Tour de Bloom on the Kokopelli Trail

June 4, 2014
Last week I had the opportunity to ride the 150 mile Kokopelli Trail from Grand Junction to Moab with a group on the annual ride called the Tour de Bloom.  The “bloom” is for the many wildflowers and cactus that are showing their beautiful colors along this high desert trail.  It is a fund-raising event put on by COPMOBA (Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association) for the past 20 years.  It has been many years since I rode this trail and the date of the event usually conflicts with finals weeks of the geology class I teach at the Montrose Campus of Colorado Mesa University.  However, this year I committed to it back in January and pulled a nearly all-nighter to grade exams and submit final grades before I left on this epic 4-day, fully supported bike ride.  Hopefully, my experience and photos will be of interest to you whether Quick read more or view full article you are a mountain biker or not.  We all need to get away from cell phones and the daily routine once in a while and just enjoy the beauty and vitality that raw nature has to offer us.  This was such a trip for me, as it challenged me physically, provided camaraderie with fellow cyclists, and rejuvenated my spirit.
The Kokopelli Trail (KT) is a multi-use trail created by COPMOBA in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service (USFS) in 1989.  The Kokopelli Trail begins near Loma in the Mary’s and Lion’s Loops trails within the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area.  This portion of the trail is quite technical and it is one of the few areas of singletrack (narrow trail) on the entire KT.  Most of the trail is on two-track, 4WD, or dirt roads with some paved sections near Moab.  The KT offers alternate routes around most of the more technical or difficult sections and there is a bypass around the Mary’s/Lion’s Loop area.  This is nice for those riders who are doing the trail unsupported, meaning they are carrying packs and panniers with food, water and camping equipment, which makes negotiating singletrack and steep sections difficult.  However, this was a fully supported ride, thanks to Worldwide River Expeditions, an outfitter who has cooked for us and hauled our gear for many years, so that we could carry minimal gear and just have fun riding and enjoying the experience.
The first half of the KT snakes along rocky mesas, benches, canyons and valleys north of the Colorado River and south of I-70.  Then the trail crosses the Colorado River at Dewey Bridge and begins a seemingly relentless climb into the La Sal Mountains east of Moab.  There are intervening descents into spectacular red rock canyons such as Cottonwood Canyon and Onion Valley, followed by grueling climbs out of them.  All along the way, there was a show of yellow, white, pink, red, orange, blue and purple flowers on even the tiniest and prickliest desert plants.  Sego lilies, globe mallow, daisies, claret cup, barrel and prickly pear cactus were all in full bloom.  The moisture from several days before made for perfect flower and trail conditions.  Almost every plant I stopped to admire had bees, ants, flies or butterflies on them.  The desert was awake with life and beauty.  May is a great time to do this ride, as June, July and August can be incredibly hot, parched and dusty.  There are many sections of the trail where the sand can be loose, deep and difficult to ride through, but our conditions were packed, fast and perfect.
The KT ranges in elevation from about 4,000 feet to 8,500 feet and the terrain varies in difficulty from advanced beginner to experienced.  It has intense downhill sections and steep climbs, but also gently sloping dirt and paved road sections.  I won’t sugar coat it, as there are several massive climbs and countless smaller ones and bone-jarring rocky sections.  However, there are also fast, easier sections and the views vary constantly and are always spectacular.  It’s amazing to start out several benches above the Colorado River and then work your way down to it, then to climb away from the river through Yellowcat Mesa to ride on slickrock and see dinosaur prints, and then descend back to the river and cross it next to historic Dewey Bridge.  After crossing the Colorado River, red sandstone monoliths and spires dominate the terrain and the pinyon and juniper forests eventually give way to the ponderosa forest as the snow-blanketed La Sal Mountains grow in size as we approached Moab.  We picked up paved sections of the La Sal Mountain Loop road and then descended Sand Flats Road (dirt) into Moab after riding incredibly fun singletrack along the south rim of Castle Valley.  The UPS and LPS (Upper and Lower Porcupine Singletrack) are a must-do option if you like flowing, technical but totally ridable singletrack. 
We did this ride in 4-days of 30 to 40 mile days with 3 nights of camping.  There are many unmarked camping sites but very little water along the way.  This is why support vehicles or water/food stashes must be used.  I have done this ride both unsupported and supported and it is way better to have a vehicle to carry your gear, as the trail is fun to ride on an unloaded full-suspension bike and it is quite demanding in sections.  We also had a pre-ride party for the 20 participants, last night party and auction, lunch stops, cooked breakfasts and dinners, 4 guides and a professional bike mechanic.  This is our biggest fund-raiser of the year for COPMOBA and it was our first big trail built 25 years ago.  If you are looking for a multi-day, fully supported mountain bike ride through canyon country of western Colorado and eastern Utah, plan on the Tour de Bloom next year.  It is for a great cause (working with public land managers to build and maintain sustainable mountain bike trails in our region) and will be a memorable experience on every level.  Check out www.copmoba.org for more information.

Laurie Brandt is a former professional mountain bike racer and three-time Colorado State Mountain Bike Champion.  She is now a professional geologist for Buckhorn Geotech, Instructor of Geology at Colorado Mesa University, and mother of two girls.  Her email is laurieb@buckhorngeo.com.
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Posted by Laurie Brandt
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