New Sarlacc Trail could someday become epic 65-mile loop
Beyond the undulating slopes of the North Fruita desert, the terrain rises up to meet the Bookcliffs. Go a little farther and cliff bands form, drainages turn to slot canyons and juniper trees twist high enough to provide a bit of shade.
For years, a number of recreation agencies and volunteers have toiled on a trail system out here, accessible in an area to the north of 16 and 18 roads.
Today, the cooperative effort of the eight-mile Sarlacc Trail on Bureau of Land Management land is being celebrated with a work day and dedication ceremony.
“This is important for us to celebrate,” said BLM park ranger Mike Jones, looking out over the desert below. “I think it’s going to be hugely popular.”
The trail is designed for dirt biking, built a little wider than most singletrack to accommodate the speeds of the fuel-powered bikes and without some of the drops and tight turns of a classic, technical mountain biking trail.
Still, the trail is open to all users, including mountain bikers, equestrians and hikers. All-terrain vehicles are welcome but only on the western side’s two-mile stretch, a climb that reveals fantastic views.
Sarlacc Trail is named after the carnivorous sand pits in the “Star Wars” movies, most notably in “Return of the Jedi,” after local riders took note of a similar sand pit-looking feature near the western entrance of the trail. (Don’t worry: You won’t be devoured or meet Jabba the Hutt if you fall in.)
The eight-mile section is the first phase of what could someday become an epic 65-mile trail loop, encompassing the entire North Fruita desert recreation area, from 21 Road to Highline Lake State Park.
While the Grand Valley is home to a number of technical and intermediate mountain biking trails, Sarlacc Trail offers something for people who are “looking for a hearty adventure,” said Elisa Jones, chairman of the board of the Grand Valley Trails Alliance.
Jones, no relation to Mike Jones, said there’s nothing like the new trail in the Grand Valley, a rugged cross-country route for full-day or multi-day rides.
“On 18 Road, being an intermediate to advanced rider, I can ride all the trails in an afternoon,” she said. “For people who want to stay on a little bit longer, it makes a really nice addition to that.”
Jones said the next closest ride similar to the connections Sarlacc Trail makes to existing trails is the 20-mile one-way Sidewinder Trail on the western edge of the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area outside of Montrose.
“This gets people out in the mountains winding up through the juniper trees,” she said. “This will be a big draw for people to come out for.”
The trail was created with the help of a $72,000 grant from the Off-Highway Vehicle program through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The money covered three years of seasonal pay for trail workers from the Western Colorado Conservation Corps. Volunteers from a number of other agencies, including the Bookcliff Rattlers Motorcycle Club, the Motorcycle Trail Riders Association, Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Association, Grand Mesa Backcountry Horsemen, Volunteers for Outdoors Colorado and other individual volunteers from around the state chipped in to build trail.
When querying groups about what kinds of trails were needed on BLM lands in the Grand Valley, more diversity of trails was requested especially for dirt biking, Mike Jones said. Lengthy, scenic high-desert, cross-country routes are limited to the Butterknife Trail in Bangs Canyon, a trail that is also becoming more popular with mountain bikers.
On Thursday, it seemed the word was already out about the Sarlacc Trail. A group of five mountain bikers from California’s Bay Area had about a week to spend mountain biking in the area. They were biking Sarlacc Trail in connection with other routes, making a 30-mile loop.
“Thanks for doing what you do, otherwise we’d have to work or something,” one of the men in the group joked to Mike Jones and BLM spokesman Chris Joyner at the trail head.
The BLM officers learned of the visitors’ vacation plans, which included time in Moab and renting a home in Fruita and eating at local restaurants at night.
“You start thinking about the economical impacts, and they’re huge,” Joyner said.