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Ride 95 Kokopelli's Trail

     Imagine mountain biking 142 miles across the remote desert backcountry, over sun-baked redrock, through deep river canyons, and past forested mountain slopes. Dream of a premier mountain-biking trail that connects two states but recognizes no border between them. Picture volunteers and private businesses banding together—without a budget, without bylaws, and without bickering. Think of federal land agencies lending feverish support, cutting through often beleaguering red tape to approve the construction of hand-built singletrack. And, envision the Hopi Indians performing a sacred dance to bless the route.
The Colorado River -- lifeblood of the Intermountain West. (Photo: Courtesy of COPMOBA)
     All of these "would-be" dreams came true for a dedicated group of bicycling enthusiasts under the guidance of the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA). With the assistance of the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, private businesses, and dozens of volunteers, Kokopelli's Trail—a visionary trail linking Grand Junction, Colorado, with Moab, Utah—was created and built. Fueled by undying motivation and ceaseless determination, COPMOBA created a trail system that has become an inspirational model to future trail builders and a world-class adventure for those who make the pilgrimage.
     COPMOBA asserts that "mountain biking is a vehicle to promote low-impact outdoor recreation, natural history education, bike safety, and land use ethics on the Colorado Plateau. We believe mountain biking is not a fad; it's the future because it combines fun, fitness, and fantastic scenery—always with an eye on protecting the land we love."
     Kokopelli's Trail, like the mystical humpbacked flute player of Hopi legend, wanders across the Colorado Plateau, crossing deserts, canyons, and mountainsides along the way. The trail is 142 miles of Canyon Country travel at its best. The route combines all aspects of mountain-bike travel from improved dirt roads, to rugged four-wheel-drive roads, to exacting singletracks. There's even some slickrock thrown in for good measure.
     There are three approaches to riding Kokopelli's Trail: self-supported by packing all your gear on your bike; using one support vehicle that meets you at the end of each section (this includes being catered by a tour outfitter); or using two vehicles and configuring shuttles each day for each section.
     Regardless, Kokopelli's is typically ridden as a six-day tour, based largely on convenient vehicle-access points and camping areas. You can shorten your tour a day by splitting section 5 and tacking it to the previous and following sections. This will be necessary if your support vehicle is a passenger car because via the Onion Creek Road may be too rough. All other access points are by way of paved or gravel roads suitable for passenger cars.
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General location: Kokopelli's Trail begins at Loma, Colorado (15 miles west of Grand Junction), and ends in Moab, Utah (or vice versa, since it can be ridden in either direction).

Distance: 142 miles point-to-point. Section 1: Loma Boat Launch to Rabbit Valley—21 miles. Section 2: Rabbit Valley to Cisco Boat Landing—37 miles. Section 3: Cisco Boat Landing to Dewey Bridge—19 miles. Section 4: Dewey Bridge to Fisher Valley—18 miles. Section 5: Fisher Valley to Castle Valley—23 miles. Section 6: Castle Valley to Moab—24 miles.

Tread: You name it and Kokopelli's delivers it. The route offers every type of desert riding medium from gravel to four-wheel-drive roads and from singletrack to slickrock. You'll face the whole gamut on many sections.

Aerobic level: Six days in the saddle averaging 24 miles per day is nothing to scoff at, given the often rough and sandy conditions. If you're bike-packing and hauling all your gear, this is an Olympic-caliber event and you deserve a gold medal. Mortals with vehicle support will still rate Kokopelli's as strenuous. If you share the driving duties, you can knock down the difficulty a half level.

Technical difficulty: Level 2 to 4. Most notable are the miles of sand and rock singletracks on Section 1 (level 2 to 4); the Sahara-size sand traps on section 3 (level 4 to 5); the rough descents and climbs through the Cottonwood Canyons on section 4 (level 3 to 4); and the jackhammer descents along eroded doubletracks on section 6 (level 3 to 4).

Elevation change: The elevation of the Loma Trailhead is 4,460 feet; the elevation of the Slickrock Bike Trail in Moab is 4,600. You'll reach the highest elevation of 8,500 feet between Beaver and Fisher Mesas. Total elevation gain greatly exceeds net elevation by thousands of feet, for the route crosses canyons, tops mesas, climbs the flanks of the La Sal Mountains, and drops back to the desert over its lengthy course.

Season: Early spring (March through mid-May) and fall (September through October) are the best times of the year to plan a Kokopelli's trip. Temperatures during midsummer can cap 100 degrees, and insects can be bothersome by June. Snow may close high elevation segments during early spring and late fall. Contact the BLM and Forest Service for current trail conditions.

Services: Grand Junction and Moab offer all visitor services, including bike shops. Both cities have medical facilities. Along the route, services are essentially nonexistent. Although Kokopelli's Trail passes near Cisco, this rail-side town site does not offer any services. So, pack in all necessities and pack out all leftovers.

Highlights: Lack of preparedness and lack of water are the two greatest hazards faced on Kokopelli's Trail. Riders should be well equipped both on bike and in support vehicles for all emergencies. Do not skimp on water consumption. The combination of strenuous activity, dry climate, and warm temperatures can cause dehydration and heat exhaustion. Carry sufficient water supplies on the bike and in the vehicle if supported, and be aware of water sources along the route. Conversely, high elevations and cool temperatures can cause hypothermia. Pack along clothes that provide good thermal insulation and that dry fast. Rainstorms may occur, especially at higher elevations, so carry rain gear.
   Portions of the route are rough and technical. Honestly assess both your physical fitness and skill level before you embark on this ride. If you're riding as part of a group, remember the old adage about the weak link in the chain.

Rescue index: Much of Kokopelli's allure lies in its remoteness, which means emergency contacts and assistance are few and far between. A telephone might be found at the Westwater Ranger Station (seasonal) or at a residence in Cisco. The trail crosses several roadways, but motorists are not common. Remember, self-sufficiency is the key. Medical facilities are located in Moab and Grand Junction.

Land status: Bureau of Land Management (Moab Field Office and Grand Junction Field Office), Manti-La Sal National Forest (Moab-Monticello Ranger District), and private property.

Maps: USGS (east to west): Mack and Ruby Canyon, Colorado; Bitter Creek Well and Westwater, Utah/Colorado; Agate, Big Triangle, Cisco, Dewey, Blue Chief Mesa, Fisher Valley, Mount Waas, Warner Lake, Rill Creek, and Moab, Utah; USGS 1:100,000 scale topographic series: Grand Junction, Colorado; Westwater and Moab, Utah.

Access: Eastern Trailhead (Loma): From Interstate 70, take Exit 15 for Loma, cross to the south, and turn east away from the Port of Entry. The Loma Boat Launch (parking area) is a short distance down the gravel road.
   Western Trailhead (Slickrock Bike Trail, Moab): From the intersection of Main and Center Streets, travel east to 400 East and turn right. Turn left after 0.4 mile on Mill Creek Drive; then 0.5 mile farther, stay straight on Sand Flats Road (near the cemetery) where Mill Creek bends right/south. The Slickrock Bike Trail parking area is 0.7 mile past the Sand Flats Recreation Area entrance station (fee required).
   Rabbit Valley (Section 1 to 2): From I-70, take Exit 2 (Colorado) for Rabbit Valley and look for the parking area in just under 0.3 mile. The trail enters a bit farther down the road.
   Cisco Boat Landing (Section 2 to 3): From I-70, take Exit 202 (Utah) and follow Utah State Highway 128. (Exit 212 provides access via a gravel road.) Where the highway turns right to Moab, continue straight for Cisco. Turn right on Pumphouse Road upon entering Cisco and after 2.8 miles fork left at a junction signed for Cisco Boat Landing and Fish Ford. Travel 0.9 mile, cross the bridge, and fork left away from the boat launch which is to the right. Park in the area provided west of the cattle guard. From Moab, travel 43 miles on UT 128 to Cisco and proceed as above.
   Dewey Bridge (Section 3 to 4): Follow the access for Cisco but continue south on UT 128 toward Moab for 12 miles to the Colorado River crossing. Dewey Bridge is about 28 miles northeast along UT 128 from the intersection with U.S. Highway 191 just north of Moab.
   Fisher Valley (Section 4 to 5): Access is via the Onion Creek Road off UT 128 located 10 miles southwest of Dewey Bridge or 18 miles northeast of the intersection with US 191 just north of Moab. This 10-mile-long access road crosses Onion Creek two dozen times and may not be suitable for passenger cars. Alternate access is by way of Castle Valley.
   Castle Valley (section 5 to 6) The Castle Valley Road turns south from UT 128 about 15 miles southwest of the Dewey Bridge or 13 miles from the intersection with US 191 just north of Moab. Take the Castle Valley Road 11.5 miles to the junction of the paved La Sal Mountain Loop Road (right) and the Castleton Gateway Road (left). Kokopelli's Trail intersects the Castleton Gateway Road (Section 5) at the head of Fisher Valley about 8 miles to the left/east.
   Sources of additional information: Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA) (See Appendix B).

Notes on the trail:
     Providing a turn-by-turn description of Kokopelli's Trail is exasperating. Contact the BLM or COPMOBA to obtain Kokopelli's Trail Map. Although the map itself is generalized, the trail log is precise. Here are some highlights.
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     Section 1, Loma to Rabbit Valley: Heading out from the Loma Boat Launch, the route cuts through gray and purple shales of the dinosaur-graveyard Morrison Formation as it roughly parallels I-70. The route alternates between easy four-wheel-drive roads and difficult singletrack, both of which afford spectacular views of Horsethief Canyon, where the Colorado River flows several hundred feet below. Rim-riding and a short section of slickrock precede the difficult descent to Salt Creek.
     Beyond Salt Creek, the trail follows the Colorado's bottom lands, then ascends a grueling hike-a-bike section on a rugged trail. Its summit affords splendid views of the austere Book Cliffs towering to the north while the Colorado River slips through Westwater Canyon to the southwest. Six miles of dirt and gravel roads take you to the junction providing access from I-70.
     Section 2, Rabbit Valley to Cisco Boat Landing: This is the tour's longest section, but it is fast-paced because of the many miles on gravel roads and doubletracks. As you continue south toward the river, grayish-green shale gives way to pink sandstone formations, and Rabbit Valley opens up to rolling desert prairies. The route travels through the Bittercreek drainage, climbs across the rim of a mesa, and then follows the access road to the Westwater Ranger Station and parallels the railroad tracks. From a high point, an incredible view of the Priest and Nuns formation in distant Castle Valley is beautifully framed by the La Sal Mountains. Rolling hills punctuate the route as it passes near the 1950s railroad boomtown of Cisco, now reduced to a few shacks in the desert.
     Section 3, Cisco Boat Landing to Dewey Bridge: Your wake up call begins with several miles of easy dirt roads that bypass Cisco. Doubletracks take over and narrow to a singletrack paralleling the river to McGraw Bottom, where Kokopelli's meets UT 128. The route then leaves the highway and heads up Yellow Jacket Canyon where gorgeous Entrada Sandstone bluffs tower above sculpted slickrock at the top of the canyon. To get there you must endure a steep, sandy, 10-mile slog through cow country. The salmon-colored formations are a godsend, but you'll wish your two-wheeler was a camel. The alternative is to stay on UT 128 for a leisurely, 10-mile stroll to the historic Dewey Suspension Bridge, sans Entrada scenery.
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     From 1916 to the mid-1980s, this span of white-washed boards and steel cables provided the only crossing of the Colorado River between Grand Junction and Moab. Presently, the historic bridge is open to foot and bike traffic; vehicles are directed to a modern bridge nearby. You are now halfway into the trail (or halfway out of, depending on your perspective).
     Section 4, Dewey Bridge to Fisher Valley: This section is perhaps the most remote. From the Dewey Bridge, the route climbs on dirt roads past slickrock play areas toward Blue Chief and Sevenmile Mesas. The going gets tough where the route crosses Cottonwood Canyon with a steep and rough ascent and ensuing climb. Atop Sevenmile Mesa, you can practically retrace the entire length of Kokopelli's back toward Grand Junction. The following descent to a second canyon named Cottonwood would be welcomed if not for the increasingly technical conditions. Despite the difficult and technical conditions, the growing views of the La Sal Mountains and the opportunity to spy wildlife ease the effort. The day winds down along the edge of Fisher Valley with visions of John Wayne riding at your side through a movie scene of mountains, valleys, and redrock.
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     Section 5, Fisher Valley to Castle Valley: Chow down a jumbo bowl of Wheaties topped with Powerbars for breakfast because today you climb. After jumping out of Fisher Valley, the route descends briefly, then climbs for over 10 miles to Polar and North Beaver mesas flanking the lofty La Sal Mountains. Cacti and sage give way to ponderosa and aspen as you ride through the national forest. But views of Fisher and Castle Rock towers interrupting the valley below are constant reminders of the surrounding desert. A screaming descent leads down the Castleton-Gateway Road to the junction of the La Sal Mountain Loop Road.
     Section 6, Castle Valley to Moab: It is a dirty trick, but one more obnoxiously steep climb (to Porcupine Draw) is between you and Moab. Fortunately, it is on pavement. The remainder of the route is generally downhill on dirt roads but hardly anticlimactic, for the views into Castle Valley from a spur on Porcupine Rim are among the best enjoyed so far. The Moab Rim on the western sky reels you down the Sand Flats Road to Moab. And if your legs have not been ground to hamburger after 140 miles, take a lap around the Slickrock Bike Trail.
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