Singletracks, Fall 2000, Story by Tom Greene, Greater Boston NEMBA
Las Vegas: Land of Elvis, a mini-reconstruction of New York city, exploding and sinking pirate ships, erupting volcanoes, white tigers, moving sidewalks, shotgun wedding chapels, and all-you-can-eat crab leg buffets.
There's no shortage of things to do in this town. But in the daylight hours, the sun beats down on the Vegas strip and heats the concrete and asphalt to temperatures equaling that of a blast furnace. The monolithic hotel-casinos which are mind numbingly illuminated at night begin to look fake and contrived in the pale mid-day sun.
Besides checking out the leaks in the Hoover Dam what else is there to do in Vegas during the day? If you are into trail riding Vegas is home to some serious desert singletrack. On our recent visit to Sin City, Reenie and I were jonesing to ride it.
Since we needed a ride to the trails from the hotel and rental bikes—and since they are cool enough to give NEMBA members a 10% discount—I figured I would give Escape Adventures of Las Vegas a call and set up a full day tour. Escape Adventures is a combination Bike Shop and Tour Outfitter which operates using Vegas as it's home base. Besides leading day and half-day tours on the local trails they also lead multi-day trips throughout the South West, California, Oregon and as far away as New Zealand.
On our scheduled tour day, Jared (the guide dude) showed up at our hotel with a van and two swank rental bikes. I got to ride a Gary Fisher Sugar full suspension, and Reenie was provided with a Santa Cruz Heckler fully. As it turned out the tour consisted solely of Reenie and myself— cool!
On the drive out to the trails Jared asked what kind of riding we were into - Climbing? - yeah sure - Technical? - more technical than the Rock Loaded New England Nasty Track? Yeah right! Essentially we conveyed the following point: Give us the all-you-can-ride singletrack buffet please, and don't skimp on the rocks!
After a pleasant half hour drive we rolled into the trailhead parking lot for Cotton Wood Canyon. On this ride we were going to sample the 'Mustang Trails'. According to Jared, the trails we were going to be riding this day were originally created by the population of wild horses that inhabit the area. When mountain biking became popular in the Vegas metro area the existing horse trails were adopted by mountain bikers with permission of the Bureau of Land Management.
Exiting the parking lot we began a gradual middle ring climb on a twisting hard packed singletrack. While the tune of Elvis' Viva Las Vegas rang in my ears, the trail meandered along through the boulders and cacti slowly gaining elevation above the valley floor. The tread was technical enough to keep it interesting, the weather was clear, the air was clean and the temperature cooled considerably as we climbed up the hillside. As a back drop to this experience much taller mountains rose sharply in front of us. Unlike the barren desert we were traveling through the mountains were forested at the peaks with a patchy snow covering in the shady areas. Stopping to take a break after the first twenty minutes or so I was blown away by how far up we had climbed. Far below you could see the parking lot where we started and the rock formations of Red Rock canyon far off in the distance.
Soon after this initial climb the trail leveled out and we began an awesome stretch of singletrack which snaked along darting around and in between boulders with the occasional dry stream bed gully to launch down and back up the other side—that was a rush! I did my best to stay on Jared's wheel, who by the way is one hell of a rider. After more awesome one-track, and even more climbing (and Jared and me getting our collective rear ends handed to us on this one particular 'un-climbable' technical climb by Reenie) we were ready for the B.D.H. —a.k.a. The Big Downhill!
Take a trail just like the one we just did on the way up, turn it around in the other direction and what you get is one hell of a good time. Just steep and open enough so that you can carry a lot of speed (I found myself spinning out a 42 x 11) but not so steep that you need to be on the brakes all the time. It was like a wide open slalom course through the rocks and Joshua trees. Yowza !
Twenty-seven some odd miles later the singletrack spit us out back at the van. A bagel sandwich, Yohoo Chocolate Drink, Salsa Verde Doritos, and a post ride buzz kept me happy on the return ride back to the hotel. At this point Reenie and I quickly decided to do it all over again the next day.
Back on the strip that night we sampled only a tiny fraction of what there is to do in Las Vegas: We did a few laps in the 'lazy river' pool at the hotel, checked out 'Star Trek—The Experience' where I had the opportunity to practice my Klingon (it's not good I learned). Eventually I lost six bucks to the one armed bandit, had an awesome dinner at a revolving restaurant, and on the way back to the hotel we watched some dancing fountains precisely choreographed to the tune of 'Rain Drops Keep Fallin On My Head.' Where else in the world can you rail some pretty serious singletrack in the day and do all this stuff at night?
The next day feeling rejuvenated we were ready to ride more one track. Since we were taking off that afternoon I was looking forward to another post ride buzz for the long flight home, plus a hearty appetite required to stomach airline food! Jared showed up again, and on the drive out asked us if it was cool if we met up and rode with a couple of other guys from the shop —at the trail head we met up Pat and John— on tap for that day were some local knowledge goods.
Starting from a small township on the outskirts of the city, we began a climb up a skinny goat path precariously carved into the scraggy mountainside—it climbed sometimes steeply, swicthbacking on itself until it topped us out at an incredible view of the surrounding desert and the Vegas skyline in the distance. From there I looked across and saw the next B.D.H. ahead—the trail ran across the ridge, over stretches of volcanic rock and deep orangy—red soil packed and baked harder than pavement and between solitary Joshua trees. Several hours and tens of miles later we were back at the start—savoring soft drinks in the shade of a small country store talking about how great the ride was.