Riding popularity grows for badlands above Gunnison Gorge

GRETEL DAUGHERTY/The Daily Sentinel—Chad Kraig, of Grand Junction, pours gasoline in the tank of his Suzuki RMZ 450 as he prepares for his motorcycle ride across the desert north of the city. Another favorite area for riders is southeast of Grand Junction in the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, which is east of U.S. Highway 50 southeast of Delta.

The sons — and grandsons — of men who spent their formative years in the badlands overlooking the Gunnison Gorge today spend their free time on the same lands, now called the Flat Top-Peach Valley OHV Area.

“Originally it was more of a local spot,” which might have been as much home to woodsies — parties in the desert with alcohol and minors — as to off-road riding, said Karen Tucker, manager of the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area.

Now the area is becoming well-known among off-road users of all stripes, much as it has been known to residents for years.

It’s no longer a hidden gem with no appurtenances, though.

Flat Top-Peach Valley — Flat Top is outside the conservation area and Peach Valley in it — has restrooms, picnic area, cabanas and other conveniences.

The 9,700 acres in both areas include 900 acres open for cross-country travel in Peach Valley, 2,000 acres in Flat Top.

Vehicles sporting license plates from Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas are common sights in the parking lots, Tucker said. People from nearby also frequent the area, she said.

“They’re amazed that a place like this exists,” Tucker said. “We see people come from Denver and Moab (Utah). They come over to ride in our area for a change of scenery. And definitely people from Grand Junction.”

Hard figures are difficult to come by, but Tucker estimated that annual use of the areas ran about 4,000 a year more than a decade ago.

Now the estimates are that about 30,000 people a year use both locations and those estimates probably are on the low side, Tucker said.

Women are using the area more and more, possibly because of the training offered at the sites and the availability of training runs, Tucker said.

Trails at Flat Top-Peach Valley are monitored and members of the crews that work there wear helmet cameras, Tucker said.

State programs, combined with federal money, make it possible to maintain the trail at Flat Top-Peach Valley and the crews they fund are indispensable, Tucker said.

“You’ve got to have somebody out there,” she said.


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