Complicated and fragile, ever-changing desert trails give mountain bikers new challenges

Stock image, St. George News

FEATURE — The desert is a complicated place to have mountain bike trails. Its harsh exterior, with rocks, cactus, sand and rattlers, hides the fact that it is quite fragile and difficult at the same time.

Stock image, St. George News

Trails here are not easily built, mainly because Southern Utah is a very rocky place. I joke that it grows rocks. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since it adds to the techie side of our riding; however, it does make building and maintaining trails that much harder.

When building, you have to figure ways to get over or around large rocks or rock “gardens.”

Believe it or not, our little piece of the Mojave Desert actually doesn’t have a lot of dirt. But it’s the desert, you say, “There’s dirt everywhere.”

Not much to work with when building trails, though. Much of the open areas of dirt are covered in a fragile, thin layer of “soil” (it’s actually a living organism) that should not be disturbed – that’s why you shouldn’t ride off-trail.

The rest? Well, remember those rocks I talked about? The rest of the dirt is packed tight around all of those rocks, so we don’t get to build much in the way of berms or large jumps, (a fact I hear about when friends visit from places that have lots of dirt to build four-foot berms with!) But hey, Southern Utah riders are really good at burning through loose, flat corners.

Things like torrential downpours can wreak havoc on sections of trails, even when they’re built with proper drainage. Sometimes the rain comes too hard and, given the rockiness and lack of usable dirt, maintenance is a challenge.

At times, trails can be eroded to bedrock, and it’s ironic that to fix a washed out rocky section, sometimes the answer is to add more rocks. Some trails run in the bottom of washes – washes that might stay dormant for years, then suddenly have five foot deep water flowing through them from just one large storm. In those cases the trail may never be the same again.

Better? Worse? Just different, really. With some work the trail comes back to life. We wish things could stay the same always, but that’s not how trails or life work, and by the way, geologic time includes now.

Nature is always changing, but she tends to change things in ways that lend themselves to her friends the mountain bikers. Besides, I have yet to ride a “changed” trail that I haven’t learned to like.

Luckily for those who like the challenge of riding the desert, the Dixie Mountain Bike Trail Association has been working hard for several years now, volunteering their time to make sure our trails stay rideable (and even building new ones). It’s a good group worthy of your help and support.

Not to be overlooked are the many good Samaritans who are out for a ride and take the time to move some loose rock off the trail, fix a problem or trim some branches. Any help keeping our great trails fun to ride is always appreciated.

Written by JAY BARTLETT of Bicycles Unlimited for St. George News.

This article was first published in St. George Health & Wellness magazine and updated for current publication.

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Bicycles Unlimited, St. George, Utah, Sept. 14, 2018 | File photo by Andrew Pinckney, St. George News

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