As the coordinator of the Banff Mountain Film Festival world tour, Suz spends most of her work time in the office. However, the festival did want her to go and see a few stops so she used that opportunity to carve out a short holiday in our new favorite place: southern Utah. She was going to festival stops in Golden, Colorado and Moab, Utah then have a couple days to go biking with me before flying back to Banff. I drove our bikes down and did some extra exploring.
Above: Fall colours in southern Utah can hardly be believed. Not even my scratched lens can ruin this picture. These mountains near Price, Utah looked as though they had been covered in brightly coloured froot loops.
Above: Both southern Utah and Colorado were in peak colours. I usually think of eastern states and provinces when I think of beautiful fall colours, but combined with the brightly coloured desert rocks I was mesmerized.
Above: Sunset in Arches National Park outside Moab. I met Suz in Moab and while she was busy at the festival I went to a favorite spot outside of town for sunset. It was great this time around as I didn’t feel as though I was trying to see as much as possible. I had more of a lay of the land and spent more time just soaking up a few favorite places.
I returned to town and met the Moab hosts of the festival, one of whom was an avalanche professional so we talked snow pack for a while and I got some great information on Mt Peale, a towering mountain I was interested in climbing that week. You can see it for nearly 200km in any direction as it rises right off the desert plateau so we just went outside and he pointed out the ideal line to climb. It’s always fun talking to mountain fanatics.
Above: The next day, Suz and I biked the Klonzo trail system outside Moab. There was a major three day bike race around Moab organized by a guy in my running group. Luckily there are so many amazing places to ride in Moab it was hardly a problem. Our favorite trail was the aptly named “Wahoo” trail. We liked the helpful signage below. Suz has seen quite a few bike films this fall as she was vetting film submissions to the festival. I think they had quite the effect as I couldn’t get over how fast she seemed to go now! The long, rocky downhill on Wahoo is pretty exciting, all the more when you forget about the brakes as she seemed to! I was pretty impressed.
Above: After biking, we hiked up to Delicate Arch for sunset. We saw this from across the valley in the spring and wanted to see the famous landmark up close. Above: Suz leans into the wind returning from Delicate Arch. The ledge on this cliff looked straight out of a Wile E Coyote and Road Runner cartoon. There’s some good fake looking rocks near Canmore but this ledge was truly weird.
Above: Amazing sunset as we hike back from Delicate Arch back to the road.
Above: Suz bails on a technical section on the entrance to the “Horsethief Trail”. We later saw some riders on youtube flying down this famous trail with defying ease. Just after this section, we were racing at a pretty good clip into a sharp 90 degree turn leading straight down a rock wall. Suz was in front just flying and when I saw the massive rock drop in front without Suz anywhere to be seen, I only had time to think it must be okay and Suz must have rode it. But with another tenth of a second to take in the drop, I realized the rock face I was going straight down was too steep to stop so I was now comitted to something I would prefer not to do! I just pulled up the front tire and tried desparately to stay away from the instinct to brake. I sailed off the drop and landed with a puff of dust as another rider stood by having had the good sense to walk it. I caught up to Suz and we shared an adrenaline infused laugh exclaiming we have no business going over head-height drop offs but secretly wishing we had a picture of our Redbull moment!
Above: The Horsethief Trail follows nervously close to the Colorado River several hundred feet below which gives plently of fine views but requires some concentration.
While Moab is in many ways the epicenter of mountainbiking, we loved the trail system in Fruita for their flowy, fast nature. It’s also off the beaten track a bit more. The trail system connects to Moab via a multiday epic bike trail called the Kokepelli Trail but it’s a little more than we’re ready to bite off. We spent the night in Glenwood Springs, Colorado home of Doc Holiday and the largest hot springs pools in the world. The picture below isn’t mine but gives a sense of size of the place. A great way to soak out a few days of desert sand from our sore muscles.
Suz drove to Denver and flew home while I meandered around Colorado. I can’t say enough about the place. The mountains are not quite as raw as the Canadian Rockies and the valleys have more people in them which gives the place a more lived in feel. A little humanity gives the mountains a more inviting quality. I prefer the solitude and rawness of where I live but these mountains make a welcome change. I checked out Aspen, home of one of America’s more famous ski resorts. The ski lifts depart straight from town so the town and the hill are very connected. Our National Parks have such a strict limit to development that the ski hills in Alberta are very isolated and sparsely developed. For better or for worse but certainly they offer something that these American resorts do not which is a feeling of overwhelming isolation and vast natural wilderness.
I drove up Independence Pass which was an experience. A narrow road at times only one lane with only periodic guardrails to keep you from plumiting thousands of feet down. I spent most of the time in the left lane as I found the correct lane too scary! The top of the pass is over 12,000 feet high compared to 5000 feet for Roger’s Pass in Canada. I did a bit of scrambling up an easy peak nearby and found the altitude quite taxing. Down the road is the town of Leadville, Colorado at over 10,000 feet and home to the Leadville 100 mile race, a grueling, one hunderd mile foot race that traverses massive altitudes. I suited up and ran a miniscule 5km chunk of the 160km course just to appreciate the difficulty. Above: Colorado’s highest mountains rise to 14,000 feet as seen from near Independance Pass. The treeline is much higher here than at home so the mountains look much smaller here even though they are higher above sea level.
Above: I embarked on a big hike to Peekabo Springs. The flowing rock table land was cut into thousands of meandering canyons. If you were up on high, the various landforms made navigation relatively easy, but down in the canyons, it was a bit confusing. In spite of having a good topo map, it was quite easy to get turned around and I ended up on a bit of a 12 hour epic in the desert that added about 20km to my day.Above: “Newspaper Rock” a nearby rock outcrop covered with pictographs.
I really enjoyed the Canyonlands National Park Area. It’s off the beaten path so it sees fewer visitors. It lacks some of the iconic postcard landforms but is still spectacular. A perfect combination to experience fantastic desert sculpture without the throngs of people. Thirsting to see the Anasazi ruins I’ve seen in books, I headed east skirting Arizona and over to Mesa Verde.
The drive from the plain up to the plateau where the ruined fortresses are is an adventure. The road winds up over a thousand vertical feet to the top of the mesa where the famous cliff dwellings are hidden. Above is the first one I explored, the so called “Spruce Tree House” incorrectly named for the trees nearby which I noticed were actually firs! It’s a fascinating history but the short version is that in the 1200’s the villages were on top of the mesas but massive droughts caused shortages and strife with neighbours. They moved into these fortified hidden villages around this time before finally disappearing alltogether. The Mesa Verde site contains 600 cliff dwellings.Above: “Cliff Palace” is the most spectacular of the sites. The round pits are the unroofed living quarters.Above: After climbing a series of steps and ladders, I got to really explore the ruins. The alcove is massive with a cave roof like a modern stadium as the picture below shows. A magical place. There are many unexplained aspects to the story of the place that let the imagination run wild with speculation, an activity I found easy to engage in as I wandered through the many ruins. After spending the day going through a half dozen locations I spent the night in nearby Cortez, Colorado.My final must see spot was the geologically famous “Ship Rock” in nearby New Mexico. It’s on the Navajo nation which I found to be a bit depressing. The desert seemed to have an unwholesome quality to it, perhaps it was the weather.Anyway, I found my way to it by just driving at it. Theres little to no signage but you can see it for 50 miles in any direction as it’s an old volcanic neck rising 1500 feet out of an otherwise perfectly flat desert plain of nothing. After discovering it didn’t like having its picture taken I made my way out of New Mexico and back to the Utah desert.
I pointed the car north and made my way back home after another extraordinary time in the southwest. My taste of Colorado only wet my whistle and I’m looking forward to exploring it more next year.