Dawn in Canyon Country

Editor's note: Last month we heard from sponsored rider Kurt Refsnider, a professor at Prescott College in Arizona, who takes students on bikepacking trips into the nearby mountains as a part of class. What follows is an excerpt from one of his students; read more about his experience here, and musings from other students here and here.


Dawn in Canyon Country—By Guest Blogger Joseph Holway

I awoke in the early morning hours before the sun rose over the sheer cliffs of the Wingate Formation, deep in the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands. A few of us left our sleeping bags behind, traveling as lightly as possible, assuming the night time temperatures wouldn’t drop too drastically. Perhaps this was foolish, but it was a matter of testing our limits, because it was, in fact, quite cold. As I gained consciousness, I rummaged around in the dark for my backpack. I quickly unzipped the main compartment, turned it upside down, and dumped everything out onto the desert floor. Out came tortillas, cheese, bars, paper, pens, and a whole lot of geology, and in went my feet. I jammed as much of my lower body as could fit in the little day pack and zipped up the sides, hoping to rid myself of cold toes and sleep through the remaining hours until sunrise.

Surprisingly, I drifted off to sleep, but soon awoke again to the smell of coffee. After some of us were caffeinated, it wasn’t too long before the bags were packed and we were off once more, pedaling alongside the Green River.  In and out of sandy desert washes, through thickets of saltbush and occasional cottonwoods, we began our climb away from the White Rim. 

Shortly after breaking camp, the darkness of night began to fade, turning the sky to a dark purple that illuminated thousand-foot cliffs to the east, which we would summit within the hour. As day grew nearer, the vast silhouettes of canyon country regained their color. The deep red of the Wingate Formation contrasted with the lighter tan of Navajo sandstone. Shadows of spires, needles, and hoodoos created a tough set to follow, finally topped by the sunrise itself. Halfway up the climb from Mineral Bottom, the sun met my face, providing my skin with the warmth it had been missing for the past 10 hours. As my body soaked up the radiation, my legs began to loosen up, allowing my body to once again become a part of the incredible machine beneath me. This machine, a bicycle, had already taken me full circle around the San Francisco Peaks, south from Jacobs Lake to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and would soon take me through glacial valleys in the Colorado Rockies. Most importantly, my bicycle took me to countless geologic features that I would have otherwise had to try and comprehend through pictures and diagrams. 

To me, this is the life. Waking up before dawn, experiencing the sunrise from two wheels, looking down at the salt deposits at the contact between the White Rim and Organ Rock Formations—seeing and learning the importance of freeze-thaw weathering. I had no idea that the dissolution and crystallization of salt could play such a large part in forming this beautiful landscape. Physically bikepacking through geology has created an entire world of education readily available, with the only question being where to point my wheels and ride off to the next. 

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Guest Blogger Kurt Refsnider Mountain Biking

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