Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain

I had been wanting to explore Soapstone Prairie Natural Area for a while. Since one of the longer sections of trail is closed from April 1-July 15 my ride on March 31 was a timed perfectly. I planned just over 30 miles and around 3 hours. 

The parking was easy to find and access with plenty of room. The SPNA website never mentioned a fee. Since the entrance kiosk was unmanned, and there was no signs for fees I was happily surprised to find that this was a free use area - not many places seem to be anymore.

I began heading East to connect with the Plover trail. This 7+ mile section is closed for a few months to allow for nesting. The trails leading to this were pretty fun, albeit mellow, singletrack. The Plover trail itself however, wasn't a trail so much as simply a gravel road on the plains. 

After rolling North on Plover, my route headed West. This was a fantastic trail that was almost entirely double track. Still the scenery was lovely. I began to catch up to a few recreational riders in this section. After a short wrong turn diversion, and correction, I saw them again as the trail entered the Red Mountain Open Space area.

The beginning of Red Mountain Open Space - looking South

The route - Ruby Wash - heads right down into that  canyon.

Red Mountain is a big change in scenery as you drop into Ruby Wash. It's the first real singletrack on the route I chose and the first area where a CX bike might not be a better option. This is even more apparent when you finish the descent and end up in the wash proper. for those not in the know this means you're riding on a dry sandy creek bed. It's not a ton of fun, and it is sluggish, but the scenery of riding through the canyon makes up for it (at least the first time). Along this South heading section of the route the trail was marked with nondescript little towers of rock held together in a wire shell. They're not always easy to see, but that's what you're looking for if you go here. The creek bed wanders and there are tire tracks all over. There are also several random side trails (some of which go nowhere) but the towers point the way.

The wash part of Ruby Wash

At the end of Ruby Wash it was time to head back East to reconnect with the car. This unfortunately meant I had to head up another wash (uphill this time). At some point I exited stage right onto a very clearly defined singletrack section. I wish I had taken some pictures of this section because it reminded me of Salsa's line "adventure by bike." I'm not sure if this was a sanctioned trail, as it had varying use and was unsigned, but it was prominent, nothing told me not to ride it, and it did connect with another main trail. (FYI - there are many different places where trails are clearly marked with signs that say "Not a trail.")

Back on the main trail, singletrack dominated the remainder of the route. The Cheyenne Rim trail was fantastic. The views were amazing and after one large ascent it was largely downhill. I couldn't help but think that I was on this trail in the right direction. The last mile to the car was double track but the other 6 miles were the highlight of the trip.

How Cheyenne Rim got it's name

sweet singletrack = more fun riding and less pictures

I hadn't found anyone else who had ridden here, so I wasn't entirely sure what I was in for. Now I know and I can say I would go back. I'm generally not fond of gravel on a MTB ride, and I could do without so much sand next time, but there were several sections of singletack that I missed on this trip which could be linked together to avoid a lot of the sand and most of the roads. There is very little technical riding in this area even on the singletrack, but what there is leads me to believe that this is still a lot more fun if you bring the 29er and leave the skinny tires at home. 

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