(Twin Knolls to Blue
Iron Wash is an 18.4 mile loop in the San Rafael Swell. It
offers a bit of cruising, some deliciously technical rock singletrack, an
ATV-track grind, and some "castle country" vistas. Peak altitude is
6800, bottom 6000, but there's a lot of up-and-down riding.
View shows the red
dashes that mark the trail, with one of the Twin Knolls on the skyline. Photo November 22, 2002 by Bruce.
| The Red Trail
portion of this loop requires good skills and strong legs. There are some
short but brutal climbs and very technical descents. This loop is quite
strenuous, and we recommend it only for well-conditioned
The loop has 3 miles of easy-cruising doubletrack before officially starting the Red Trail. The Red Trail is 4
miles of advanced-technical singletrack, with uncountable rock ledges --
both uphill and down. When the Red Trail forks east, you'll continue south
on the singletrack Orange Trail.
| After about a mile on the Orange Trail, the loop
forks right on the Blue Trail, as the Orange Trail continues south towards
Temple Mountain. The Blue Trail takes you back to the main gravel road,
where you make a high-speed cruise back to your car.
rolls down a chute. Many stunts are followed by a drop into a sandy wash (endo
city), while uphill ledges are often preceded by power-sucking loose dirt.
||Many climbs are difficult, because loose sandy dirt sucks your momentum
before you can hit the ledges. Some are simply too steep to ride. This
trail originated as a trials motocross trail -- for advanced motorheads --
so it's almost impossible to ride everything on a bike.
takes advantage of a rare flat spot to eyeball the next plunge.
|On the Red Trail, the riding surface is Coconino sandstone. Although a tad
smoother in grain than the Navajo sandstone of Slickrock, Coconino has
cross-hatching "ribs" that create lots of ledges and rough
spots. Many climbs are extreme, intended for trials motocross.
are a gazillion small ledges, you don't have to take big air on descents.
But many of the downhill spots are spooky-steep and rough, yet require a
fair amount of speed because of upward-facing ledges. We think this is fun stuff.
Bruce follows yet another chute down.
The highly-technical area totals only about a mile and a half. If you want
LOTS of this stuff, try the Five Miles of Hell
||While there are a lot of tricky spots on the Red Trail,
Cement Hill will stick in your mind. This is a steep, rough descent on
sandstone, dropping into the bottom of Iron Wash. Take a deep breath and
go for it. It's very rideable.
Where does this unusual landscape come from? See
our page on the geology of the San Rafael Swell.
Here's Mike, heading down Cement Hill
towards the bottom of Iron Wash. Very scary.
|The mesa areas are covered with a soft yellow dirt, with
bits of broken rock (including geodes) lying on top. There's sage brush,
juniper, desert plume, and pinion pine. This veneer is supported by a thin
layer of Kiabab Limestone. Where the limestone has eroded away, the
underlying Coconino Sandstone rapidly breaks up into hundreds of rough
tiny valleys. Sand fills the bottom of each small wash. Pinion pines cling
to life in cracks in the rock.
Dominic heads towards open mesa. Trees
are mixed pinion and juniper.
||The dirt of the Blue Trail feels like glue under your tires.
You'll tend to sink in a little -- not enough to bog down -- and work
extra hard to keep the bike cruising. Although you gain only 700 feet in 6
miles, you'll feel the burn in your thighs. Think of this section as a
"toning and conditioning" ride.
There are a few "cruiser"
areas, slightly downhill, where you can really cook. Here Bruce flies The
Beast over a ledge.
This trail is remote. Although the trail seems well-traveled
and easy to follow, you won't see many fellow bikers here. (Coming back to
the Red Trail 10 days after a previous visit, my tire tracks were the most
recent!) If you're riding alone and can't get yourself back to your
vehicle, you'll probably die. When you bike the San Rafael, you must be
prepared with adequate water, food, emergency tools and supplies -- and a
On the Blue Trail, we're looking back
across Iron Wash at the Twin Knolls, where we started.
0.0 Head east on DT
N 38° 47.340' W 110° 42.583'
0.5 Keep straight (L)
1.4 Fork R (L = return)
N 38° 47.232' W 110°
3.0 DT ends, sign-in trail box
N 38° 46.200' W 110° 40.865'
Straight S on ST, follow red
4.0 Keep straight - R (red dashes) at sign
N 38° 45.780' W 110° 40.190'
6.0 Cement Hill. Drop into wash and turn L
6.7 Climb R out of Iron Wash
N 38° 44.812' W 110°
|7.1 Fork R onto Orange Trail
N 38° 44.700' W 110°
8.2 Fork R onto Blue Trail
N 38° 44.420' W 110°
Alternate: continue (L)
fork R on Green Trail at mile 11
12.0 Green Trail joins on L, keep straight
N 38° 45.032' W 110°
15.3 R on gravel road
N 38° 46.049' W 110°
Keep straight (R) at
18.3 R on trailhead doubletrack
18.4 Back at car
||Getting there: On US-6 approaching Green River,
turn right (westbound) on I-70. Drive 25 miles and exit at Ranch Exit 131.
(Note: this exit was numbered 129 until a few years ago, and is still
shown that way on most maps.) Turn left under the freeway, then veer right with the road. Keep straight
at all intersections. Note a first cattle guard at mile 3.2. After
crossing a second cattle guard at 6.7, descend and turn left on a small
road at mile 7.6. Park on the left 0.1 mile down the road, just before
the wash, N 38° 47.340' W 110° 42.583'. Begin the ride by continuing on