Slickrock Bike Trail
The trail that made Moab the center of the mountain biking universe needs no introduction. Today, Slickrock is perhaps the most popular mountain bike trail in the world, boasting over 100,000 visitors per year. But did you know that the Slickrock Bike Trail was first developed by motorcyclists in 1969? They still use it periodically, but mountain bikers have long since adopted and dominated the trail.
The word "slickrock" was derived from early settlers whose metal-shod horses found the expanses of barren rock slick to cross. Mountain bikers find just the opposite is true because the naked sandstone is as "slick" as coarse sandpaper. This unique medium is a proving ground for many bike manufacturers because it allows a mountain bike to be ridden to its fullest expression. The traction between stone and tires can hold a bike at gravity defying angles, which can prove intimidating at first. But once mastered, or at least tolerated, the free-flowing nature of Slickrock might very well be the most fun you can have! Sections of the trail named "Faith in Friction," "Steep Creep," and "Baby Bottom Bowl" give colorful insight to the trail's demeanor.
As unique as the trail's surface, is the trail's paint-on-rock markers. The natural tendency is to stay glued to the white dashes and dots, but those who venture from the predetermined path will find both cheater routes and lines that require audacious maneuvers. But if you do depart from the marked trail, be sure to pedal only on rock and avoid the delicate gardens of desert plants that cling for survival in this harsh environment. Learn to recognize and avoid microbiotic soils. This brown-black lumpy crust is a vital community of lichen, algae, and fungi that forms on sand and "holds the place in place." One footprint or tire track can destroy decades of slow, hard-earned growth.
The need to focus on where to place your front tire often overshadows Slickrock's immediate and surrounding beauty. Wandering eyes will discover intricate features and shapes in the petrified sand dunes that comprise the trail. Pockets of sand-support tenacious shrubs and potholes behold a microcosm of life that awaits the next rainfall. The entire trail crosses an elevated platform of sandstone bound by cliffs cut by the Colorado River and its tributaries. There are many opportunities to peer into shadow-filled canyons, or gaze upon Arches National Park across the Colorado. Backdropping the bleak desert-like terrain is the anomalous alpine beauty of the La Sal Mountains on the eastern skyline. Flanked by dense forests and capped with barren summits that collect snow from fall through spring, the 12,000-foot tall La Sals provide a surreal backdrop to any Slickrock photo.
The Slickrock Bike Trail is only 12 miles long and can prove absolutely exasperating. Rarely do you leave your easiest gears and "spin" at an easy cadence. Inasmuch, bikers should allow 4 hours to ride the entire loop; more if side routes are explored. Carry more water than usual, because the warm, dry weather and physical exertion can cause dehydration quickly. First time "rockers" might consider following the 2.3 mile Practice Loop before tackling the entire trail. Although no less difficult than the real thing, the Practice Loop allows you to get a feel for the trail without venturing too far from the trailhead. You must pay a small fee to enter the Sand Flats Recreation Area, which includes the Slickrock Bike Trail, whether you drive or ride to the trailhead. This "Pay to Play" policy is a proactive means to protect and rehabilitate the delicate ecosystem that has been impacted upon over the years.
By Gregg Bromka, author of The Mountain Biker's Guide to Utah.
Additional information on the Slickrock bike trail or Moab-area attractions can be obtained by contacting:
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