Like a great highway of trading ancients, the necessary trail work was attacked from both ends with the labor of many nameless workers. Volunteers met in the middle a few weeks ago, on the north side of a quiet hillside overlooking the Continental Divide.
Terminating, or beginning depending on how you view life, on Ute Trail just past the turn off to Pinon Hills, this sculpted adventure winds above Ute Heights, parallelling, as well as shortcutting the pavement which accesses “Cottonwood,” one of Salida’s classic Mountain Bike rides. The north end of the trail is easy to find at a wide spot on the right side of CR175 (Ute Trail), roughly a quarter-mile after the pavement ends. A sign has been installed, and there is ample parking.
We’ve ridden, hiked and worked on the trail countless times, and though it all “goes” relatively easily on a bike, it is still a challenging ride until it becomes familiar. It is more difficult than another local favorite, The Rainbow Trail above Bear Creek, but that is by design. IMBA and other trail design advocates profess the value of a “stacked loop system,” with easier trails closer to urban areas and central trail heads, and more challenging trails farther back/higher up. This philosophy is slightly more challenging to implement in Salida where things tend to turn up quickly. But, as a stop into one of the Salida Mountain Trails board meetings, or a visit to their site will show you, they’re just getting started.
For hikers, it’s the perfect hike in many ways; easily accessible from town, yet with views that create a sense of being in a more alpine setting, high above the valley floor. At one point the trail dips east, back into Dead Horse Canyon which, like the new Sand Dunes re-route, showcases the exoticness of the Southern Ark River Valley with its towering hoodoos, red cliff walls, cool canyons and Pinon washes, all of which may cause you to wonder how many cats and Native Americans have called these places home.
Many people are calling this their new favorite trail for good reason, so go check it out over the holidays, it’s an excellent winter hike. If you like what you see, come out and work on the next trail for an hour or a day. Old or young, it’s a great way to meet your neighbors.
Thanks to SMT! This is an amazing gift to the community.