By Cimarron Chacon
I have been riding Gooseberry Mesa for years. When I say years, I mean since before hordes of other people knew it was the place to go. Thinking back, I am sure the first time I rode the “Goose” was my very first week in Southern Utah, March of 1999. The air was crisp in the morning, I was brand new to mountain biking, and I had surely never seen a riding landscape such as this. Navigating was tricky back then. There were dots, but they went all over and were hard to see. The first ride took all day, and I think we only made it as far as Gods Skate Board Park.
But that is not the Gooseberry Mesa of today. This little Mesa has become one of the highest rated mountain bike trails in the US: Ranked 3rd on the IMBA MTBProject Area favorites. And it is for good reason. The Mesa sits at approximately 5000 feet, allowing spectacular 360 degree views of Zion National Park, Pine Valley, the Virgin River Basin and the Hurricane Valley below. The mountain bike trail incorporates all the aspects of the most perfect day on a bike – fast and flowy, tight and twisty, progressive technical moves, and plenty of places to stop and enjoy the views. Gooseberry is not a trail to ride alone; it is a place to celebrate life, a place to live one moment at a time, with your very best of friends.
So every spring and fall since I can remember, we would pack up our camping gear, round up our friends and head out for a long weekend of riding on the Mesa. But each year the groups got bigger and finding a camping spot to fit everyone, especially on popular weekends, was getting harder and harder to find. Only in 2013, an amazing thing happened – the Gooseberry Yurts were built.
The Yurts are permanent tent structures built on a giant deck on the edge of the Northern end of the mesa. They sleep up to nine people and have a wood burning stove, cooking stove, games, composting toilets, and a fire pit on the edge of the rim. Because they are on private property, they are secluded from other campers on the Mesa. When you are up there you feel like you have the whole world to yourself.
I had the pleasure of experiencing Yurt life for the first time last weekend. My husband and I packed up our car with bikes, beer and food and immediately upon arrival I knew this was going to be the best weekend I had ever spent on the Goose yet.
When staying in a yurt there is no un-packing, no setting up tents, no wandering around for a place to squat, just a relaxing weekend of riding bikes. When we arrived our friends were already settled in. It was evening, so we unloaded a cooler, grabbed a beer and a chair and sat by the fire laughing and watching the amazing sunset that happens each night in the wondrous place.
Yurt life means that once the stories end for the evening everyone can settle into a comfy bed with a view of the stars. When morning comes you can wake to the smell of coffee brewing and the protection of the structure. Now I love camping, but I hate that moment when you have to crawl out of a warm sleeping bag to get the day started. No problem in the Yurt. It is just warm enough to stave off the morning chill and allow you to move around comfortably while preparing breakfast.
We got our packs ready for a day of riding and we started our ride up the Windmill Trail, heading up the North Rim to the point and then down the South Rim to Hidden Canyon and back. The amazing thing about riding the Goose is that you can mix and match the trail sections to create a different ride each time you visit. This day’s ride was just what I wanted. A perfect day riding bikes with friends.
Nuts and Bolts of Gooseberry:
Getting There – Gooseberry Mesa is located in the Southwest corner of Utah, near Zion National Park. You can access it by taking the Smithsonian Butte Scenic Backway off of SR 9 or SH59. The Gooseberry Mesa Road is well marked, and the Yurts are just 5 miles from the turn at the end of the road.
When to go – Temperatures and conditions are best in spring and fall, with April and October being the busiest months.
Yurt Events – Twice a year the yurts are home to the Gooseberry Women’s Skills Clinic lead by renowned endurance coach Lynda Wallenfels. http://lwcoaching.com/mountain-bike-coaching/gooseberry-womens-mtb-skills-camp/
What to bring – In my 16 years of riding the Goose, I have found that a 26” or 27 ½ “ Full suspension bike is the most enjoyable. Others may argue that you can ride 29ers and hardtails, and while this is true, they just won’t be as much fun in my opinion. Many moves are tight and twisty and up and over, requiring a bike that can handle anything…including some big drops.
How to book a stay at the Gooseberry Yurts – rates are $100 a night for weekdays, and $120 a night on weekends. Check out the calendar to see openings. http://www.gooseberryyurts.com/reservations.html
Other Places to Ride: You can make the Gooseberry Yurts your home base for a week of Epic Mesa riding in Southwestern Utah. After your first day on the Goose, explore Little Creek Mesa, Guacamole Trail, Grafton Mesa, and the Hurricane Cliffs Network. This will give you over 50 miles of the best riding this country has to offer all within a 30 minute drive. For the skinny on local riding visit the Dixie Mountain Bike Trails Association: http://dmbta.org/trail-resources/