I had been waiting for the days to get a bit warmer and the ground to thaw out before venturing out on my mountain bike. Reports from friends in Grand Junction were promising, but I wanted to ride someplace where there wasn’t a parking lot full of other riders. After talking with a couple of buddies from the West End, I decided to organize a West End bike ride.
I sent out an email to all my fellow OGRE’s — Old Guys Riding Extreme. My West End buddies, John Stewart and Paul Koski had extended an open invitation to ride in their neck of the woods anytime. We were taking them up on their offer.
Our destination would be Sinbad Valley, south of Gateway. John and Paul had done some extensive exploration of Sinbad Valley, and raved about the great riding and exceptional scenery.
On the appointed day Alan, Stubby, Doc, Jim, and I met John and Paul at the intersection of Colorado 141 and County Road Z6. Stubby brought along his wife, Becky. John had also invited Tom and Christine to join us. It was one of the largest OGRA rides ever. It seems folks were itching to go for a ride.
The forecast called for mild and breezy conditions, so I was looking forward to cranking off a few miles without being bundled up. We all arrived at the pre-arranged intersection, and after exchanging a few pleasantries, we got to cranking.
The first several miles of our ride gradually climbed Salt Wash on a smooth two-track. Redrock canyon walls shot up on both sides. The same geological formations that give Southeast Utah its signature look dominate the scenery of the West End. The Dolores River carves through the terrain, creating spectacular red rock canyons.
Salt Wash originates in Sinbad Valley, then drains into the Dolores River. The early settlers found a well-established Ute trail up the wash that wound its way northwest up the slopes of the valley, eventually leading to the high country of the La Sal Mountains.
As we entered Sinbad Valley, we passed by a foul-smelling spring that is reportedly laced with arsenic, a product of its prehistoric past. The valley is what geologists refer to as a collapsed salt valley. Buried salt from an evaporated ancient sea had been pushed up, then carried off by ground water, leaving huge depressions in the landscape. The nearby Paradox Valley and several others in the area have similar origins.
At the first fork in the road, we took a right, heading for the northwest end of the valley. The two-track took on a steeper and rockier nature. From our vantage point we could the remnants of an old copper mine. Early day miners and ranchers came into Sinbad Valley around 1885.
Tom McCarty, leader of the McCarty Gang, had a hideout on nearby Sewemup Mesa. McCarty ran with the notorious Butch Cassidy and the McCarty gang robbed a Delta bank back in 1893. Ranching, the boom/bust cycles of mining and renegade leanings have been in the bloodlines of the West End since the early days.
When I moved to western Colorado vehicle license plates for Montrose County had the letters WB followed by numbers. Friends of mine from Montrose County proudly boasted that the letters stood for “Wild Bunch,” a common moniker for Cassidy’s gang.
Our modern-day “wild bunch” on wheels rode a few more miles before stopping for lunch. It felt good to hang out with old riding partners and get to know a few new faces. The ride back to our vehicles took a fraction of the time we spent climbing.
By the time we returned to our vehicles the day had warmed enough to allow us to pull out the camp chairs, brake out some snacks and a few beverages. We had a chance to catch up on the latest personal news and discuss future rides we would like to do later in the year. Après mountain biking at its best.
The West End has many great trails sans the crowds. The riding is short on singletrack, but heavy on great scenery and adventure.
Bill Harris is a long-time resident of western Colorado and active outdoor writer. He has traveled extensively across the Colorado Plateau and is the author of “Bicycling the Uncompahgre Plateau.”