On the Kokopelli Trail | VailDaily.com

On the Kokopelli Trail

Melanie Wong
The view from the top of Yellow Jacket Canyon. Riders can spot the La Sal Mountain range, which they'll climb and descend on the final days of the ride, in the distance.
Ashleigh Krehbiel | Special to the Daily |

Want to ride the Kokopelli?

Check out http://www.bikerpelli.com. Bikerpelli out of Boulder runs guided trips each year, but they’ve also written the authoritative guidebook if you want to do it yourself. It’s free to download on their website.

LOMA — Ship-shape bike — check.

Pack of water and enough Snickers bars and Donettes to feed an army of trick-or-treaters — check. Guide book, maps and a loose plan — check.

We considered ourselves prepared as we rolled out from the trailhead of the Kokopelli Trail in Loma, just a few miles west of Grand Junction. But really, we had no idea what lay in store for us.

You’ve probably at the very least heard about the Kokopelli. You’ve undoubtedly noticed the signs along the road as you drive by, and you’ve probably also seen the little dancing figure from Hopi myth for which the trail was named. Maybe you’ve even heard campfire tales about riding the trail from some crusty, desert rat who rode it 15 years ago on his rigid front-fork hardtail.

However, all that exposure didn’t prepare me for the physically demanding days, the vast and largely untouched swaths of desert canyons we’d ride through and the general epic-ness of the undertaking. The Kokopelli is a 142-mile route from Loma to Moab, Utah, and it includes everything from singletrack, to jeep roads to pavement. You’ll see spectacular mesas, skirt the edge of the La Sal Mountains and camp alongside the Colorado River.

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Most people take anywhere between one and seven days to complete the ride. Our group did it in four days, one of the most common options. Even then, we rode 30 to 50 mile days, which took the strong group about five to eight hours each day. Fall is prime Kokopelli time, although when we did it in late October, our group did encounter a particularly cold day. Pack warm clothes and be prepared.

Some people do this ride through a guiding company. Others are self-supported, carrying all they need to eat, camp and ride on panniers (I wouldn’t recommend this.) Our group of five was lucky enough to enlist an enthusiastic support driver, who met us at pre-arranged campsites each evening.

Day 1: Loma to Bitter Creek: Singletrack bliss and hike-a-bikes

So back to the trailhead. I knew the first day was only 32 miles, so I mistakenly thought it would be a cinch. The first 12 miles is mostly singletrack on the well-ridden Mary’s Loop.

I’d ridden this trail hundreds of times and couldn’t help getting a bit jittery with excitement as we left the beaten path via the sudden descent on Troy Built. Next came arguably my least favorite part of the trip — the hike-a-bike portion, which the group would see a lot more of on Day 3.

No one warned me, probably because they knew I’d throw a fit, but be prepared to be carrying your bike for nearly a 1-mile stretch (it seemed like a million miles to me, but that’s what the odometer said.)

Next, make up some time by cruising a big dirt road leading in to Rabbit Valley, which sits near the Colorado-Utah border.

The day ended with a short but treacherous climb to the top of a plateau, where you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular sunset view from the campsite at Bitter Creek.

Day 2: Bitter Creek to Dewey Bridge: Leaving colorful Colorado

Some might call this 45-mile stretch boring, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable. You’ll cruise into what was once the bottom of an ocean eons ago. At times you’ll feel like you can see as far as humanly possible, and as the train comes rumbling by, you get a feeling of what the old time ranchers and cowboys must have felt out on the range watching the steam engines came roaring by.

Be warned: This section gets quite windy, and that element combined with copious amounts of sand can slow you down. My friend dubbed it “Sandopelli,” and we spent the first 20 miles with our heads down, pedaling hard, drafting in a single file line like a group of Tour de France riders on a breakaway.

We climbed into the beautiful and isolated Yellow Jacket Canyon, a route that starts with the desert mesa you’ll probably be accustomed to by that point and ends with a sandy descent and a hint of Utah’s famous red rocks.

Keep a lookout on the final descent for an arch tucked up in the rocks.

Day 3: Dewey Bridge to Bull Draw: Into the forgotten valley

From Dewey Bridge, a nearly century old bridge that was accidentally burned to the ground in 2008, you’ll start climbing. This day was 37 miles and not only treated our group to leg-breaking elevation gain but chilling cold. Once again, bring your walkin’ cleats, because there’s more hike-a-bike.

I know, you can’t wait to go, right? However, our group was also rewarded amazing views. You’ll ride through Fisher Valley, with the statuesque Fisher Towers in the distance, red cliffs to the side and a sea of yellow grass before you.

“I kept expecting to see a herd of buffalo come running by,” said one member of our group. “Once you get up high, the views are amazing, and you could tell that no one had driven on that road for a very long time.”

You’ll ride (or in the case of our group, limp) in to camp, which sits at the base of the La Sals. One more day to go!

Day 4: Bull Draw to Milt’s Stop & Eat: A well-deserved meal

By this time, a pesky thing called work had called me back, but the rest of the group said this day was a cinch compared to the epic Day 3. You’ll descend and climb the rolling La Sal Loop paved road that sits above Moab, and while most routes take you down a dirt road into Slickrock, our group decided they deserved a little singletrack. They took the famous Porcupine Rim and officially ended the day at Milt’s (a famous Moab eating establishment) for burgers, fries and shakes.

So why ride the Kokopelli? I think every mountain bike lover should do it once.

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

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