The best bike-friendly routes inside America’s newest national monument
In a landmark decision Wednesday, outgoing president Barak Obama permanently protected a 1.35-million-acre swath of some of the country’s most culturally and environmentally significant land. The executive action, which also marked the creation of the Gold Butte National Monument in southern Nevada, is seen as a major win for conservationists, native tribal groups, and recreation enthusiasts alike.
If you’ve read any of the press about Bears Ears, you likely imagine the area as a vast expanse of canyonlands stretching as far as the eye can see. While that perception is not necessarily inaccurate, it’s not entirely accurate, either, because it doesn’t capture the ecological and topographic diversity which add to the protection-worthy nature of this country.
The Abajos—an isolated spattering of 9, 10, and 11,000-foot peaks—rise in stark contrast from the surrounding desert at the northern reaches of the monument. During the summer, these mountains offer visitors an escape from the often oppressive heat found in canyon bottoms and in the fall they light up in a brilliant display of greens, oranges, and yellows, a welcome splash of color in an otherwise red-washed landscape.
The following routes represent a sampling of all that the new Bears Ears National Monument has to offer.
Abajo Loop: Spring Creek to Robertson Pasture
“A superb alpine adventure with forests, meadows, rocks, and epic views.” — Nick Wilder
The best way to tour the extensive network of trails in the Abajos, this loop is punctuated by scenic desert overlooks, primitive loamy singletrack, dense stands of mixed forest, and plenty of elevation gain and loss. Bonus: Ride here in early autumn to experience some of the best fall colors around. Full ride details.
Pedal a slickrock-strewn jeep road directly to the base of centuries-old Anasazi ruins.
From the superbly-located Comb Wash Campground, this ride begins with a gradual pedal along a wide dirt road under the towering red walls of Comb Ridge. Eventually, the route heads up a steep, rugged jeep road littered with slickrock slabs and technical, ledgy climbing. After checking out the view of Arch Canyon, riders meander along the mesa top until reaching Hotel Rock—the site of some impeccable Anasazi ruins. Full ride details.
Wagonwheel to Bulldog
“An engaging downhill run through high aspens to low piney forests.” — Megan Wilder
Slightly lower in elevation than the Spring Creek to Robertson Pasture loop, this shuttled ride offers access to the flanks of the Abajo Mountains and its stunning forests. With nearly 2,000 feet of descent over a distance of just 8.7 miles, this point-to-point can be done quickly. But with fall foliage akin to that described in the Robertson Pasture loop, riders should take their time to soak it all in. Full ride details.