Southern Utah’s Little Creek Mesa Demands Reverence

By Lukas Brinkerhoff

Joey Dye flows through the singletrack on the edge. Photo: Lukas Brinkerhoff.
Joey Dye flows through the singletrack on the edge. Photo: Lukas Brinkerhoff.

Little Creek Mesa has everything you would expect. It has giant sandstone slabs that offer a unique riding experience, differing even from its close neighbor the Goose. There are plenty of beautiful things to see from its rim, including Gooseberry Mesa, Pine Valley Mountain and Zion National Park. It’s a perfect spring and fall ride as the clouds pop across the sky and you are left chasing their shadows. The trail will challenge and excite you.

And just when you think you have it all figured out, the mesa will swallow you as if you were nothing.

On May 19, 2009 a group of friends headed out from a local bike shop for a ride on the mesa. Everything went as planned until they got back to the trailhead and realized they were a man down. The group headed back out in search of their comrade. The found him. He was lying about 15 feet from his bike which was found off trail. He was not breathing. They began CPR until the Search and Rescue arrived at which time they took over and continued to try and revive him. He did not make it out. He was 40.

There are places that demand your reverence. Why? I don’t know. These places may be religious. They may be places of human suffering. Something amazing may have happened on that very ground you are standing, but some places demand that you show your respect. Places that without even knowing why, you breathe in deep and feel as if the place just entered your soul.

Scarf and I are on the rim on the outer loop. We have been pedaling for about 45 minutes. The wind has been the only sound other than our tires disturbing the rocks as we roll through the single track. We stop on occasion and chat, but find ourselves feeling alone as we move through the juniper and pine trees. It’s just us, our bikes and the dirt that we are flowing over. I’m excited to be riding Little Creek as I have just made some big changes to my fork and want to see how it’s going to handle.

And then I remember where I am. I’m on the rim of Little Creek and this is Scarf’s second time on the mesa. There’s a million moves I’ve done a million times, but now my confidence is gone. I stop, look at them and then move on. The wind keeps reminding me how close to being alone I am.

Leaf was our blood sacrifice. Photo: Lukas Brinkerhoff.
Leaf was our blood sacrifice. Photo: Lukas Brinkerhoff.

In April of 2008, I got a call from my wife, then girlfriend, who had just finished riding Little Creek with a large group of friends. Among them were two of my closest friends, Bryce Pratt and his wife Cimarron Chacon. Two people who had originally shown me the trails and taken me out to Little Creek many times. Kathleen’s call is frantic. I can tell she has had a hard day. The words she says aren’t making a lot of sense. “Cim smashed her face,” she said. I replied, “What do you mean she smashed her face?” “She was behind me as we were going into the water fall and she went over the bar and smashed her face.”

As Cimarron recalls that day, “I was riding my mountain bike on Little Creek Mesa. I am not particularly good at technical riding, but not bad either. On this day I was riding very well for my ability. I was happy. I had decided I was going to try a move I had never done before.”

Little Creek demands its blood sacrifice.

She continues,

I turned a corner full speed to find myself in a stair step decent I was not prepared for. I have crashed before. I normally clinch, react, brake, instead I remember having a strange feeling of euphoria, calm.

Time slowed down, way way down. “Lean back, lean back. Don’t brake.” I saw a tunnel, I saw a light, I went calm, I went blank, I went limp.

Then I was launched in the air.

BAMMM!

Little Creek Mountain is an ACEC, or Area of Critical Environmental Concern. More precisely, the mesa has over 500 known archeological sites. If you take the words circulating in the back rooms of bike shops, that numbers grows to 2500 plus logged sites of archeological importance. These range from habitation sites to rock art to rock shelters. The sites range from 300 BC to 1300 AD. Some of the sites are right off the side of the trail, but if you don’t know they are there you will never see them. There is no mistaking that this place has been occupied for a long time.

It’s time for Scarf’s and my mid-ride snack break. We sit down on a ledge that seems to be perfectly assembled for us to overlook the pink-hued sandstone slab. I mention how, despite the fact that there are two of us, I have felt an almost perfect solitude. I muse whether this place should stay the way it is, somewhat unmarked and off the grid. There is a sense that this place is sacred and it seems almost blasphemous to allow the hordes to access it. “Let them have the Goose,” I say. “There needs to be a place for the rest of us.”

I can’t help but wonder if this place is cursed. People get lost. People smash their faces. People die. And still, we all keep coming back. Without fail, the moment my feet hit the ground on the sandstone at the makeshift parking lot, I feel the breeze and my body shivers as I take a deep breath. There’s something more about this place than what I can account for with my five senses. I don’t consider myself to be a religious person, but this place demands reverence.

And for a moment, I feel as if I’m being swallowed by the mesa.

Getting to Little Creek Mesa:

From St. George, head North on I-15 and take the Hurricane Exit #16. Follow the highway into Hurricane and then head toward Colorado City/Lake Powell. Go through Apple Valley passing the Chevron. Turn onto Little Creek Mesa road. From there have your guide, give you step-by-step instructions on how to get to the trailhead.

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

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