The Mud Report: It’s still winter in Moab, but some trails are open

There are only a few precious months each year when The Whole Enchilada is open for mountain biking. The popular and challenging trail, which takes thrill-seekers 34 miles downhill from the La Sal Mountains to the Colorado River, can remain closed due to snow and mud as late as mid-July or even early August. Some years, the trail is open to commercial shuttle services fewer than 10 weeks in total.

Among the trails open and good for riding this week is the Captain Ahab trail system, according to Grand County Active Transportation & Trails. Photos courtesy of Grand County Trail Mix
Among the trails open and good for riding this week is the Captain Ahab trail system, according to Grand County Active Transportation & Trails. Photo courtesy of Grand County Trail Mix

Fortunately for recreationalists, the snowy and sometimes muddy La Sal Mountains are not the only place to ride. Grand County and companies like Adventure Projects, Inc. maintain and share with riders free databases of trails, when those trails are open, how challenging they are and other information that is helpful to have before a trip rather than 10 miles into one.

Among these vital resources is Grand County’s Mud Report, a source of weekly updates that is particularly useful during the shoulder season, when some trails are impassable due to snow while some are as dry as desert.

Madeline Logowitz and Tyson Swasey of the Grand County Active Transportation & Trails Division go out each week to ride (or, attempt to ride) the trails around Moab and report back on what trails are dry — Slickrock Trail, perhaps unsurprisingly, is consistently dry and ready for riders — and which are not. They make the trip to save other riders time, but also to protect the trails.

Swasey and Logowitz post the Mud Report across the division’s social media pages, typically under the name Moab Trail Mix, each week. The update, as the name suggests, provides brief information on what trails are rideable and which bikers should avoid.

Mud and snow at Klondike Bluffs has led officials to recommend against biking trips in the area. Photo courtesy of Grand County Trail Mix

For some obvious and some not-so-obvious reasons, riding muddy trails is generally discouraged and sometimes prohibited. Muddy trails are more difficult and dangerous to ride than dry trails, offering less traction on descents and getting riders stuck or slipping on climbs. However, there are lasting impacts from biking muddy trails, as well.

For anyone who does maintenance on bikes or bike trails, mud is the archenemy. It damages derailleurs, brake pads, suspension mechanisms and pretty much anything else it touches. For the many volunteers who maintain trails around Moab, mud also means damage to existing singletrack and sprouting of undesirable, parallel riding lines as riders dodge muddy spots.

“If you do encounter patches of water or mud on the trail, ride through the mud rather than around,” Logowitz said. “The desert is a fragile ecosystem, and even one set of off-trail tracks can destroy plant life.”

Yes, if you encounter mud during a ride, just hit it, says Logowitz. Riding through mud leaves ruts and creates drainage issues long-term, but that set of issues is preferable to damaging of desert wildlife that can take years to regrow.

Ultimately, though, neither set of problems is desirable. The rule of thumb Grand County promotes is “if you leave a track, turn back.”

“Riding on muddy mountain bike trails damages the singletrack by creating deep ruts, drainage issues, and trail widening,” Logowitz said. “Our department maintains over 150 miles of trail, so keeping up with repairs for this type of damage can be a huge task.”

The Mud Report helps to keep bikers from encountering the choice between these two evils in the first place, and it is doing wonders for local trails.

“Our goal with the Mud Report is to give riders information about trail conditions when they are still at home, before they’ve driven to the trailhead or all the way out to Moab,” Logowitz said. “We started the report last winter, and so far we’ve seen a drop in winter damage.”

Starting next week, The Times-Independent will republish this Mud Report in its B Section. Readers can also find the report online at www.moabtrailteam.com or by checking the Moab Trail Mix page on Facebook or Instagram.