Before entering Bryce Canyon National Park I was keen to put my mountain bike to good use again. The Red Canyon Visitors Centre was amazingly helpful; providing both mountain biking and free camping spot suggestions. We left the visitors centre with a mountain bike trail recommendation and a couple of camping options for afterwards; much more useful than the handful of business brochures so many visitor centres seem only capable of providing.
I did a one-way trail ride and then looped back along the paved biking trail which ran alongside the main road. The trail was 70% fast single track which was fantastic fun on my bike, the other 30% was steep downhill stuff which was punishing on my fingers and wrists.
I wish I had a helmet camera to show you how fun this ride was. Imagine riding fast through Utah’s unique terrain; red dirt, red hoodoos and some pine trees. With no video I’ll resort to a little descriptive text: I’m whizzing down red earth single track, I make minor swerves to the left and to the right to follow the path around intruding pine trees. Up ahead I see the path making a u-turn and veering up the hill I’m fast approaching the bottom of. I brake hard and straight with both brakes and then ease off on the front and increase with the back to skid the back wheel around the tight bend, then pedal. The uphill climb gives me a good opportunity to take a look around, appreciate how blue the sky is and how red the earth is. I briefly muse on the striking beauty of Utah but then my climb flattens off as I reach the summit and pop over the top, I pick up speed. Where I had been surrounded by pine trees on the climb they have now disappeared, just the red earth sloping sharply down away from me on both sides leaving me speeding along a narrow backbone. Down to the right I can see amazing hoodoo formations, my mind wonders to photography, how would be the best way to capture their essence? I’m snapped back to reality as my front wheel skids off to the right; I’m still hurtling down a narrow path made up of loose pebbles. Fortunately I catch my wheel, straighten up and pedal. Keep peddling.
I returned exhausted but exhilarated and we made our way to a free camping site (BLM land). That night we share a spot with a couple of young Americans riding motorcycles across the States, they’d built a nice big camp fire and we join them for a drink and a chat.
National parks are amazing but they also tend to be busy and more restrictive with what you can do – no mountain biking for instance. Often the natural landscape which makes the national park famous does not simply stop at the park border; you can find great experiences just outside of national parks. BLM lands, state parks, national forests, wildlife reserves – they all offer something. Mountain biking in Red Canyon, just outside of Bryce Canyon National Park was great fun, so was mountain biking Gooseberry Mesa, just outside of Zion National Park!