Mountain Biking Sand Canyon

Today’s Post by Ken MacAdams

On a previous post, I wrote about mountain biking among the conifers in the high country, northeast of Cortez, CO. The following day, I switched gears and headed to a trail 25 miles west, located in an area called McElmo Canyon. While slightly lower in elevation than Boggy Draw, it’s in the red rock country unique to this part of the Southwest. This ride was up a spectacular canyon called Sand Canyon.

Today’s ride was night and day different from the trail and terrain of the Boggy Draw ride. Rainfall is scarce and vegetation is comprised mainly of scrub cedar and juniper trees, cactus, and sagebrush. Abundant sunshine causes the red rock and sandstone to radiate heat. In the summer, it’s a harsh environment and would be a test of my stamina! As I began riding out from the parking lot, the first 1/8 mile is an uphill climb on slickrock and at about an 8% grade! Seems as though Mother Nature was hard at work here perfecting the concept “rough”, which gave me a greater appreciation for a full suspension mountain bike! It was granny gear, heart pounding, leg muscle burn steep, right from the get go!

Once past the initial climb, the trail levels off to a nominal 5% grade, becoming dirt interspersed with rock. I’m acclimated to riding at 5000 ft. above sea level so my heart rate and breathing quickly stabilized. About a mile further on the trail levels out, allowing me to lift my eyes and to take in the magnificent vistas, cliffs, drop-offs and valleys around me. Wind and water erosion over the years has left unique rock formations behind. From a distance, some rock surfaces looked like icing dripping down the side of a cake – frozen there from the beginning of time! The rock wall colors ranged from light creme, to brown, to deep ocher, all laminated together in layer-cake fashion. On previous rides, I’d carved this trail at greater speed, but today, I wanted to appreciate the views. Image 5868 Icing Rock (what I call it, not the official name!)

Thousands of years ago, others wandered these canyons – we know, because of what they left behind. Scattered throughout the canyon are many examples of Anasazi dwellings, or cliff houses, tenaciously clinging to the canyon walls bordering the trail. These Puebloan archaeological sites nestle beneath rocky overhangs which would have given the occupants some protection from the elements. To ride or hike this canyon trail without lifting your eyes, means overlooking these marvels, almost camouflaged in the rock!  

High temperatures are the norm here during the summer, so I had planned ahead, carrying ample water. Though I’d started early, by mid-day the mercury was fast approaching the triple digit range! I knew it was time to head back to civilization. All the uphill elevation gains I had struggled and sweated to achieve, turned out to be my friend as I descended five miles back to the trailhead.

Reflecting back on the solitude miles of my ride, was it the ghost of years past that gently blew by me as I snaked between the junipers? I’ll never know, but as in my previous visits, I came away with a very memorable ride – this time with many sites recorded digitally!

All images taken with Panasonic Lumix G85 with Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4 ASPH. POWER O.I.S. Lens