May 17, 1996
The great long-haired Kokopelli — once the ancient Hopi god of fertility, now the poster boy for nearly every tourist group, bike shop, cafe, bookstore and real estate company in the West — was never much of a mountain biker, according to legend. Instead, he was a flute player and lover. Nonetheless, a long, challenging mountain bike trail, stretching from Loma, Colo. to Moab, Utah, bears his name. This trail, which leads to mountain biking’s Magic Kingdom, contains several sections of varying degrees of difficulty.
Near the northern portal of Kokopelli’s Trail in western Colorado, the small town of Fruita is attempting, like hundreds of other Western towns, to position itself as a mountain bike capital. Moab, at the southern end of Kokopelli’s Trail, is firmly established as the mountain bike mecca, not without some problems brought on by legions of knobby-tire cyclists descending on the area.
But for this mountain biker, Kokopelli’s charms lay somewhere between Fruita and Moab, in the small ghost town of Cisco, Utah. There are no bike shops in Cisco, no espresso stands, just a few broken-down shacks, skeletal gas pumps and rusting tractors, frozen in time like mechanical mastodons. Just outside of town, along the swollen Colorado River, are two great sections of Kokopelli’s Trail. Single-track demons looking for steep verticals will be disappointed, but this rolling, easy-to-moderate section of the trail is perfect for those looking to put some decent miles under their wheels. It’s here, away from the marketing and tourism gods, where one may hear a note or two of Kokopelli’s tune in the dry desert wind.
For rafters, Cisco serves as a boat landing for the Colorado River. The landing is just downstream from scenic Westwater Canyon. The short drive from Cisco to the landing takes one through a no-man’s land of harsh desert, but once at the landing on the shores of the Colorado, the landscape turns lush.
To the north of the landing, the section of Kokopelli’s trail stretches nearly 25 miles to Rabbit Valley, approximately 20 miles from Loma. The trail follows an old jeep road along a rolling plateau. Packed sediment and in some places, loose red sand, make for a comfortable cruise. The trail also meets up with and parallels the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad for several miles. The railroad has closed off a section of the trail because of its proximity to the tracks, so bikers should keep a good eye on their maps for alternative routes.
Bikers can really let loose on this trail and fly across the plateau at a good clip. For those weary of lung-burning, death-defying single-track trails, this ride is perfect, although a few hills keep the biker honest. While the immediate landscape is barren, with small juniper and pinon bushes dotting an otherwise stark surroundings, several rock formations and canyons reveal themselves in the distance.
Returning to Cisco, the trail points directly at the snow-capped (in spring and early summer) La Sal Mountains. The biker is completely exposed to the blazing Utah sun on this ride, and plenty of water and sunscreen are imperative.
To the south of Cisco, Kokopelli’s Trail hugs the lazy Colorado for several miles. Here, the trail is lush, overgrown, pleasantly rolling and slightly more technical than its northern cousin. Small lizards greet bikers and scurry across the trail. Several great lunch sites along the Colorado among huge cottonwoods provide an idyllic respite. The trail briefly leaves the shores of the Colorado at MacGraw Draw, but quickly returns. Again a close eye to a map is important. (I recommend carrying at least two maps of the area, as one clear, comprehensive and readable map is hard to find.)
The approach to historic Dewey Bridge is best avoided as 4.5 miles of deep sand directly north of the bridge are nearly impassable, except after a good drenching rain.
These two sections of Kokopelli’s Trail lack the stunning canyonland scenery and slickrock so identifiable with Moab. Consequently, Cisco is not often visited by mountain bikers, although rafters seem familiar enough with the area. Solitude, a subtle desert landscape, the opportunity to spin many miles without being a triathlete, and proximity to the mighty Colorado River are the rewards for the Cisco biker.
The beauty of Kokopelli’s Trail is the fact that one may catch the trail at a number of spots and choose from several levels of intensity. As both Fruita and Moab gear up for prime fat-tire season, the heart of Kokopelli, which escaped the mountain bike capitals for the isolation of the interior, lies somewhere in between.