Sand Canyon – Canyon of the Ancients
Sand Canyon isn’t a very big trail network so it wasn’t even on our radar until a lady we met suggested we check it out. Sand Canyon is in the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument 10 miles west of Cortez, CO. The monument is 176,000 acres and contains the highest known density of archeological sites in the United States. This area was inhabited by the Anasazi Indians.
The ride we picked was an out-and-back on Sand Canyon Trail and then a loop of East Fork Trail. The trail starts on a giant rock slab and climbs to the cliffs and then skirts around them with great views. Behind you is Sleeping Ute Mountain towering above the valley. The trail was flowy along the cliff before coming to the intersection where we had to make a choice. We decided to skip going up the rest of Sand Canyon Trail and instead we turned left to head out on our loop.
This is where the trail gets more difficult and where it earns its black diamond rating. The trail winds along the mesa dipping down into canyons and back up and around rock sections with outstanding views. There are a couple short rock scramble hike-a-bikes up but most of them we were able to ride down. The end of the loop was a pleasant surprise as the trail has you riding up and around a giant slab of slickrock. So fun!
In fact I liked it so much I rode another loop. In all the ride was 16 miles with 1800′ climbing. To cap off the night we had a campfire, sipped bourbon, and planned the next days ride.
McPhee Overlook and Little Bean Canyon Loop
Today’s ride started at the edge of Dolores, a small town just up the road from Cortez. We rode in the area our first day here and you can read about that HERE.
McPhee Overlook is an out and back singletrack roughly 10 miles each way. Right from the parking area the pitch is steep! Up some switchbacks, through some big rock sections and on up to the top we went. The reservoir stretches out as far as you can see with snow-capped mountains on the horizon and wildflowers everywhere!
The trail rolls through grassy treed meadows down into canyons and back up the other side always keeping the reservoir to the left. I would consider this an intermediate trail as there were some steep pitches and rocky sections. The 10-miles goes quickly and we came to a junction with the Little Bean Canyon Loop. We turned right and climbed up the canyon a few miles to the road, hung a left and climbed the road for about a mile and then turned left on the Bean Loop trail again.
The Bean Canyon Loop is roughly 12 miles but we short cut it to save some time. This loop was a really fun trail. The climb up to the road followed the canyon, climbing steeply in certain places but generally a moderate steady grade. The section after the road was a blast with some really rocky parts, followed with loooong flowing swoopy turns…and wildflowers! Back at the junction, we headed “down” the McPhee Overlook Trail. So.Much.Fun.
In all we pedaled 29.5 miles and climbed 2900′. We probably smiled the whole way.