Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Rabbit Valley and Fruita, Colorado
Camping and Mountain Biking
Rabbit Valley Camping
Rabbit Valley is an excellent area to explore in Western Colorado. Go to Exit #2 off of I-70 and head south. Passenger cars can make it a couple miles unless the roads are muddy, and everyone should be prepared for bigger storms as the road crosses several washes.
I've slept in the car at the immediate entrance, and shortly thereafter are a few more informal camping spots. It is all free. Further in (below in this story) is a nice spot next to a big rock that looks like a Hershey Kiss, and there is a bathroom there as well. But, it's kind of a group spot, people are hopefully cool about sharing.
In either case, these is a great place to make a base for mt. biking or hiking, r just hanging out and seeing the stars. Petroglyphs are nearby, down the road along a wash. Trail #8 to Western Rim is a great mt. bike ride (one of the best in the state and a worthy trip) or trail run, and some bushwhacking up the hills to the west can also be interesting.
But, you're a good 25 minutes or so off the road, and another 30-45 mins to the hospital (Grand Junction) or urgent care (Fruita), so be careful! As we shall see...
With a 3-day weekend on tap, it was time to get out of town. After getting skunked on camping the last few weeks. we were looking forward to sleeping out under nearly full moon. I was anxious to get above treeline, but need to give that a few more weeks of melting out. Meanwhile, the Fruita Desert was looking delicious: highs in the upper 70s and low 80s, no threat of rain, and we had never mt. biked in what's advertised as one of the best spots in the country. I hadn't done much this year, but J & I took a quick spin after work in Maxwell/Pineridge, and got ready for the weekend. In addition, Ben was looking for something to do, too. He had never mt. biked before, and had previously cast a weary eye upon it, but was able to borrow a bike and give it a try. We caravan'ed out West.
First stop: 18 Road/Bookcliffs area. This is a hotspot of Zippity Do Dah, The Edge, etc., along with camping spots directly next to the trails. Some background: there used to be a bunch of unofficial campspots here on BLM land, but they've been "cleaned up" by putting in fire rings and even bathrooms. The downside is that camping is officially limited to that specific, crowded area. I have mixed feelings about this, as the inability of people to respectfully adhere to LNT principles ironically leads to some development and crowded camping. I don't need to be right next to the trailhead by any means, just looking for options. Then again, I can see that having "dispersed" camping right along the road the entire way wouldn't truly be dispersed, and there are problems unique to the desert in terms of soil destruction and ruining pristine views, so I see the dilemma.
Needless to say, we didn't get a spot. Backup plan: Rabbit Valley, exit 2, which was rumored to have "more" camping spots. We headed back down to town. Another side note: driving up and back from 18 Road showed off some of the rolling paved roads north of Fruita. Although the shoulder was narrow, the quality of pavement and relatively light traffic begged for a subsequent visit on skinny tires. Yes, one could happily make the drive out there and only bring road bikes and have a great time (also true for Palisade/wine country, Moab/River Road, and Colorado National Monument).
After the Rabbit Valley turnoff, we saw a spur road with a couple campers and cars about a half mile in the distance. It looked like there would have been room, but we decided to press on to the next campsite. The sign said "High Clearance Vehicles Only", but with cautious driving and no threat of rain, we headed to the Castle Rocks "campground," hoping that the extra couple miles of dirt road would filter out RVs and trailers.
I put "campground" in quotes here, because when we reached it, we saw one fire ring and picnic table, along with a pit toilet. Based on suggestions, I assumed this spot would have more camping than Bookcliffs, but it appeared not to be so. A pile of wood and a tent already staked claim to the prime site. A couple of guys, Ryan and Adam, were getting ready to camp as well. Turns out, they'd been there all afternoon, and hadn't seen the tent owners. They set a tent up in the same area, off to the side, so we did the same, hoping nobody would mind. Turns out, one more group came in, and there was plenty of room for all of us. Although I was surprised that we were all in the same area, truthfully, it was beautiful, and our spots were no closer (perhaps even roomier) than any state or NFS campground. It would have been hell if you ended up next to the wrong group, but everyone we met was very cool, and it was an interesting spot next to a giant sandstone Hershey Kiss:
After setting up our tents, we still had enough light at 8 o'clock to take a quick spin on the bikes, and burn off some energy from driving down I-70. I hastily assembled my bike, and headed out on sandals on my little clipless pedals. We headed up the road and up Trail 2 for about 20 minutes, which offered some gentle but consistent climbs, not much technical challenge other than a bit of sand, and then turned around for the descent to head back to camp.
This is where disaster struck.
The normal advantage of descending the way you came is that I had a chance to scan for any trouble spots on the descent. Nothing but smoothe goodness, so I decided to let it fly. A bit too fast...My rear brake was bit loose, as I hadn't dialed it in, and I was hitting little bumps and whoop-de-doos a bit faster than I needed to, just burning off nervous energy. I was worried about catching air while not being clipped in, so I thought I should slow down a bit. I had a little trouble seeing contours in the flat light and shadow -- I should have known better -- and grabbed the front brake at the wrong time, and found myself airborn. In summary, one lesson is that the whole thing happened because I was in a goof-off/not-taking-this-seriously mindset.
I just had enough time to think "I can't believe I'm falling," but I bent my arms without locking my wrists, abd avoided cactus and rocks. I stood up and did a systems check, and got off the trail so J and Ben could keep going. They hadn't seen any of it, and thought I was just taking a break. Other than a bit of wind knocked out of me and some scrapes, things felt generally OK, so we headed back to camp.
Dusk now, with the full moon rising, we set up a fire and started cooking delicious camp food. We invited Adam over and shared some beer. He's into climbing, but turns out he's also into trail-running and ultras, and just did R2R2R last month with GZ's group. It was good chatting with him, though I think I was less chatty as a touch of pain settled in when I got up to move.
Still felt alright, though, and was excited about sleeping out in the open in our new tent. Now we had plenty of room to sprawl out and store our gear, and slept pretty well. My left hip was a bit sore, though, so I turned to avoid it.
Around 2AM, I turned and felt the side of my hip, and was alarmed to find my hand filled with more-than-a-cupful of a warm, tight mass. Bad news. "Jessica, can you wake up? I'm sorry, I need you to get up immediately and drive me to the hospital in Grand Junction." Gamely, she got up and we got ready quickly. Ben woke up as well, and when he saw the lump on my side eclipsing the moon behind me, he said, "Oh, God."
Based on the rate of swelling, and knowing it was an hour to the hospital in Junction, I thought it was a good idea to get out immediately. It's not like I was going to sleep and find out how it looked 4 hours later. Truthfully, but I didn't say it out loud, I vaguely recalled hearing about pelvis fractures and some sort of large artery in that area that can be cut, leading to massive blood loss, shock, and death. Ugh.
Although I bemoan how much technology invades the outdoors these days, I'm grateful that our cell phones did work most of the time in the desert. Jessica did a great job navigating the bumpy dirt roads at night, and I called Junction for directions to the hospital. It turns out, there was actually a small hospital in Fruita as well, but we didn't have precise directions. We decided to gamble on finding that one, saving 15 minutes of driving.
I guess the hospital literally opened in the last few months, so the road signs and Google's phone directory weren't fully updated. We drove around a little bit before finding it on North Cherry. The door was locked, I pressed a buzzer, and 2 aid's ambled down the hallway. I lifted up my shirt to try to evoke more urgency (or at least Mardi Gras beads), but I mostly evoked a wince.
They checked me out briefly and called in the on-call doctor, as none was immediately present. I felt bad about waking someone up on the long weekend, but "that's what he's paid to do." Still, I would've preferred the whole careless thing didn't happen in the first place and that we could all be sleeping. They suggested that my femur or pelvis wasn't fractured, as I was able to walk and the blood didn't flow down into my foot when my feet were pointed together -- that was good news -- and that I "probably" would have "bled out" more if there were a major artery cut, so hopefully the bleeding was stopped or slowed significantly.
The doctor showed up in full spirits, and taught me the word "hematoma." He was going to try to drain it as much as possible. He tried a couple syringes of various size before going to a scalpel. After lidocaine, none of this hurt much at all. He was dismayed that the blood flowed slowly, yet was still bright red, suggesting something arterial. Ugh. After prodding around, we got occasional spurts of blood drain, but not a significant reduction in size. After 45 mins or so, and a call to a colleague, he decided to wrap it up tight and monitor it for a bit. He decided that heading to GJ for a surgical removal/draining would likely be worse than leaving it alone. Wanting to be in a hospital as little as possible, I agreed.
Nothing changed over the next hour or so, and there's no way I could fall asleep. He kept it wrapped up tight, and said I can head out and should "Take it easy." It felt much better being compressed -- I should have done that immediately. I asked if it was stupid to go back to the desert, and he said as long as I monitored it and it didn't get worse, I should be OK. I didn't specifically ask about biking again, and he didn't specifically mention it -- both of us, on purpose. My mind translated "Take it Easy" to doing anything less than I would if I weren't injured. They were nice enough to brew up a cup of coffee, get me some extra ice, and a prescription for Vicodin. I still have never tried it, but it's good in case of emergency, I guess.
We headed back and tried to nap, and succeeded. I slept better than I thought, but was in no shape to get up and do much of anything. I had a hard time getting up to walk, so I didn't even thing about doing anything more. We decided to stay, though, and J was OK hanging out, camping, reading, etc., while been did a little exploratory riding.
By now, the folks that staked out the spot had showed up: Mike from Fruita, and his wife Erin and 2 young daughters. He told us that a few other folks were showing up and they'd be taking over the place, but we were welcome to stay if we wanted, as we all "paid the same" for it. They seemed nice enough so we thought we might stay at least another night, and see how loud it got with the kids and everything, as well as a dog that showed up. With my injury, I was sort of a surly, immobile bear, caught in a trap, and when camping, I generally prefer quiet, peaceful reflection, so this was going to be a test, as I specifically avoid the crowded RV-and-TV camping on busy weekends.
As the afternoon went on, I encouraged J and Ben to go for a ride. I felt OK, and the cell phones worked, and there were other folks around, so it seemed like little risk. I took a short nap, and otherwise sat down in the shade, reading "Desert Solitaire" for the first time, enjoying the appropriate geographical references. Meanwhile, the shaved retriever mix, "Zinger," made his way over to me, with an apparent gimpiness in my leg. I gave him some reassuring pats on the side, feeling his pain. He came over to keep me company as well...or to bury his snout in our food bags.
The rest of the families showed up: a couple more girls, and one boy. The girls shyly acknowledged me, as they tromped around exploring the nearby sandstone. I caught on to some of their play, as they were interested in solving various "mysteries" that they devised. It was refreshing to see such imagination.
Ben and J returned, no injuries or mechanical issues. We hung out a bit and then did a bit of walking, checking out the "Castle Rock" formation up the road.
Also, within 3/4 of a mile of our camp were some petroglyphs (EDIT: pictographs?) in an arroyo, so we sought those out. It's amazing how the red coloring stands out on the rocks.
“The pre-Columbian Indians of the Southwest, whether hunting, making arrowpoints, going on salt-gathering expeditions or otherwise engaged, clearly enjoyed plenty of leisure time. This speaks well of the food-gathering economy and also of its culture, which encouraged the Indians to employ their freedom in the creation and sharing of a durable art. Unburdened by the necessity of devoting most of their lives to the production, distribution, sale and servicing of labor-saving machinery, lacking proper recreational facilities, these primitive savages were free to do that which comes as naturally to men as making love—making graven images.” -- "Desert Solitaire" by Ed Abbey
I could easily spend a weekend climbing around and exploring this area.
We headed back for dinner, some veggie burgers, Ben's deliciously improvised jambalaya, and Smore's, and we still had enough ice to keep the Tecate cold.
Slept well, and woke up feeling somewhat better. The Lump was still there, but felt acceptable when compressed. I couldn't run at all, that was for sure, but by keeping The Lump compressed, I was convinced that I could bike. After breakfast, we made plans to check out the famous Kokopelli Trailhead trails. We loaded up the car -- 3 bikes and 3 peeps all fit inside the Outback (yes, overdue for a bike rack) and headed out.
Kokopelli Trailhead Trails
As expected, the trailhead was busy, but not overwhelmingly crowded. It was the heat of mid-day, but still only in the upper 70s -- amazing for almost June. We reassembled the bikes, and settled in for the beginning of Mary's Loop. This didn't disappoint, with a nice, scarcely technical but manageable climb up to some nice mesa views.
After this, we continued past our intended turn onto Horsethief Bench, so instead took the Wrangler Cutoff. This put us on some nice desert double-track toward the cliffs and rock formations, but we soon ran out of signs and other people, so turned around. Then we took a short climb away from the main trail, which ended up dumping us onto the main, rocky descent for Moore Fun. It was decently fun, but not what we were looking for, and we looped back to the main trail, before heading up the Rustler Loop.
The Rustler Loop is a bit of an intro loop with a little bit of everything, but it flows nicely, has great views, and isn't crowded. Fun for all levels. There are little signs on the side that offer basic mt. biking tips appropriate for the surrounding terrain -- luckily, they agreed with the advice I had been giving/making up.
Kannah Creek Brewpub
After a fun taste of Kokopelli trails, it was time for some fresh beer and food. We headed to Kannah Creek in Grand Junction.
Kannah Creek didn't disappoint. It has a simple layout, looking like an old pizza place, and didn't have much for patio views, but had a great food selection: good pizzas and awesome waffle fries! Later, our camping neighbor and Fruita local, Mike, levied a criticism that their food wasn't fried enough! I thought it was awesome, fresh, and tasty. The beer was decent -- nothing stood out but all met my expectations, as I tried the award-winning Standing Wave Pale Ale and Lands End Amber. Surprisingly, Island Mesa Blonde is described as being light and unsophisticated, but it had a great crisp dryness that I could imagine all summer. The rotating list online included a couple maibocks, a pilsner, octoberfest, and Irish Red -- I'd love to come back sometime and try any of these. Oh, the afternoon Happy Hour (3-6?) was nice, 7 days a week; growler fills were $8 and allowed foreign growler fills (I shouldn't have to clarify this, if it weren't for Glennwood Canyon's lame rules); and you can buy a souvenir glass for $7 with a beer.
We took a siesta when we got back, then started a fire for some S'mores. As it got dark, we headed over to Mike's camp and hung out with all of them, and had a great time.
Western Rim Trail
Next morning, as threatened, I got Ben up at sunrise for another ride. Mike described a route off of Trail 2 that looped over to the rim of the Colorado River -- this wasn't on my map, but it sounded like fun. We had a few hike-bike-sections, but generally enjoyed the route out to the rim. We ran into a bit of route-finding and backtracking with some crossing unofficial trails, but eventually found the cairns marking the beginning of the Western Rim trail.
The Rim trail was as awesome as Mike described -- flowing, slightly downhill singletrack, mostly buff with just a bit of rocks thrown in, and great exposed views.
The rim section was over too soon, though, and we reconnected with the Kokopelli trail, which we took back. Maybe 14 miles and just over 2.5 hours. Nobody got hurt, but Ben might have gotten addicted to mountain biking!
On our way back home, we stopped in Grand Junction again -- this time, to check out downtown and the Rockslide Brewery.
Rockslide had a nice location downtown. No patio that we saw, unfortunately, but a cozy bar atmosphere. Decent selection of food and beer -- we tried a serviceable seaonal Bock, as well as a mainstay Rabbit Ears Amber and Kokopelli Cream Ale (which would have been better if it were creamier, perhaps on nitro). We were greeted with some complementary bread and butter, and the curly fries were, well, quite curly and delicious. I saw All-You-Can-Eat Salmon Fish 'n Chips on Thursday nights, as well as a Mug Club -- I'd be there for sure if I lived in the area!
After lunch, we strolled downtown for a bit, which had a fun selection of stores, cafes, and public art. You don't hear enough about Grand Junction, but it's worth a visit and then some. And, Fruita is well-deserving of it's reputation as well.
Next time, I'll ride a bigger bike!