Tour de Ancients: Rock Art, Arches, & Lots Of Sand

Click here to read Tour de Ancients: Part One

My day began with what sounded like a herd of cattle tromping near the spring fed water tank that I was laying next to. Sure enough, in my dreamy state I rolled over to meet a momma cow and her young calf a mere ten feet from where I was sleeping. Two cows are a far cry from a herd, but they made enough noise in the dry underbrush to awake anybody and anything in the near vicinity. Momma cow and I made eye contact and pondered each other before she let out a short belch of sorts and turned to drink from the tank. Her young timidly looked at the strange blue thing lying on the ground and quickly followed her mother’s actions once I made a move to sit up. The mighty bovine…what an alarm clock!

Ten years old and still putting out the BTUs…

Rising from my sleeping bag, I began the usual morning trail rituals: light the alcohol stove; boil some water for oatmeal; top off all water carriers; use the local facilities; pack up my sleeping system; lube up the riding shorts; apply sunscreen; examine the route for the day; do a cursory bike check; and hydrate, hydrate; and hydrate some more. With clear skies and the sun already just starting to peak over the ridge, it was going to be a hot one. In the previous couple of days I had ridden to the northern end of Comb Ridge and then climbed out of the desert landscape up to the land of tall ponderosa pines at over 8000’. From this mesa top, canyons spill in every direction on the compass dial. There is a lifetime of canyons to explore and wander through. Unfortunately, I only had enough time on this sojourn to explore one canyon.

Fable Valley—a wonderland for exploration…

My day in Fable Valley was amazing as I hiked 11 miles up and down the valley seeking out its hidden treasure of ruins. Of particular interest were some of the rock art panels I saw in the valley. They were a mixture of both pictographs (paintings or drawings on a rock face) and petroglyphs (engravings or carvings). The art commonly depicts human figures, solar signs, and geometric figures. What was the significance of these paintings and engravings which have withstood the test of time…were they ways of recording cultural history…were they billboards of sorts to share information about the area or significant events…or were they meant to be simple expressions of art for its own sake? More questions to ponder…

Pictographs—paintings of the ancients…

The Wolfman Panel in Butler Wash—a prime example of petroglyphs…

It was now time to head back towards the truck and return to the heat of the low-lying country. After packing up and saying goodbye to both momma and baby cow, I began my descent. The riding was super fun as I dropped off the mesa down an old 4WD track in between the Abajo Mountains and Elk Ridge. During my descent I came upon a couple of camouflaged men in an ATV who were out looking for a lost hunting dog. They were from Nevada and in the area for a week training their dogs to hunt bears. Who would have thought there were more than just cattle in the area?

Dropping back towards desert country…

My descent was quick and I was soon making a right-hand turn back to the west to climb to the top of Comb Ridge. My map showed an old road that carved its way through the steep west face of the ridge. The east side of the ridge, which I had ridden parallel to and explored during my first day out, rises up at a gradual 20 degrees or so. The west side however, is a sheer cliff face that runs the length of the ridge. There were very few places to bisect the ridge and get safely from one side to the other. Two of these places were highway cuts that had been engineered in the modern day. My chosen route definitely was not paved and was most likely an old trade route from days bygone.

Cutting through Comb Ridge…

A hanging trail clinging to the ridge’s west face. An impending dust storm in the distance…

At the top of the ridge I was treated to an amazing view of a dust storm coming up from Monument Valley to the southwest, across Comb Wash and abruptly slamming into the steep west face of the ridge. While climbing up the east side of the ridge it was breezy, but nothing like the howling sand blasting wind on the west side. I was going to be descending into a tempest. At the top of the ridge my gravel road quickly deteriorated into an extremely rough ATV doubletrack. Slicing through the upper tiers of the sandstone, the track hung on the cliff as a picture does to a wall.  It was going to be a spectacular descent to the wash below. Perhaps what was more impressive though, were those who had attempted to drive a vehicle down this gnarly road—if you could call it that. The remnants of their attempts hung suspended upon a stray ledge or were in pieces at the bottom of the several hundred-foot drop. One can only wonder if they had walked away better than their vehicles had.

A fatbike is a much wiser choice for this trail than a car…

I took my time descending, being careful not to make a wrong move or get bounced by my fat tires to a fate that others had obviously met before. Once at the bottom and in Comb Wash, rather than continuing south towards the truck I turned west for a short detour. Just a short distance away was the mouth of Arch Canyon—a canyon I had previously visited a couple of years back. The canyon is home to many ruins and its upper reaches contain several natural arches. An ATV trail runs eight miles up the canyon travelling through its sandy bottom and crossing its streambed countless times. My goals for the evening were to camp at the end of the ATV trail and check out the canyon’s namesakes, as well as visit a few more ruins.

Rollin’ in the sand…

As I entered the canyon, I encountered a few older locals on ATV’s who had just finished rescuing a couple of college-aged kids who were backpacking in the upper reaches of the canyon.

Old man with an oxygen tank: Where you heading on that bike?

Me: Just ridin’ up the canyon for a little while.

Old Man with a ten gallon hat: You know it’s a long ways up there—nearly 8 miles?

Me: Yea. I’m just gonna ride a little bit.

Oxygen Tank: Ain’t never seen anybody be able to ride a bike up there…in the sand and all.

Ten Gallon Hat: Don’t wanna have to come rescue you like we did those kids. You might be
  pushin’ that bike.

Me: Yea. I’m an expert at pushing bikes. I’ll take my time and be careful.

Oxygen: Okay then. Have a good one.

Ten Gallon Hat: Grrrruuunnt.

With that interaction finished I began the pedal up the canyon. The Mukluk was in heaven. This terrain is where these bikes truly excel. I rolled easily through the sandy wash and splashed through the intermittent stream. Oh, what fun! I’ve read countless trip reports of others riding their fatbikes on beaches. Landlocked as we are in the southwest, there is little opportunity for beach riding—plenty of opportunities to ride in snow, but no ocean beaches. The old men were right about it being impossible for ordinary bikes to ride this trail. I would have been pushing through sand. But instead, with the Mukluk, I was having a blast and easily making my way up canyon. Wahoo!

The Mukluk in one of its natural environments…

Beach Riding—southwest style…

The eight miles to the end of the trail took me a couple hours as I was continually on and off my bike to explore the many ruins that were in the bottom half of the canyon. Most of the ruins were not dwellings per se, but lookouts or structures for the defense of territory. These structures were built at the head of little side canyons which poured into the main canyon and were designed such that they had clear views both up and down each canyon. Once again I gazed at them with curiosity and wonder. I may now know how to answer the question: If I could take one ride in a time machine, to which era in the past would I visit?

A defensible vista…

I pedaled into my camp for the evening with about 45 minutes to spare before sunset. I had climbed once again back into the land of the ponderosa. It was nice and cool, and beautiful. As I peered up at the canyon walls surrounding me, I spied a huge natural arch a couple of hundred feet off of the canyon floor. What a great place to watch the last rays of the day light up the canyon walls. Grabbing my headlamp, camera, water, and a snack, I headed for the arch. Others had obviously had this same idea, as I found a rudimentary footpath up through the cliff bands below the arch. I made it to the base of the arch with a few minutes to spare and found the perfect perch with the arch acting as a window to watch the sun disappear on yet another amazing day on the Tour de Ancients. Tomorrow I would reverse my tracks down the canyon and then ride the thirty or so miles south in Comb Wash back to my waiting truck. It had been a great five days and I knew that tomorrow would not disappoint.

The Arch—a natural window with a view… 


This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Brett Davis Explore Fatbike Mukluk Sponsored Riders Touring

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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.


Late Latino | September 9th, 2013

Really great.
Late Latino

pneus | June 23rd, 2014

This is so beautiful. Marion from pneu-pneus

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