An Adventure on St. George’s Broken Mesa Trail

By Lukas Brinkerhoff

My head feels like it is boiling. The slight angle of the climb that started this dirt road has turned a little bit steeper causing me to pull myself forward on the saddle. I can see the top of the mesa where we will peak out and it just looms. Yes, looms in front of me and doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. The mesa that I could see as we pedaled away from the trailhead wasn’t the one we have to climb. Now, I can see where we are headed and it doesn’t look to be very much fun. That part of your body that people pay thousands of dollars on saddles, creams and professional bike fittings so they don’t have problems with, yea, that part of my body is unhappy. My seat is not in the right position.

I stop, look for my multi-tool that is always in my pack. I dump out its entire contents. It’s not there and PJ is miles ahead. My head is so hot, I take my helmet off and attach it to my pack. I’m going about 4 mph, I think I’m safe enough.

There’s one last hump on the dirt road before you make it to the trail. It’s steep, loose and one of those climbs that makes your legs scream for mercy. I pull myself forward on my saddle trying to get as much power as possible out of my legs. They are spinning fast. I drop a couple of gears and stand up. That feels great until the rear wheel spins out and I’m forced back onto the saddle trying to keep the rear wheel attached to the ground. I can see PJ at the top breathing hard.

I pull up next to him and stop. In between sobs for air, I mutter something about a multi-tool. He drops his pack and starts digging. No luck. We stand there for a minute breathing hard.

This is a big ride. We’ve been pedaling for about 45 minutes and still have about a mile to go before we actually get to the trailhead where we will then climb for another ¾ of a mile toward the top of Broken Mesa.  There are a lot of reasons that people hate this trail. They happen to be the same reasons I would tell you that it’s great.

PJ on the Broken Mesa Trail. Photo: Lukas Brinkerhoff.
PJ on the Broken Mesa Trail. Photo: Lukas Brinkerhoff.

It’s hard. It’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s rocky, a good chunk of the trail is spent rolling over baby head sized boulders. What was once a trail is now more of a route where there are multiple ruts that you follow as you drop back off the mesa.

If you setup a shuttle, you end up driving twice as long as you get to ride. If you don’t shuttle it, like we are doing, you have a grinding dirt road climb to get to the trail. This is followed by the trail which is hard. And then you end on a long steep section of sandy road. A sandy road that holds one of the few climbs I have never cleaned in St. George.

We re-mount our steeds. There’s always a feeling of relief when you top out on this dirt road. Unfortunately, it’s always short lived. Once your rest break is over you realize that the road looks flat but is still sitting on that same grinding grade that you have been riding for near an hour. We continue to pedal. PJ quickly pulls away and I’m left spinning away on my Enduro on a dirt road.

To have the ideal bike for this trail, you would need three and a team of Sherpas. The dirt road to get to the trailhead is best navigated on a short travel bike with gears. It’s bumpy enough that you would want to stay seated and spin but steep enough that you want light. The actual trail is best ridden on a 6” travel bike. Anything longer is too much and anything less and your calves, forearms and hands will be cramping the entire time. Then you have the sandy road which is best ridden on a fat bike. Three bikes, one trail.

We finally reach the trailhead and begin the switch back climb that will take us to our high point for the day. About 2/3 of the way up we cross a dirt road. PJ is there waiting for me. He’s not sure what I’m doing as I drop my bike and walk over to the pipeline. I lay down on it. The water keeps it cool and the drop in temperature feels great on my body. I explain and pretty soon we’re two mountain bikers lying on a pipe enjoying the slight breeze and cool metal. I can’t help but smile despite the fact that my legs are toast.

We finish up the climb and then giggle as we drop through the lava field. The rocks are sharp and everywhere. There isn’t a moment that you can let your guard down. The grass is tall and hides things that you would rather know are coming. Every ten minutes or so we stop and shake our arms out. The prickly pears are blooming and we enjoy their bright pink flowers. Then back on the bike and down we go.

Prickly Pears in bloom. Photo: Lukas Brinkerhoff.
Prickly Pears in bloom. Photo: Lukas Brinkerhoff.

To ride Broken Mesa you need to go into it with the proper mental state. This isn’t easy and by most observations, it isn’t fun either. Except for the giant smiles on our faces as we bomb down the mesa in a place many won’t ride, especially if they’ve been here before. But there’s something to be said for difficulty, solitude and stupid. There is a certain level of masochism needed to want to do this.

We drop down the road cut. To say we rode the cut would be inaccurate, it’s more holding on and hoping that there isn’t a giant rock in the way. We stop at the bottom and shake out our arms. We can smell our brake pads and we can see the water tank on the other side of the Powerline Road. Off we go, to pedal through sand and up a big hill. Why? Who knows, but the entire time we have smiles on our faces and we’re glad we are.

How to do it

The loop starts at the water tank off of Turkey Farm Road in St. George. Follow the road as it turns to dirt and climbs to the trailhead. The trail climbs the last steep section of the mesa and then drops all the way back into Washington. At the bottom of the road cut, turn right and follow the Powerline Road back to the water tank. Easy.

Lukas Brinkerhoff blogs about mountain biking and life at mooseknuckleralliance.org.

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