Jens recommended I do Little Creek Mesa for my fourth ride of the week. On Monday we had done the Guacamole Trail, Tuesday was Gooseberry Mesa, Wednesday was the Jem Trail, Thursday was hiking around in Zion National Park, and now it was Friday. Jens was wearing a cast since breaking his hand riding Gooseberry Mesa on Tuesday. He said he would hike along with me at the start since the beginning of the Little Creek Mesa Trail was hard to follow. So he, Catherine, Cindy, and Holly had their hiking equipment in the car. I was prepared for another terrific day riding the mesas of southern Utah.
About .6 miles short of the Gooseberry Mesa turn-off Jens told me to hang a right turn off Highway 59 and to head west on a dirt road. A quarter mile later we made a left, and in another half mile we made another right (or two), passed over a cattle guard, then by a round corral type thing.
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Two older gentlemen (they looked older than me) were setting up their mountain bikes… pulling items out of the truck, and placing them on their bikes. About forty yards in front of the truck (and in front of our car) stood a small tent set up on the rocks between some small trees. At first I thought the tent belonged to the truck owners, but the more I watched, the more I realized there must be some other people down there. These two fellas made no attempt to even go near the tent, getting everything they needed from their truck.
All decked out in official riding jerseys, the two old guys headed farther down the same road we had driven in on. A few moments later, Jens (with purple cast) and Catherine set out (on foot) in the same direction as the riders. Cindy waited for me to get my GPS and all my cameras mounted and turned on. Once I had everything ready I headed down the road on my Specialized Stumpjumper with Cindy hiking beside… in search of the Little Creek Mesa Trail.
Three hundred yards to the west brought us to the trailhead, where we found Jens and Catherine waiting. Jens reminded me to make a left turn at every trail junction (except for a trail called Magic Carpet Ride), Catherine wished me luck, and Cindy warned me to be careful. I assured them I would closely follow their exact directions, and then sped down the Little Creek Mesa Trail.
Little Creek Mesa trail starts out heading northwest. Almost immediately I had to stop to take some photos. I could see snow toward Brian Head in the north and could easily distinguish the elevated buttes that make up Zion National Park off to the northeast. Jens had said to stay left because the trail is a loop and I was riding it counterclockwise. For the most part the trail traversed giant slabs of limestone, just like the one we had parked the car upon. (Later, while looking at the mesa on the Google Maps satellite view, I thought the rocks looked like giant loaves of bread, all sitting side by side, just like Gooseberry Mesa). A lot of the rock here also had a pinkish tinge to it, also like we had witnessed on Gooseberry Mesa a couple days before. But unlike Gooseberry, Little Creek Mesa had no white dots pointing the way. This would prove to be a problem.
I repeatedly lost track of the Little Creek Mesa Trail, even though Jens had printed me a map the night before. At times I felt I was following a treasure map, except my “fortune” was a cairn… instead of a chest of gold. (A “cairn” is a hiking and mountain biking term for two or more rocks conspicuously stacked in an attempt to mark a trail.)
Each time I lost my way I would have to stop and look all around for the next cairn. When I didn’t immediately see a cairn I studied Jens’ map, and then started riding in a spiral pattern (like I had seen on Gilligan’s Island on TV one time) until I either crossed the trail or managed to spot another cairn.
I was in the “stop and look” mode when, instead of another pile of rocks, I spotted two riders, straddling their bikes, in what appeared to be their version of the “stop and look” mode. I quickly hopped on my bike and set out in their direction. At a distance I thought they might be the two semi-pros we had parked the car next to, but as I neared I could see these two were not dressed at all like semi pros (jerseys covered with patches… like Dale Earnhart Jr. or my all-time favorite… Jimmie Johnson).
One guy was in his twenty’s, wearing a dark brown t-shirt with black and white striped long sleeves protruding. The sleeve pattern looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. He had long bushy hair tied in a pony tail, and his sneakers sat inside the old “rat trap” type of pedals. The other guy looked to be in his forties, and was wearing conventional grey shorts with a solid colored riding shirt. These guys obviously were not in the same league as the riders we’d seen next to the car earlier that morning.
As I pulled to a stop in front of the riders I asked them where they had come from. Instantly they both pointed in a direction a full 90 degrees from where I’d ridden. When they described our car, the white pick-up truck, and 3 hikers (two “young” women and a guy wearing a cast on his arm) I knew they had started at the same place I had… and we had all travelled in the same general direction. I asked them if they were the ones with the tent but they said they had arrived after us driving a red pick-up truck.
After again studying Jens’ map I finally figured out what had happened. They had arrived there much quicker because they had taken the inner-loop of the Little Creek Mesa Trail. I had intended on taking the inner-loop but I guess I’d missed a left turn and gotten on the outer-loop.
The older biker then said, “Boy, you sure carry a lot of cameras.” I then told them I was doing a website and then quickly asked if I could take their photo to post on the site. They both said okay and then posed together. I next said, “Would you mind if I got your first names as a caption for the photo?” The older man immediately said his name was Steve. When I looked to the younger man he hesitated, and finally said “Chip.” Steve’s face showed confusion as he looked at the younger man and muttered, “Chip?” I looked back at the younger man and said, “Chip, is that what you want to be called?” He chuckled a little and said, “Yes, that will work.” So I said, “Okay, Chip it will be!”
When I asked them if they had ever done this trail before Steve said no and “Chip” said he had been here once but had only ridden the Magic Carpet Ride. Chip then asked me if I had ever ridden the Magic Carpet Ride. I told him Jens had recommended I not take that trail as it would cut right through the loop and I would miss quite a bit of riding. Chip said he found the Magic Carpet Ride to be a blast and recommended I try it if I got the chance.
With a little more probing I found out Steve was from Salt Lake City and “Chip” was from Saint George. “Salt Lake City?” I asked, “Then you have probably done the Wasatch Crest Trail.” He passionately responded with, “Yes, many times. That is the best trail ever!” I had been lucky to have ridden that epic trail the previous summer and had to agree. Steve added, “My wife drops me off at Guardsman Pass and I just ride home from there. But you have to be careful on the Mill Creek Canyon section, I almost hit a moose… right on the trail, and many other bikers have told me the same thing! That area is just thick with moose!”
He followed with, “When did you do the trail?” I told him about riding the trail the summer before, and that I had done the whole thing… Park City to Salt Lake City. Steve said he doubted he could do the entire thing and that’s why he always started at Guardsman Pass. “But if you get the chance, try doing the Wasatch Crest in the fall, when the trees have turned color… it is beautiful,” Steve concluded.
I asked them if I could join them on the ride… and they both enthusiastically said, “Yes!” Chip went first with Steve right behind… I was more than happy to bring up the rear.
To help visualize the landmarks I talk about in the rest of this story, or to aid in your own ride at Little Creek Mesa, please enjoy this interactive, trail map. Click on Little Creek Mesa for Directions to this ride. Click the icons for info on land- marks, both general and personal to this ride.
We immediately dropped into the deepest ravine we would encounter all day, and then turned and traveled up that gulch to the west. At one point we had to hike-a-bike up a 3-foot dry waterfall. I wondered if this was the “Little Creek” of Little Creek Mesa. As we climbed the opposite side of the gulch Steve appeared to have some trouble with his downshifting and asked me if I would like to ride ahead of him. I said either way I was happy. Steve said he was just going to slow me down so he wanted to go last… so I followed Chip.
Even though Chip didn’t have the latest gear or a newer bike he was a good rider. Young, strong, and agile… those qualities combined with some advanced bike skills helped Chip roll over the largest obstacles and make it look easy. I found myself breathing hard just trying to keep sight of him. But was that really Chip in front of me? If Chip was his name, then why did Steve keep calling him… Josh?
After finally emerging from the wash we rode over more slabs of limestone along the north side of the ravine. We then made a big counterclockwise loop and went west until we came to one of those flat, flimsy, skinny, plastic signs propped up at the back of a slab the size of a basketball court. The sign said North Loops (in the direction we were heading). We saw no other trail heading off in a different direction so we just stayed on the trail we had been riding.
Did we manage to get lost… even with a sign giving us directions… three experienced and relatively intelligent bikers? Please click Little Creek (page 2) to find out!