Monitor and Merrimac Bike Trail
Courthouse Rock to Mill Canyon
The Monitor and Merrimac Bike Loop is a newly-repackaged slickrock ride north of
Moab. The apex of the loop offers a view of two rock formations, named
Monitor and Merrimac in honor of the civil war ironclad warships. The ride
is 6.1 miles in length. Beginning altitude is 4450 feet. There is 500
vertical feet of climbing on the ride, almost all of it on open rock.
View of rock formations as we climb
southbound up endless slickrock. Photos and trail write-up by Bruce,
April 22, 2009.
|Right now, you may be scratching your head and saying,
"Wait a minute. I heard Monitor and Merrimac is an endless jeep road
full of hot deep sand and biting flies." Well, this is NOT the old
Monitor and Merrimac four-wheeler road. This is a bicycle route on
singletrack and open rock. It doesn't actually go to the Monitor and
Merrimac buttes. But you can connect to the old jeep road from this loop
if you want to.
Starting out from the parking area,
we'll take dirt roads to the ruin of the Halfway Stage House, where we
enter singletrack near CourtHouse Rock (the big butte center left).
||The route is well-marked with carsonite posts, each with a
bicycle sticker and that-a-way arrows. (There's one critical fork at mile
1.5 you might miss if you aren't looking.) Ride the loop clockwise. The
first 0.8 miles is on improved dirt road. Shortly after the Halfway Stage
House ruin, you'll enter singletrack and climb a gentle slope between high
rock cliffs. A fence opening blocks ATVs from the trail.
The Halfway Stage House was a rest and
supply depot for the stagecoach. This point was halfway between Moab and
the railroad stop at Thompson Springs (east of Crescent Junction).
|The trail in the valley west of Courthouse Rock is mostly
firm with only a hint of upward slope. At mile 1.4, there's a critical
fork (the fork may fade with time and absence of ATVs). Veer to the right
up a short sandy section that takes you to the slickrock.
Continue south on a steady uphill slope. There's two miles of slickrock
ahead. The route is marked by white paint-spots and occasional rockpiles.
Riding southbound in the valley below
||The slickrock here is very easy -- about the least-technical
rock in Moab. But it does angle steadily uphill. So while I highly
recommend this ride for beginning mountain bikers, you've got to have leg
stamina. (And some sand-surfing skills for the downhill in Mill Canyon.)
There's always something pretty to look at. The mellow rock makes it
easy to gawk as you pedal. Great views.
Still angling uphill and southward,
we're approaching the final butte of Entrada sandstone. We'll hook around
|The sandstone you're riding on is the junction between the
Navajo sandstone and the Entrada of the Jurassic Period. You're riding on
petrified 200 year-old sand. (The buttes you see are in Entrada
We've reached the southern end of the
loop. Across the valley, we see the Monitor and Merrimac Buttes. History
buffs will automatically know which represents the little "cheesebox
on a raft" USS Monitor, and which is the larger CSS Merrimac.
||At the south end of the loop, the trail hooks to the right
around a butte. To the south, you'll see the Monitor and Merrimac buttes.
You're there. Stop and take in the view.
We're heading back north. High-speed
slickrock. The little green dots are full-grown junipers in the distance.
The cleft in the cliffs is Mill Canyon.
|Next you'll ride northbound on a slightly down-sloping sandstone
tabletop. The gentle swells in the rock seem to get bigger as you pick up
speed. Keep your eyes open for the white dots painted on the rock.
Heading north downhill in Mill Canyon.
At the mouth of Mill Canyon, you'll again encounter
singletrack. This is where you'll be grateful you went clockwise. There
are some sandy stretches here, but because the trail aims downhill I was
able to ride everything without hiking.
Dinosaur tail bones. Little signs explain
what you're seeing.
Midway down Mill Canyon, the trail dumps into the creekbed. As it comes
out to gravel road, the Dinosaur Bones walking trail is to your left. Dump
your bike at the trail sign and walk through the wash to the dinosaur
Sauropod rib and scapula. Pretty cool,
||The Dinosaur Bones trail is only about 150 yards long. It's
definitely worth doing.
From the Dinosaur trail, you'll spot the ruin of the old copper mill
across the valley. You missed it on the way down the bike trail because it
was above the creek's edge.
View from the Dinosaur Bones trail,
showing the old copper mill, from which Mill Canyon gets its name.
|From the fork at the Dinosaur Bones trail, take the gravel
road back along the wash, past primitive camping spots. As you reach the
main road, fork left and ride back to parking.
Final look back up Mill Canyon. The
two dark spires are Determination Towers, a popular rock-climbing spot.
|Riding notes, clockwise loop:
0.0 Head south on road N38 43.519 W109 43.968
0.5 Fork L (R = return route)
N38 43.089 W109 43.957
0.6 Keep R, N38 43.031 W109 43.913
0.8 Halfway Stage House N38 42.856 W109 43.922
1.5 R up sandy trail to slickrock
N38 42.350 W109 43.874
2.0 Shortcut forks L, keep R
|2.9 Trail hooks R around butte
3.8 Keep straight (L = to jeep route)
N38 41.847 W109 44.439
4.0 Shortcut joins on R, keep straight
5.0 Fork, L to Dinosaur Bones
R = to complete loop
N38 42.751 W109 44.361
5.6 Fork L on return road
6.1 Back at parking
||Getting there: From Moab, drive north 13 miles from the
Colorado River. (It's 4.5 miles north of the 313 Canyonlands turnoff, and
16 miles south of Crescent Junction.) As the road comes over a small rise,
spot the dirt Mill Canyon road crossing the railroad tracks on your left (N38 43.634 W109 43.346).
Ignore the ATV parking (on your right just after the tracks) and drive 0.5
miles. Park near the trail kiosk at the fork in the road. The ride begins
by heading south (the left fork of the road) N38 43.519 W109 43.968.