Enthralling Elephant Arch, Washington, UT

Distance:~3.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy with the following disclaimer: ~ 2 miles of THICK sand walking

Part of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, this short hike delivers the reward of one of the coolest rock / arch formations that I’ve seen. (In my opinion, the Elephant rock in Valley of Fire doesn’t even compare.)  See it for yourself and let me know what you’ve seen that tops it.

Getting there: I-15N from St. George, Exit 10 to Washington. Left onto Green Springs Drive, immediate right onto Buena Vista Blvd. Follow. In about 1 mile, turn left onto the dirt road immediately after the fire station. Follow it for about 1.2 miles to the intersection of another dirt road and turn left onto this dirt road. In about a half mile you’ll see the parking area, gate and trailhead. (Directions are a bit tricky & terrain is variable–high clearance / 4-wheel drive vehicle helpful.) Took me 3x until I finally found it.

Trailhead GPS: 37.161671, -113.512897 Arch GPS: 37.177333, -113.494083

Notes: Full sun exposure, bring your water, hats, and sunscreen. (Spring, Fall & Winter are the best time of year for this one.) Leashed dogs allowed. Parking is free.

Happy trails!

Smith Mesa: UT Gravel Riding at Its Best

Length:~30 miles

Elevation gain: 3k

Difficulty: Hard, 1st 3 miles is ALL climbing (about 2k) of ~11% grades, after that-easy-to-moderate

Terrain: The first couple of miles of the climb are on pavement (you’ll be grateful for that, believe me), and then it’s graded, gravel fire road the rest of the way

I’m discovering that so many places in Utah call for that overused, four-letter word EPIC. Just as Inuits have 50 words for snow, I think Utahans need to have 50 words for epic. These pictures don’t do begin to do it justice. This spectacularly scenic ride is a must do if you a gravel grinder who likes a hill challenge.

At the top of the hill you’ll see no trepassing signs  marking an old US government facility with a long supersonic test track that was used to test jet fighter ejection seats. 

The scenic road / route circles Smith Mesa, taking you through pastoral ranch land as it enchants you with views of Zion in the distance. Of course, you could do the route N to S. May have to give that a try sometime though I prefer to climb super steep sections vs descending them.

A couple miles of the descent are a bit bumpy (not washboard, but cow hooved, which are a bit worse) and you have to watch out for the occasional pothole and loose sand. Road conditions are always variable.

Smith Mesa meets Kolob Terrace Road and takes you back to Highway 9.

Getting there: Look for the Smith Mesa road sign off of Highway 9, north of Virgin, Utah, and west of Zion National Park.

Happy trails!

On Living YOUR Epic Life

I’m not one to throw the word epic around. (Disclaimer: I guess I’m guilty of overuse  when it comes to mountain bike ride descriptions: Tahoe’s Flume Trail  for 1.) In any case,  I don’t claim to be a “life coach”, but I know 1 thing —life is short and unpredictable.

My Dad had a debilitating stroke on the first night of the Hawaii vacation that my brother and I treated him too. He’d never really treated himself to anything in his entire life. And after the stroke and the paralysis he suffered, his ability to enjoy life or even take care of the most basic daily activities was severely diminished. If you’re waiting for something to happen until you do what you really want to do, let me suggest that you stop waiting and take the steps you need to take toward making it happen. Today.

Of course, I’ve procrastinated on following any number of my dreams too. But ever since Dad’s stroke and his subsequent death, my bike accidents, misc surgeries, etc. etc. (pile on effect), I’ve been determined to align my life and actions with my values. And that includes living somewhere where I’m closer to nature and able to live the outdoor, active lifestyle that I treasure. Sure, I’ve been fortunate to live a good part of my life in a place that many people consider dreamy – -Southern California. And I’d never taken its beauty and the many wonderful adventures I’ve had here for granted, but I’m ready for open horizons and roads—free from the excessive congestion that surrounds this place.

The  adventures I’ve had these past few years have have all been part of my quest to find my new home. I’ve road-tripped through Montana, Idaho, and Washington and found some delightful spots and top contenders, including Sandpoint ID, Port Angles WA, but none checked all my virtual boxes. Until St. George, UT. If you’ve been following my posts, it was a bit of a whirlwind romance. A year ago I visited, came back for seconds, and then I committed.

Yes, I’ve definitely had some second thoughts, self-doubt, and fleeting panic attacks, but I come back to that cliched  question – “If not now, when?” It’s a bizarre and unsettling time to be making a a major life transition, but I’m doing it. Last week, I moved about 60% of my stuff there and was fortunate to enjoy a couple mountain bike rides while I was there.

This 28 mile loop ride near Gunlock State Park was simply epic. See for yourself. It will likely be one of my top local rides.

I am happiest when I am immersed in nature’s beauty and being vigorously active. This is part of what living an epic life means to me. What does it mean to you and are you living it? If not, why not?

Another Scenic Delight Near St. George: Snow Canyon State Park

Spent a lovely morning exploring this spectacularly scenic Snow Canyon State Park near St. George, Utah.  With dramatic, diverse scenery everywhere you turn, this park does not disappoint. If this epic landscape seems vaguely familiar, it’s because it was the backdrop for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Electric Horseman, and Jeremiah Johnson..

This 7,400 acre park has everything from black lava flows with tubes that you can crawl into to red rock and sandstone cliffs that you can scramble up. Here you’ll find 38 miles of hiking trails, a 3 mile paved trail, technical climbing (170 designated sport routes) and ~15 miles of  equestrian trails. If that’s not enough for ya, there’s some mountain biking and road biking with great climbs here too. Oh, and there’s also a  33 unit campground.

wildflowers black lava red cliffs Snow Canyon
Wildflowers, black lava rocks, and stunning red cliff vistas

snow canyon stream
Photo Credit: Ken Wells captured this spot much better than I did.

Snow canyon vastnessSnow Canyon red mtnsScenic snow canyon

Lava Tube Snow Canyon
Into the lava tubes

Snow canyon textures
Amazing textures

L Tree pose
On top of the world in Snow Canyon

dancer attempt pose
My attempt at dancer pose – a long way to go, I know

black lava rock and white mtn
Black lava rocks, desert vegetation, and white sandstone cliffs – oh my!

The park is actually inside of the 62k acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve that I romped around on my first day in town. Note, these areas are all exposed so not recommended in the summer heat. Be sure to bring water, sunscreen, and a hat.

I just had time for a quick stroll as I’d already visited Gunlock State Park earlier in the morning and still had more sights to see and things to do. (Mountain bike ride planned for the afternoon.) The trail I took by the lava flows was more suited to a stroll versus hiking at pace or trail running due to the sharp rocks. Not sure if all the trails in the park are like this, or if it’s just near the lava flows. If you’ve been here and hiked around let me know. Otherwise, I’ll update on my next trip to St, George.

You know me, trying to pack as much into my short Utah road trip as possible.

Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, St. George, UT

First stop on the Utah road trip after 6 hours cooped up in the car, the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve rolled out their welcome trails. Not a bad stop to stretch the legs for hike or a mountain bike cruise. This picturesque reserve with expansive views out to the snow capped mountain range is right next to town and boasts 200 miles of non-motorized trails. (Yes, that’s 200 miles so you can stretch those legs of yours to your hearts content.)

wildflowers Red Cliffswildflower close up red cliffsmtn vistas red cliffs

The reserve was established in 1996 to protect critical desert tortoise habitat form being destroyed by development. It worked. You’ll notice tortoise scat on the rocks everywhere. And if you’re lucky, you might see one.

desert tortouise 2

I only hiked a couple miles here, but look forward to coming back to explore more. Perhaps on 2-wheels next time…

Note: the trails can be hard to follow in this terrain so bring a good map or GPS if you venture out very far, and plenty of water, of course, as it’s all exposed.

Stay tuned for more Utah adventures: Scenic delights near St. George Part I: Gunlock State Park and Ivins’ Reservoir