Temple Mountain Trail

Temple Mountain - San Rafael Swell/Green River Trail Map
If you've "been there--done that," with regard to mountain biking in Moab, then it's time to venture to the remote San Rafael Swell. Located 15 miles west of Green River and conveniently crossed by Interstate 70, the San Rafael Swell is a redrock wilderness that boasts national-park-caliber scenery but without the crowds. The Temple Mountain area in the southern San Rafael Swell is a hub of recreational opportunities, ranging from mountain biking to "narrows" hiking to off-road vehicle exploring.

The 10-mile loop around Temple Mountain is a good intermediate ride following jeep roads throughout. The route begins on the edge of the San Rafael Reef, where ancient sand dunes--now turned to solid rock--have been thrusted into a seemingly impenetrable earthen barrier of cuspate cliffs and titled strata. South Temple Wash Road is one of few canyons through the Reef that is wide enough for vehicles. As you enter the canyon, look for prehistoric Native American rock art painted on the tarnished sandstone walls.

As the road exits the canyon, Temple Mountain comes into view. The twin spired butte received its name from its resemblance to the Latter Day Saint tabernacles found throughout the state. But in the 1940s and 1950s, this temple drew worshipers in search of uranium to fuel the Atomic Age. Today, the mines are silent, and the abandoned camps are windows to the past. You'll pedal past these remnants as you circle around the mountain's west and north flank. Beyond, the route reenters the Reef and winds down sandy North Temple Wash. Quickly, you are locked within a 300-foot tall hallway of rust-colored rock. Water and wind have weathered the rock surface to lithified "Swiss cheese" that resembles one thousand ghoulish eyes. Upon breaching the Reef, take the flat, easy dirt road back to South Temple Wash.

While in the area, be sure to visit Goblin Valley State Park and stroll through the phantasmagoric valley where rocks have been sculpted into sandstoned gremlins, mushroom-capped aliens, and bizarre hoodoos. Or explore one of many slot canyons that have sliced the San Rafael Reef. Some crevasses measure 200 feet deep and narrow to claustrophobic width. Bikes are not allowed because these canyons enter the Crack Canyon Wilderness Study Area.

By Gregg Bromka, author of The Mountain Biker's Guide to Utah.

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