By Lukas Brinkerhoff
We walked into the middle of his explanation. Chris Tuma at McGhie’s Bike Outpost in Blue Diamond, just outside of Las Vegas, was giving trail instructions to a customer who had arrived before us. The only real way to describe this interaction is a mix of rehearsal and passion beyond what any normal trail direction giving would entail.
The first thing that I heard him say as we approached the counter was something about aliens. It quickly became apparent that this was his theme. There was a “dam” that the aliens had built and had later been eroded away. Riders were to ride around the two remaining dam points. Then there was Black Velvet “which the climbers like a lot” where the exhaust from the space ship had left black marks up the towering rock walls.
Intermingled with these tails of extraterrestrials, Chris was drawing lines on a map, describing in intricate detail land marks and junctions and at the same time running a slide show on his computer to show a visual of the area to which he was referring. The route he was giving directions for was about seven miles long. His demonstration took about 15 minutes.
And then it was our turn.
Without skipping a beat, Chris began at the beginning and went through his step by step details of how to ride the Mustang Loop or the Beginner Loop or several other names that referred to the same ride. I patiently listened and after about five minutes Chris looked up to see me smiling. The directions were so detailed that by the time we had gotten through the first mile or so of trail I couldn’t remember how to get out of the shop and onto the trail.
He looked at me and noted that seven miles might be a bit short and that after we did one lap we could go back around and extend it out past another saddle to hit around 20 miles. As he noted this, and then continued through his presentation.
We bought a map and were given a copy of what looked like a hand drawn map overlaid on a topo where Chris had drawn some boundary lines and given us more or less the idea of the lay of the land. We headed out the front door of the shop, grabbed the bikes and headed up the street. After about a block I realized I really had no idea where I was going but remember something about a real estate sign for a lot that was for sale for $259,000. After another block, I saw the sign and found my way onto the singletrack.
Blue Diamond is home to the Cottonwood Trails system which consists of about 125 miles of trail. The trail that Chris so passionately described to us was the Mustang Trail or Beginner Loop which is about seven miles of easy singletrack. These are desert trails that you can ride fast. They are more or less smooth with the only real obstacle being that the gravel is a little loose. Seeing that you can maintain high speeds, the gravel can make the corners difficult to negotiate. Other than that, you can just pedal and smile.
Once I found my way to the trail, I began the process of trying to remember the steps and landmarks that Chris had described. After about a half mile, I had already stopped to check the map and the notes jotted on it several times. Thanks to the level of detail given, I was able to discern the major landmarks of the area and instead of trying to follow the directions that I couldn’t remember. I just headed out on some trail.
Some of the trails were marked but most of them weren’t. It quickly came apparent why Mr. Tuma’s directions were so detailed. For someone unfamiliar with the desert or navigating without signs, the area could be a bit daunting. The one thing that served me well was the alien dam “that had been eroded through the middle leaving two ends.” By watching the points, I was able to ride without ever feeling lost. Every time I came to a fork, I just went the way that seemed the most fun or that I thought would take me farther away from the town.
Despite the fact that I didn’t follow the directions step by step, I still ended up passing by a lot of the landmarks drawn on the map. There’s the rock smiley face at the top of the first climb which is a bit of a grunt. If you make it without dabbing, you get to put a rock on the face. I passed the old abandoned car, the Black Velvet, and the countless turns that would have taken me to places that I was told weren’t worth going on a bike. Most importantly I passed the Duck Tree or more accurately, I passed under the Duck Tree. This is a Joshua tree that has hundreds of rubber ducks tied to it and the trail goes right under one of the branches. So you have to duck under the ducks.
Once the sun started to dip, I turned the tires back toward Blue Diamond and made my way around the “dam” and back to the Outpost. I rolled back into the parking lot to find the shop still open and a couple of local riders getting ready to head out. The beautiful weather that had enticed us to Las Vegas was starting to turn cold. After all it was January and the desert can be a bit moody in the winter. Chris was excited to see me return as he thought I had the last rental bike he was waiting for so he could close. He let me use the bathroom to change.
As I walked back out of the shop, Chris was showing another customer his car. To that customers surprise as to mine, it was a Ford Mustang. I’m sure that had something to do with the aliens.
Notes on the Trail:
Blue Diamond sits outside of Las Vegas and can be accessed by taking the Blue Diamond Exit off of I-15 and heading West. I highly recommend stopping in and getting directions and a trailmap from McGhie’s Bike Outpost in the center of Blue Diamond. It’s a great place to start and the staff are a hoot. McGhie's can be found online at mcghies.com or call them at (702) 875-4820.
After the ride…
The Red Rock Campground is within a half hour of the trailhead and offers excellent camping for a marginal fee. There are plenty of hikes for the family to do in Red Rock. For dinner, The Yard at the Red Rock Casino is an excellent choice. They even have Hops Rising on tap.
Lukas Brinkerhoff blogs about mountain biking and life at mooseknuckleralliance.org.