Poison Spider Mesa Bike Trail

Few Moab rides are as mentally and physically rewarding as Poison Spider Mesa. Next to Slickrock Bike Trail, Poison Spider Mesa should be at the top of any biker's must-ride list. With eye- popping views, generous slickrock to be crossed, and one helluva descent on the infamous Portal Trail, Poison Spider is prime candidate for an Old Milwaukee Beer commercial, because "It doesn't get any better than this."

From the outset, you'll realize that this is a "no holds barred" kind of ride because it begins with a brash, mile-long climb over sand, cobbles, and rock ledges. Then comes a mother-of-a-sand- trap that nearly gobbles you whole. But wait, there's more: more ledgy slickrock and more sand. Those with superhuman strength and graceful finesse might remain in the saddle, if good fortune is on their side; mortals will succumb to taking a stroll now and then. But mortals should not be deterred from riding Poison Spider, especially if you're a shutter bug, because the views gained from where the trail crosses the mesa are postcard perfect and worth every drop of sweat--hopefully sans blood and tears. From atop the mesa, the Behind the Rocks Wilderness Study Area is a befuddling sight. The echelon of "fins" is a vertible parade of hump-backed, sandstoned pachyderms plodding toward the idylically emplaced La Sal Mountains. Burn some film.

Mortals can make an about face here and return to the trailhead, but if you like surfing some big slickrock waves and peering over 500-foot cliffs then press on. Set your sights on the half-moon shaped dome to the northeast. The final approach crosses a huge ramp of slickrock that is an open arena for bicycle gymnastics. Upon reaching the dome, dismount and toe the edge of the Portal, where the Colorado River leaved the Moab valley and slips through confining walls that resemble Wall Street.

Now, mortals should seriously consider returning to the trailhead because the descent on the Portal Trail should not be taken lightly. This precariously placed path etched into the cliff's face is an exhilerating downhill for the intrepid and adept biker, but unforgiving and downright numbing for the timid and tentative. It combines severe exposures with a barrage of highly technical maneuvers. In many respects, the Portal Trail transcends the staple trail adjective "challenging;" rather, the Portal Trail defines the word "wicked."

When you exit the Portal Trail, be sure to sign the trail register box, just to let the God's know you've beaten the odds. In years past, riders have described their experience poignantly: "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore Toto," and "A 9 on the sphincter scale!" What do you think?

The loop version is about 14 miles and is reserved for advanced bikers, based on the dicey Portal Trail descent. The out-and-back option is about 12 miles and well suited for resolute intermediates.

By Gregg Bromka, author of The Mountain Biker's Guide to Utah.

Poison Spider Mesa Bike Trail

(38.31917, -109.36473)

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