ruined the rest of my riding in 2 other states, and I had to wait to get back Omaha to get it fixed. This time, I’m bringing the cheap fatty as a back up. lol
Being able to ride with my son has been fantastic. For some it’s fishing or baseball, but for us, fat tire fun has been the ticket. The only real problem is that it didn’t take long from the time he got to where he could keep up with me, until the time when I could no longer keep up with him!