The setting sun illuminates the blades of grass in the meadow that spreads out before us. A smooth, shoulder-width trail stretches to the horizon. Banded cliffs flank us on each side. There's no one else around save forearm-sized lizards. Is this a savanna in Africa? No, it's Fruita, Colorado, one of the country's newest mountain bike destinations.
Mountain bikers have been driving past this mostly agricultural town for years en route to Moab, Utah, the pre-ordained Mecca of biking. What they didn't know was that locals began developing trails in Fruita in the early 1980s. Thanks to them and numerous volunteers, you can now ride miles and miles on some of the buffest, baby-butt smooth, singletrack in the U.S.
"An hour before sunset we head out for our first ride in Fruita. We cruise down a drainage on Prime Cut to Joe's Ridge, at first a curvy singletrack like a Disneyland ride without the lines..."
We pull off I-70 at the Fruita exit and load up on food and water at City Market. Then it's a visit to Over the Edge Sports to pick up the Fruita Fat Tire Guide, complete with maps and honest trail descriptions. There are several camping options; we choose the Bookcliffs area off of 18 Road for its proximity to the multiple loops and out and backs. It's "leave no trace" camping in designated sites because of the fragile desert ecosystem and means packing out all human waste.
The most noticeable aspects of the area, besides the incredible open space and the fragrant Juniper trees, are the dust and the heat so we create a tarp city between our vehicles as a respite from the relentless, afternoon sun. In the vacation mode we set up lawn chairs and a grill to entertain ourselves during the almost unrideable heat between 1pm and 4pm. People ride in Fruita year-round but many prefer the more mild temperatures of spring and fall. Locals advise not to ride in the mud, as it's the type of clay that will stop your bike and propel your body as well as damage the trails.
An hour before sunset we head out for our first ride in Fruita. We cruise down a drainage on Prime Cut to Joe's Ridge, at first a curvy singletrack like a Disneyland ride without the lines. The amusement park grounds in this case is the Grand Valley fenced in by the Bookcliffs, a cliff band of sandstone and adobe. We ride almost effortlessly through meadows, pump our legs up whoop-de-dos and negotiate steep, technical sections.
There's something for every level here, including the IMBA's first epic ride called The Edge, a 29-mile loop on singletrack and fire roads complete with a rope portage down a 30-foot waterfall.
The next day we ride trails like Zippity-Doo-Dah, an advanced eight-mile loop with a mellow start into a hard climb and a steep descent. Later, an out and back on The Fronted provides us with a great views of the valley. A fiery sunset over a beautiful meadow with a fast descent of the ladders off Chutes and Ladders marks our finale at this mountain biking dreamworld.
For a change of venue, we pack up camp and head just west of Fruita to Loma. The extensive trail systems here mark the genesis of Fruita riding and also the beginning of the popular Kokopelli Trail, a 144-mile trail with 4800 feet of climbing on singletrack and two-track all the way to Moab.
On trails like Horsethief Bench, Lion's Loop and Mary's Loop we find some radical descents and more singletrack with plenty of exposure over the Colorado River, so much so that at points I feel my energy bar resurfacing. Every corner delivers a view and there are plenty of scenic stop points along the loops. For the desert, Fruita is unbelievably green. For such an incredible mountain biking area, it's uncrowded. Watch out for the lizards.