Dark Areas - Homesteads, Utopias, & A Lost Trail

Click here to read Part One: Dark Areas - Mudholes, A Buffalo, Wild Horses, & A Cowboy

PART TWO - DARK AREAS - HOMESTEADS, UTOPIAS, & A LOST TRAIL

Me: Yo! I think this is our road.

Kevin: Are you sure? It doesn’t look like much of one.

We both peered down an overgrown doubletrack looking for some sign of previous human passage. There were none—not a single tire track or footprint. We were on day three of our “Dark Areas Tour” seeking to explore an area that is virtually void of all light at night and also is an enigma in the internet search engine world. Our journey thus far had been full of surprises. From a lone buffalo, wild horses, mud holes and deep rutted tracks to even a Peruvian cowboy, there was something strange and surprising around nearly every bend. We could only imagine what the next three days would bring.

What will the new day on the “Dark Area Tour” bring…

Consulting our GPS and map once again, we turned our fully-loaded Mariachis onto the obscure doubletrack hoping that we were choosing wisely to venture along this “road.” The riding was superb with high desert wild flowers in full bloom and expansive views of the rugged terrain in all directions. Our bike tires rolled easily along the ridge laying the first human tracks this road had seen in who knows how long. Before long we were descending steeply into a grassy valley. We had another decision to make as our “road” came to a T. Left or right? Neither option was marked with ATV or other tire tracks to give us any clue as to which way to proceed. Since this was an exploration without expectations, we decided to take a left and continue travelling in the direction we had been going.

Indian Paint Brush in full bloom…

Rounding a bend we saw some wooden structures in the distance. Could there be some human inhabitants out here? Since leaving the truck two and half days ago the only human interaction we had encountered was with Albo, our Peruvian cowboy friend, and his horse, Negro. Closing in on the structures, we realized our virtual lack of human encounters would continue. We had come upon an old homestead with a cabin, root cellar, and impressive corral. Getting off our bikes we took a step back into the old west. If only the cabin walls and corral posts could share their stories. We lingered; slow to leave the ghosts of the past; letting our imaginations wander to what it would have been like to have homesteaded this land.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ride again…

If only this corral post could speak…

Pavement - the first our tires had encountered in nearly 100 miles—from the old to the modern west. This was strange and yet another paradox on our journey. The county road was void of traffic—so much that I laid in the middle of the road without fear of being run over. It was a Saturday and this road was in excellent shape. Someone had to be driving its smooth surface.

No worries here…

After three miles of our knobby tires humming along the smooth asphalt and not a single sighting of a vehicle, we returned to gravel and descended quickly into an unexpected oasis. The canyon bottom was a little utopia of green with a creek filled to its banks meandering from canyon wall to canyon wall. Stopping to take in our new surroundings, we realized it wasn’t quite paradise, as the mosquitos produced by all of the water and lushness attacked us with fury. No time to take pictures. We had to ride.

Remnants of the ancients…

Riding up the canyon, we were travelling back in time once again—this time to both the old west and to the land of the ancients. Remnants of old homesteads punctuated the canyon floor with stout log cabins and overgrown orchards, while the canyon walls revealed the drawings and carvings of the area’s first inhabitants. The canyon had been a source of life for many.

A Utopia lush with old orchards…

Riding through one mud hole after another we took in the many sights of the canyon. As we climbed up, the pesky mosquitos became less bothersome and we could stop to explore the deteriorating homesteads and view the ancient petroglyphs without fear of being swarmed. At one particular rock panel we encountered our first people of the day. They were on a similar quest as ours—only in 4WD vehicles. One individual in the group, Brownie, was a wealth of local knowledge—his family was one of the original homesteaders of the canyon. Spending nearly an hour and half with Brownie, we picked his brain about the area and what treasures we should seek out during our exploration. What a lucky and amazing encounter! Leaving Brownie we rode out of the canyon seeking a campsite for the night and thinking about what was in store for us the next day.

Stretching out after another great day on the Dark Area Tour…

Waking to the snorts of yet another wild horse, Kevin and I loaded up our own steeds and topped off our water supplies at the nearby watering hole. The mountain lion tracks near the water source were a little concerning, but we were looking forward to dropping into yet another canyon that Brownie promised would yield more history and wonders. The descent into the canyon was quick. Soon we were riding singletrack among the tall grasses of the canyon bottom. The creek, which had slowly carved out this canyon, ran clear and was flush with trout. If only we brought our fly rods. More signs of the past were explored and wondered about. These were hardy folks.

Back into yet another oasis…

Keeping to our singletrack, we climbed towards the head of the canyon where to our surprise we found a spring. Its waters were cool and refreshing. This place is amazing! After a little hike-a-bike, we popped back out on the canyon rim and into the barren land of sage and the occasional pine tree. It was time to get to our final planned campsite of the tour and staged for what we hoped would be a stunning finish to an already amazing adventure.

As stated from the outset, our exploration of the “Dark Area” was intended to be a loop where we hoped to repeat very little of the route. To close the loop we had identified through both our rudimentary maps and Google Earth, a potentially spectacular finish. This finish consisted of riding an old jeep trail along a high ridge before descending steeply into yet another canyon and then following it out to the flatlands where my truck waited patiently for our return. Would the route go? This was the question that we fell asleep pondering on our fourth and final night of the tour. Thus far, all of our trail and road choices had led to our desired outcomes. Would our luck hold?

The final rays of day four…

Having camped at the beginning of the jeep trail we were up early and soon ready to ride. The once jeep trail was now a horse trail that wound down the ridge. The morning was clear and calm with the views endless in every direction. We happily rode the undulating singletrack. There were a few hike-a-bike sections due to downed trees or steep pushes, but the route was going. Or so we thought…

Starting down the ridge…

Me: Kevin, do you see any sign of the trail?

Kevin: No, it has vanished.

We were a little over five miles down the ridge and suddenly our obvious singletrack was gone. All that was left were thick stands of scrub oak and other low lying shrubs and bushes. Progress was slow going and nearly impossible. Where did the trail go? Abandoning our bikes, we each bushwhacked in different directions hoping to regain what we had lost…to no avail. For the first time on our tour we were going to be stymied. Without a rideable trail there was no way we would make it back to the truck and home again to our loved ones by the evening. The vegetation was so thick, that to force ourselves forward would most likely mean days of bushwhacking with fully-loaded bikes. No thanks. Our only option was to turn around and retrace the five miles back to a road that we knew would indeed allow us to close the loop. With disappointment as our new companion we returned to our bikes and began the journey back to the road with a lesson learned: On an exploration of a “Dark Area” don’t get to complacent with good fortune, as the unexpected should always be expected.

Stymied by scrub oak…

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Click here to read Part One of Dark Areas…

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Brett Davis El Mariachi Explore Mountain Biking Sponsored Riders

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brett Davis

Brett Davis

I grew up in a military family where we moved 13 times before I left for college. Consequently, I have the continual urge to explore and travel having climbed, kayaked, and biked all over our amazing planet. My passion for the outdoors drives me to seek out adventures which often times combine multiple modes of travel or activities (i.e. biking to a wilderness area and then backpacking in to climb a high peak). "Keeping life simple" is a guiding motto of my life and for me, bike travel epitomizes simplicity.

COMMENTS (2)

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RCK | August 10th, 2015

Dumb question of the day…will Brett posted the location where they rode?  Or is the kind of secret that he’d need to start “offing” people if they knew?  :)

BIKEPACKING.com | August 18th, 2015

“... the unexpected should always be expected.” Indeed.

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