Jem Trail… Rim Trail… Chinatown Trail… Jem Trail
The Jem trail was to be our third ride in the Hurricane area during our spring break. We left Jens’ house in New Harmony and headed down Interstate 15… just as we had for the Guacamole and Gooseberry trails the previous two days. We took Highway 9 out of Hurricane, exactly like going to the Guacamole… except this time we turned right on Sheep Bridge Road, just before the town of Virgin, and about 3-miles short of Dalton Wash Road, the turn-off for the Guacamole Trail. We drove downhill from the highway, passed over Sheep Bridge (spanning the Virgin River), took the dirt road to the right, drove a couple hundred yards west along the river bank, and parked, with Gooseberry Mesa looming to the south.
The big difference on this trip… no Jens or Catherine! As we left for the Jem Trail that morning, Catherine was getting ready to drive Jens to Cedar City to see the doctor. He had fallen the day before on Gooseberry Mesa and fractured a few bones in his hand. He was heading to the doctor to get it checked for possible surgical repair or casted. His mountain biking was finished for the next six weeks.
As I was getting all my cameras ready for the ride, Cindy pointed out a bunch of people slowly walking up the road toward us from the west. The group seemed to consist of four generations, with a couple of chubby kids, two somewhat overweight parents, and a couple of somewhat fit looking grandparents and two very old, decrepit looking great-grandparents. I noticed all members were huffing and puffing as they approached us. The dad was carrying a metal detector. I jokingly asked them if they were looking for meteors, as I had seen guys do on a recent television series. The dad said they were down by the river looking for coins and jewelry near the swimming hole. I turned to look at the river, which was flowing quite swiftly because of the rains and snow a couple days previous. To get to the river from our location would require scaling down vertical cliffs of at least 20 feet. As the water headed west (the direction from which they had come), the Virgin River had cut a canyon progressively deeper, some spots up to 400 feet deep. I had a hard time seeing any of these people making it down to the water to look for coins and jewelry.
Later we tried to figure out what they were actually doing. Cindy thought they might have been doing some geo-caching and fibbed about what they were doing, as they didn’t want us looking for their stash. I thought that odd, for how would we find the cache if they needed a metal detector… and don’t people use a GPS to get the cache location? I didn’t see any GPS (unless one of them had it in their pocket). And why would we want to look at anything in a geo-cache anyway? The contents of all the geo-caches I’ve ever heard about consisted of a bunch of useless items like newspaper clippings, little toys, or old fake jewelry.
After watching the Lewis and Clark explorers squeeze into their minivan I gave Cindy a kiss and headed west down the road toward the Jem trail… toward the stash. Jens, my personal guide, would not be riding but had offered plenty of advice that morning before we left. He had suggested I start on the Jem trail, turn right onto the Rim trail, make a left onto the Chinatown Wash trail, which would bring me back to the Jem trail. He suggested I then ride the Jem trail all the way to top… so I could bomb all the way back down to the car.
After riding down the dirt road for a quarter mile I spotted a singletrack trail weaving just a few feet from the edge of the canyon, with the greenish-brown water below. The Virgin River is 162 miles long, beginning as water flows out of the side of a cliff from Navajo Lake via lava tubes (like a bathtub drain) in Dixie National Forest. Soon after the Virgin crosses the northern boundary of Zion National Park, where each year thousands of visitors enjoy its muddy waters. The Virgin joins its east fork just after crossing Zion’s southern boundary, and then heads west, passing through several towns in three different states. Sometimes a raging torrent, sometimes only a little more than a trickle, the Virgin eventually dumps into Lake Mead, 50 miles above Las Vegas.
I had ridden west along the precipice less than a mile when the cliff (and trail) turned south, along a deep side canyon. The polished rock walls were evidence that this tributary dumps huge volumes of water into the Virgin during flash flood times. This branch was relatively dry except for the very bottom, where the rock walls turned to wet sand. The sand looked a lot like some sand I’d seen on the Little Colorado River one time, QUICKSAND!
A half-mile up this side canyon abruptly rose 50 feet at a (dry) waterfall, making the wash the same level as the trail … and that is why the trail crossed the wash just 100 yards farther.
Just before crossing I came upon a Jem Trail sign. On the other side of the wash I could see roads heading off every-which-way. Right then 4 mountain bikers suddenly appeared on the horizon to the west. They shot down the hill and came to a stop right next to me.
After a few probing queries I found out these young riders (2 guys and 2 gals) were from the state of Washington. They asked about my cameras and as I noticed each of the guys had a Contour video mounted on their helmet. “How long have you had your Contours,” I inquired. They simultaneously said, “Less than a week.” To that I replied, “Guess everybody did,” letting them know I had purchased my Contour right before heading out on this vacation.
I asked them where the trail would branch and head back to the river. One guy said he knew the Hurricane Rim trail branched off somewhere but he had not seen any junctions coming down the Jem Trail. I wished them well and we went opposite directions.
I decided to go up the Jem and look for the Hurricane Rim Trail… even though the riders had not seen the branch as they came down the Jem Trail.
Riding over to the base of the hill I’d seen the riders descend I noticed some building ruins to the north… but when I went to investigate I found a fence, and signs that read; No Trespassing, Hazardous Materials, and Private Property. If I had been riding with my teaching buddy (Jim) we would have definitely climbed over the fence and investigated. I thought about entering… but since I didn’t have the peer pressure I declined that maneuver.
Another half-mile up I found the Hurricane Rim Trail Junction… clear as day! I found signs facing each direction. I can’t see how those young riders were not able to see the intersection of the trails while coming down the Jem Trail! They probably were going so fast everything was just a blur… kind of like my wedding day. And since I mentioned flying down the trail… I was doing exactly the opposite. Despite riding for at least a half hour that morning I had only covered 2.6 miles. I would make up for the slow pace later in the day.
The Hurricane Rim Trail (hereafter called the Rim Trail) left the Jem Trail and took me over a hill and back to the river. As the trail steadily climbed along the canyon rim I began to hear what sounded like a trash truck, stopping to empty each receptacle in the neighborhood. The only problem was… I was out in the middle of nowhere, not a single structure in sight. I looked across the canyon, the direction from which the sound was traveling… but I still saw nothing that would make the sounds.
A couple hundred yards after looking for the trash truck I did come upon a structure, but on my side of the canyon. I soon recognized it as a pit toilet. As I got closer I spotted various signs and a desk-like structure, which I soon found was a trail registry.
After signing the trail register I headed to the bathroom. As I approached the john I suddenly noticed a bike standing alongside the restroom and a middle age guy looking at a large map that was mounted in front. I noticed the guy was wearing Lake mx 165 shoes… just as I was. So I asked him how he liked his shoes. He mumbled something which I interpreted as “O.K.” “Did you have to order them on the internet,” I asked, because I couldn’t find any store in San Diego that sold them. After several seconds he said something that sounded like, “No, I bought them in town.” I started to explain that I had to order mine but noticed he was not even listening to me.
To help visualize the landmarks I talk about in the rest of this story, or to aid in your own ride here on the Virgin River, please enjoy this interactive, trail map.
- Below you will find a map for The Rim Trail.
- Click the Green or Red balloons for driving directions to the trailheads.
- Click Tracks or Icons for Specific Info
He seemed to be studying the map… in deep concentration. I tried again saying, “Where did you ride from this morning?” He responded with, “I have done 19 already (miles, I think he meant)… ,” then stopped mid sentence, adding, “Have you ever ridden that trail over there?” My eyes followed his arm as it began to stretch out in front of him, followed by a finger that began to point to the east end of Gooseberry Mesa. “What trail,” I inquired as I squinted my eyes in an attempt to make sense of his statement. He said, “Right there, angling down from Gooseberry.” I looked again and this time I could see what he was looking at. I said, “Nope, I rode up on Gooseberry Mesa yesterday, but we just parked up there.” This time he responded right away, saying, “I am going to ride over there and see if I can ride up it.” I looked at the trail once again before I said, “Wow, that would be some climb.”
I went into the bathroom, did my business, and came back out. The guy was no longer looking at the map or the trail. I finally located him on the other side of the restroom… laying flat on his back… on the concrete, moaning and groaning.
Please click Jem (page 2) to find out what was wrong with this biker!