Church Rocks … Red Splender in Saint George
The riding buddy I’d met in Brian Head (Jens) recommended I tour Church Rocks Trail if I got the chance. I thought I would have to wait until Spring Break in order to do any rides in southern Utah due to the excessive heat of the summer. He suggested I could do Church Rocks Trail if I got started early in the morning as it was at most a two hour ride. So we got to Saint George in the evening heading home from Park City, slept there, and I did the ride in the morning.
The drive from Park City to St. George took a good part of the day. My body welcomed the recovery as I had ridden 20+, 17+, and 30+ miles the previous three days. We listened to a book on tape as we typically have done on long drives. We have found the driving time goes by much faster and gives us something to discuss. Frequently one of us will turn off the CD for a few minutes to discuss some facet of the story… then turn it back on and see how the plot plays out. The stories also tend to keep me awake and distract Cindy from cringing every time we drive by a semi truck.
Please enjoy this map which shows our drive from Park City to Saint George, which is where we stayed so I could ride Church Rocks.
Have you driven from Park City to Church Rocks before? What did you think of it? How about sharing your thoughts on our Visitor Stories page?
We rolled into the EconoLodge, unloaded our bags, and looked for somewhere to eat dinner. We ate at the Outback Steakhouse only because we had a gift card. Amazingly, we were able to find dinner for two under $25. Then we went to look for the tunnel.
We followed the directions I found (in a Utah biking book) to the start of the Church Rocks Trail. The trailhead, described as rural, turned out to be somewhere in the middle of a housing tract. The trail was supposed to lead from the trailhead to a tunnel passing under the freeway. The Church Rocks Trail started just on the other side of the tunnel. I was hoping we could hike to the tunnel and see what it looked like.
We drove around and around… but were not exactly sure where the trailhead was located. We finally parked where a paved trail crossed a road in the development, and started hiking. We made it about a mile before we decided to return before it got dark? We wouldn’t want to be caught out in the desert in the darkness! We were also quite interested in making it to the Nielsen’s Frozen-Custard place (across the street from the EconoLodge) before it closed.
CHURCH ROCKS TRAIL INTERACTIVE MAP
- Below you will find a map for Church Rock Trail.
- Click the green or red balloons for driving directions to the trailhead(s).
- Click Tracks or Icons for Specific Info.
I had informed Jens (in an email from Park City) I was going to ride the Church Rocks Trail and wanted to know which direction he preferred to ride. When I returned to the hotel with my frozen-custard (which was unbelievably rich and creamy) a message from Jens told me he wanted to accompany me. After a couple more messages we agreed to meet at the Prospector Trailhead at 7:00 am. Jens said the owner of Cedar Cycle had once told him to start at the Prospector Trailhead instead of starting in the housing tract. He would be driving 50 miles south from his house in Kanarraville on the I-15 freeway. He said the Prospector Trailhead was north of Saint George … I would have to pass through two small bridges under the freeway to get there.
I was curious about the name Kanarraville, so I looked it up on the web. It seems Kanarraville was first called Kanarra, named for the Piute Indian chief, Canarrah or Quanarrah. When Kanarra was incorporated in 1934, the name was changed to Kanarraville. Jens’ town only had 314 residents it the 2000 census.
I tiptoed out of the hotel room to load all my stuff … not wanting to wake Cindy. It seemed odd to me that the sky would be so dark at 6:30 in the morning. I looked across to the east and discovered why. Instead of seeing a hot, orange, ball of fire … I saw a cool, dark- purple, bank of clouds. After starting the car I had to turn my lights on.
I passed The Winkel Distributing Plant and turned left (north) down the road toward what I thought was the correct direction. When I spotted the skinny bridge passing under the I-15 freeway I knew I was on the right track. I thought the paint would be scraped from the sides and roof of the car as I passed under those I-15 bridges, but I am sure there was more room on each side of the car than it appeared.
As I squeezed under the second bridge I spotted Jens’ pick-up. The car clock read 6:45, so of course, Jens was already there. He was standing outside his pick-up truck with a big smile. I was glad to see him again, as I had gotten to know him pretty well the previous week while doing the Three Peaks and Thunder Mountain rides. I have to say I don’t think I have ever met a friendlier person.
“I brought my riding partner,” Jens announced. I looked into the cab of the truck expecting to see Katherine (his wife) but saw no one. He opened the door and out jumped a two-foot tall, white Schnauzer. Jens said her name was Holly, and she would be going with us. Jens loaded Holly into his pack and we set out down the Prospector Trail.
The air was cool, maybe around 70 degrees … as we had hoped it would be at 7:00 am in August (the average high temperature for Saint George in August is 100 degrees Fahrenheit). Jens led just like when he gave me a tour of the Three Peaks Recreational Area near Cedar City. Upon completion of that ride I was convinced he had a photographic memory. He announced every intruding bush, rock, gully, and trail junction, before we got there.
The Prospector Trail was a typical single track through desert terrain … some sand, some chaparral, some cactus, some rock, some loose rock. The big difference between this trail and most other desert trails was the presence of bright red rock formations up ahead (to the northwest), our destination. From a distance the red-rock formations looked like something Bubby and Sissy made out of play dough, and then snuck into the oven when we weren’t looking. To the east we were blessed with a brilliant sunrise. The dark-purple bank of clouds I’d seen at the hotel was now reflecting dark blues, golds, light blues, and oranges.
As we cruised down an easy Prospector Trail toward Church Rocks Jens began tell me about the trip ahead. He said the trail paralleled the highway and was mostly flat, which made it a great trail for beginners.
I got a kick out of Holly as she “rode” the trail. Jens had taken a normal school-sized backpack, cut a whole the size of a football in the top, and plopped her inside. She rode with her head and both front paws out of the hole, and looked totally relaxed.
I was busy watching her when Jens came to a tricky rock section in the trail. As he strained to get over a ledge he lost his balance, and began to fall back. Anywhere else and I think he and Holly would have been rolling in the dust, or worse, incurring some serious bruises from rock. But instead, Jens fell back and landed square on his behind, right on a rock ledge about the height of a normal chair. He sat there for a second, laughing, maybe a bit embarrassed … then got off his “Lazy Boy” and started pedaling again. After I got done chuckling and caught up with him I asked him how much the dog weighed, to which he replied, “About 22 lbs.” I told him I thought he was doing pretty well with a 22-pound weight strapped to his shoulders.
We came to a place where the trail drops off a 10-foot high red rock ledge to a sandy region below. Jens said he wasn’t going to attempt riding down and I said me neither. We stopped for a minute or so and discussed whether a horse could go up or down the drop. We finally agreed, a horse could make it in either direction if not for the rider on its back. I figured Jens would know since he used to own horses when he lived in Vermont.
We came to a sign that marked the end of the Church Rocks Trail. Jens advised me to stay on the Prospector Trail. We would join the Church Rocks Trail further west… and then ride it back to here. He said he had ridden the trail both directions and preferred the west-to-east route.
From this point onward, the Prospector Trail rambled through terrain a lot like what I had encountered in Moab. We began to view wind-sculptured sandstone knobs, crowns, dishes, domes, and ledges. This type of terrain offers excellent traction yet requires more effort than we had been giving. Several times Jens commented on how lucky we were to have a thick cloud cover to keep us cool. It was almost 8:00 and the temperature couldn’t have been more than 75-degrees.
As we crested one sandstone dome we came face-to-face with a rainbow… straight ahead off to the west. The contrast of rainbow colors with the bright red/orange hue of the rock was lovely. I quickly grabbed my Sony Cyber-Shot and snapped a few images, knowing I could never accurately capture the true ambiance of the scene. Jens told me his wife Katherine would say the rainbow was “a sign.” “A sign of what?” I asked. He said it would mean we would have good fortune… or maybe bad fortune… or someone was going to fall… or we would meet new friends, go to their house, and have a giant bash, or… our bikes would break and we would die crawling back to civilization… or…
As we got ready to go Jens pointed out a water tower to the southwest, on the other side of the freeway. He said that tower was near the tunnel and he often used it as a reference point.
Shortly thereafter we came to the Church Rocks Trail again. This time the Church Rocks and Prospector crossed each other. Jens told me the Church Rocks Trail to the left passed through the tunnel and back to the housing tract while the Prospector Trail just kept going west. He turned right and said he had no interest in going through the tunnel again. I told him I had to go see the tunnel so I could tell about it on the site. I told him to go right and I would catch up with him in a little while.
The short piece of trail to the tunnel started out as deep sand, and then got real rough and rocky. The tunnel itself was really just an 8 foot (diameter) piece of corrugated culvert about a hundred yards long. Sand had filled the grooves in the bottom of the culvert making the path extremely smooth. It was so smooth it seemed like it was finished cement. The eerie part was riding in total darkness… not being able to see my wheels, handlebars, or the path… seeing nothing except a bright light at the end of the tunnel (I was hoping I hadn’t died). I was also praying there were no obstacles on the path… luckily there weren’t.
The video below will give you an idea of what the trail through the tunnel was like. To watch the video on a full screen click the icon in the lower right corner just to the right of the YouTube emblem.
To view all videos my videos pleases visit my YouTube channel at MountainBikeDiaries.
My eyes felt like they might explode as I emerged into the bright daylight. Through a tight squint I could make-out a sand wash, surrounded by trees. I could see the water tower on the hill above, the one Jens used as a reference point. I quickly turned around and plunged back into the cool, soothing blackness of the tunnel. I was a little more relaxed on the return trip since I knew I would not be ramming into a rock or other large obstruction.
To see the rest of this beautiful ride click Church Rocks Trail (page 2).