It's mid-April. A wicked wintry storm is ripping through Colorado and we’ve got so much new snow the Internet is abuzz with avalanche warnings and late-season pow photos. Crested Butte’s lifts are shut down for the season; locals simultaneously relish and dread the opportunity to hunker down inside for a change. After tasting spring’s warmth during a mild stretch in late March, we grow impatient quickly. The Netflix queue wears thin and the dogs get restless. My “Honey-Do” list grows by the minute and I starting looking for ways out … doors.
About three hours away, Fruita provides a powerful remedy. Since it’s several thousand feet lower in elevation and further west toward Utah, Fruita’s desert environment typically turns hospitable at least a month earlier. Long a hot spot for mountain biking, its legend has grown to the point where campgrounds often fill to capacity on weekends in the spring and fall. Friends tell me about “back in the day” when they’d be the only people camped in the whole place. That is a rare occurrence nowadays, and it speaks to the allure of having a desert oasis just a short trip away from the high country. It’s kinda like the beach. Without the water.
18 Road, located in the North Fruita Desert Special Recreation Management Area, is undoubtedly the most popular place to both camp and ride. In mid-April and May the temps generally hover in the 60s and 70s during the day and touch the mid-30s at night. Same goes for the fall. It’s hot here in the summer - this is the desert after all. So plan on riding early or late in the day that time of year.
Even when the lots are packed, the trails rarely feel overcrowded. Singletrack swirls about striated bluffs and toggles down steep stone stairs and parched creek beds. All the 18 Road trails are accessible right from basecamp, which is my favorite part about camping here. Otherwise I’d probably try and hunt out a more “primitive” camping spot. The access makes it all worth it, and I’m already packing for my next trip.
[Step-by-Step Singletrack Session]
1. Wake up, drink coffee and eat breakfast.
2. Check bike’s tire pressure, clean and lube chain, adjust seat height.
3. Head out for 2-to-3 hour ride, eventually landing back at camp.
4. Eat lunch. Repeat Step 2.
5. Tear into a longer, more challenging ride and pedal ‘til your legs turn to mush.
6. Roll back into camp in a state of elated exhaustion.
7. Beer. Snacks. More beer.
8. Roll out on a short sunset ride. [Joe’s Ridge]
9. Eat dank dinner by the campfire.
10. Do it all again the next day.
• Download North Fruita Desert Brochure
• Camping Information [$10 per site, per night]
• Bike Shop: Over The Edge Sports
• The North Fruita Desert Special Recreation Management Area includes 72,000 acres and 250 miles of designated recreation routes. Much of the area is desert valley floor with washes and sharp ridges. At the north end of the area lie the Book Cliffs, one of the longest, continuous geological features in the world. With close proximity to Fruita and Grand Junction, this area is popular for many types of recreation. North Fruita Desert includes an open off-highway vehicle area, an extensive mountain bike trail system, designated OHV routes and a developed campground. Visitation peaks during the spring and fall months. [Words + Photos by Mike Horn]