The Kokopelli Trail, originally named after the Hopi deity of fertility, is a 142 mile stretch of trail, dirt and jeep roads that connects Fruita, Colorado to Moab, Utah. Since it’s development into a modern trail network in 1989, it has seen thousands of hikers and bikers cover it’s beautiful landscapes, with more each year. I had been planning to ride this trail for months, knowing I’d be finishing the Colorado Trail with enough time to ride from Durango back North to Fruita in perfect seasonal timing. In mid Summer the trail is too hot to ride during the day, and in the Winter, it’s too cold or snowed in at higher elevations.
After leaving the outstanding beauty of Telluride and the high mountains of the Colorado Rockies, I was curious what sights, sounds and experiences this stretch of trail would bring…. Also nervous that for the first time so far on this journey I’d have to seriously plan out how to access enough water to stay alive. Luckily, My friend Dana, whom I met last Summer riding the Continental Divide, was excited to get a group together to do the ride. PLUS she found a person to drive a shuttle car for us to each campground so I didn’t have to carry all my gear or water, a complete luxury for me!
The Kokopellians, gathered at the trailhead to start the route. All personnel listed below except guy on left who only rode with us for a few hours…
Dana, my friend from last year, and biking badass. Not only did she ride down that rocky terrain behind her, she also covered my expenses for food and shuttle as a most gracious gift. So much gratitude!
Radovan. This guy literally wrote the book on riding the Kokopelli Trail. A great resource of knowledge and a fantastic sense of humor.
Stacey, good friend of Dana’s and riding partner. These two are gonna race the Colorado Trail next Summer! I WON’T be joining them, but I know they’ll do it!
Maria. Super smile and fantastic attitude when some challenges came up during the route.
Oh yeah. I was there. For some godawful reason playing air guitar with a mountain bike as we hike over some rocks. Dork.
Least I forget Travis, our shuttle driver. Through thick and thin, this man went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure we were safe and sound. More on that in a minute….
Of course there was the truck. LOADED full of food, water, water, water, our camping stuff, and beer.
And off we went! The trail riding out of Fruita was really fun. A great blend of flowy single track with some rocky technical features to keep us on our toes. It was quite an adjustment for me: traveling by bike without my stuff. I felt it right off the bat when one of the riders had a technical issue with her derailer and I only had my simple repair kit on me, the rest being on the shuttle with Travis. I must say I was missing the comfort of having all my gear, but loving how light and nimble my bike felt unloaded. Nothing’s ever perfect. It was also an adjustment to be doing 3 full days of riding with a group. Learning how to keep together with everyone, and feel for the speed of the group was certainly an adjustment, but lovely to share the beauty with some great people for a change!
Periodically the hills were just a bit steep to ride. The sections of hike-a-bike started small….
Saw this little piece of dung on a rock, the mushrooms took full advantage as I’m sure they otherwise have trouble surviving in these dry conditions!
Utah border! Sorry to leave you Colorado, but we both know I’ll be back someday…
As the trail continued Southwest, we rounded the rims of many canyons. At one point, we had the option to ride what Radovan referred to as the West Rim, an optional section that was supposedly quite beautiful. We opted not to as we were running a bit behind and needed to get to our shuttle meeting spot before sundown. Another reason why carrying my own stuff with me is an advantage. Never worrying about getting to a specific location by a particular time. So long as I have enough food and water, I love having the freedom to go my own speed and stop when the sunlight tells me to. But again, it was an interesting exploration to experience touring in this altered way. So we pushed on choosing the more direct route for now. After a grueling climb up to the rim of a high canyon cliff, we rested in the afternoon sun.
Coolest rock cairn. Ever. For those not familiar, rock cairns have been used for centuries to mark trails and routes through back country where there are no roads and where some might get easily lost. Usually a cairn is just a small stack of rocks piled up to help hikers/bikers/equestrians/etc find key turns in a route. This was the Stonehenge of cairns!
As the day got later, we became more and more conscious of how far we still had to go to get to our meet up with Travis. We’d gone about 30 miles so far and had 18-20 still to go, and only about 2 hours of light left. We knew we’d have a big descent to make up some time, but it was starting to feel a little unlikely that we’d make it before dark. Normally this wouldn’t be a big issue, but only 2 people of the 5 of us had lights for riding at night. Nervously, we pushed on. Shortly thereafter we encountered a friend of Dana’s who worked for the park service. He said that the road we needed to ride at an area called Westwater was completely washed out, and we’d be slogging through a LOT of very deep mud to get back on route. Even after that, there was no guarantee that the rest of the trail to our camp was not washed out further. We decided to cut our losses and ride out the highway in an attempt to get our shuttle to come pick us up there. But Travis’s phone had no service. We knew he’d be worried about our late arrival and probably come looking for us, but were concerned we’d miss him if we didn’t wait. It was now getting closer to sunset and the temperature was dropping. Without warmer layers it was going to get uncomfortable soon. So we decided to try to hitch a ride to the campsite. This was no easy task. 4 riders (Radovan had already split off to hitch to the campsite earlier) and 4 bikes are a lot for someone to pick up! But fearlessly, Dana asked a guy with a pickup and a flatbed trailer to drive us. I think she well used her feminine wilds on that one, and glad she did!
Two of us sat back on the trailer with the bikes while the other two sat up in the pickup truck. First time riding on the highway on a trailer! I was worried the police would pull us over, but the driver confidently told me that as long as we weren’t standing up, it was legal in Utah. “STANDING UP???”, I thought, “I’m nervous enough to be sitting down on this rickety trailer going 70 down the highway. Who would want to be standing up???”
After a long ride to our campsite, the truck and trailer stopped to let us off way out in the middle of nowhere Utah. We were 15 miles from the highway and much further from the nearest town. Nobody had cell service. This is all relevant because when we arrived at the campsite we found Radovan starting a fire, but no Travis. No shuttle. None of our clothes or food was there. Radovan said Travis went out looking for us, from the other end of the road we now knew was washed out. We were concerned that he might have gotten stuck. Or that he was still out there searching for us. But all we could do in the darkness was to wait. A couple of hours later, a family showed up with RV’s pulling large ATVs behind them. Kindly they offered us some water and a few snacks. Another hour passed and someone from the other group upon hearing our predicament offered to drive someone out to where we could get cell service to find Travis. Off they went, into the darkness in this huge vehicle:
Another hour or so later, they returned, luckily with Travis, the truck, and our stuff all in tow. Travis had indeed gotten stuck and they helped him to get out. So lucky to have kind helpful people in the world when you need them!
The next morning, we shook off the trauma from the previous night’s festivities and cooked up some breakfast. Maria and Dana had prepped breakfast burritos. A far cry from the oatmeal I’ve been eating these last few months out on the trail!
With Maria deciding to take a rest that morning, the four of us set out for day 2, hoping it would go a little smother than yesterday!
Our first view of the La Sal mountains, the range just outside of Moab. So close but so far away still!
Our knowledgeable tour guide showing us the way….
Having already climbed up and over a pass known as Yellow Jacket, we descended to a river for a lunch break. Afterward, the real climbing would begin. The hills around here are deceptive. They don’t look like the mountains of colorado where you can see what’s up ahead and you can tell how high you’re going. These ‘hills’ are really huge continental shelves — large flat sections of land pushed up through tectonic movement at an angle. So from a distance it looks somewhat flat until you get onto the shelf. then it’s all steep uphills for miles and miles to get to the shelf’s edge where you get a steep short descent… and on to the next shelf!
The higher we climbed, the more stunning the canyons and cliffs became. Another far cry from the sharp peaks of Colorado was to experience the mesas and buttes of Utah.
Dana and I had a running joke, where we’d pretend we had just ridden some extremely technical rock feature, and tell the other person, “That was totally rideable. You didn’t clear it!?” The area behind her is a descent known as the Rose Garden. I don’t know about the name, other than the huge rocks in the trail felt like pretty big thorns to me!
As the sun set behind one cliff, the moon rose over another. We were again racing the light to reach our 2nd campground before it got too dark and cold. Our speed increased and luckily our last few miles toward the campground were pretty smooth terrain. We all gazed westward as we rode, watching the last bits of light dive beneath the mesas to the West.
When we did finally arrive at the campground, it was unclear if Travis had actually arrived this time, and where exactly he was. Luckily we all learned from our mistakes yesterday, and he had made a small cairn in the rode with an arrow towards the campsite he’d picked. Way to go Travis!
Another round of breakfast burritos. I could get used to this!
Day 3, our last day. Stunning valleys and mesas as we climbed and descended and climbed again up onto the La Sal mountains.
Dana showed us a point where we could walk off the road into the hills to see some dinosaur tracks! Any guesses to the type of animal that made this one?
The final luxury of the shuttle set up. We were again running a bit behind schedule for the day, and really wanted to have time to ride the section of technical trail down the La Sal’s, a part of the famous trail in Moab known as the “Whole Enchilada”. The full W.E. starts at nearly 12,000’ and descends all the way back to the town of Moab over 35 miles. We’d be coming onto the trail a bit further down, but still had a good 20-25 miles of technical trail to get to the bottom. So we all piled back into the truck, shoved the bikes in the bike and accepted a ride up the last climb to arrive at the trailhead of the single track descent.
The trailhead for “Kokopelli Down”, which would include Kokopelli, UPS, LPS, and Porcupine Rim.
The trail was stunningly beautiful with views off of a huge cliff to Castle Valley and eventually the Colorado River. Technically, I was in for it, riding the rockiest most challenging descent I’d been on with this non-suspension bike, a descent that lasted for about 25 miles! I just tried to keep up with Dana, who was a champion at the technical riding. A few endoes and minor crashes later, I could feel myself learning, albeit slowly, to handle the super rough terrain by absorbing it into my body without resisting the jarring attacks on my joints. The more I softened into the hard terrain, molding to it, the easier and more fun it became! I’m actually starting to get attached to riding a rigid bike. So much so that I ended up riding this section of trail again one week later with another group of friends… Next post.
At long last, after so many miles, we could see the Colorado River off in the distance. So close but still so far!
I really wish my camera had been working to take video of the descent down Porcupine Rim. It was certainly the most technical riding I’d done on my rigid steel bike so far. But extraordinarily fun. So fun in fact that I didn’t stop at all to take any photos. Sorry!
At long last, the trail ended at the Colorado, just 6 miles outside of Moab. Luckily some friends of Dana came to meet us at the lower trailhead, greeted us with beer and chips, and gave us rides back to town! All in all a fantastic route, and even better company. Thanks so much for the present of your presence Dana! And thanks to everyone else for sharing the experience with me!