Although the focus of the long weekend was visiting Anasazi ruins, no trip to the desert is complete without a little mtn biking and botany, both of which I enjoyed on our Memorial Day Family Road-Trip. But first, let’s talk about something a little closer to home.
The Problem With Lambert Park
If you live and mtn bike in Northern Utah, you’re probably familiar with Lambert Park. It’s a modest-sized network of not-very-difficult trails in Alpine, which is tucked into the Northwest Corner of Utah Valley. I think most area mtn bikers would classify the Lambert Park trails as fun, nice-to-have-close-by, but not amazing.
Tangent: I have a Love-Hate relationship with Lambert Park. For several years I would head down there ~once a year, usually in March or April. Much of Lambert is low, open and South-facing, so it’s quick to melt out in the Spring. To drive there from my house (up by the zoo) is the better part of an hour.
Every year I’d go down and jump on the trails and be like, “Wow! This is awesome! How come I never come down here? I’m going to start riding these trails all the time!” Then, about 20-30 minutes later, I’d be like, “OK, that was fun, but I think I’ve looped past this point at least 2 or 3 times already, I wonder what else is around here… “ And then finally, after riding around in various circles for about 45-60 minutes, I’d think, “That’s it? I drove all the way down here for this? This is so lame… I’m not driving all the way down here again!”
And then another year passes, the memory fades, Spring rolls around, and I think, “Hmm. I wonder if Lambert Park’s melted out- I should go check it out!” and I do the same frustrating day all over again… Because when you get right down to it, I am a total Utard.
Lambert’s fun for people who live close by, but it’s not quite worth driving ~an hour for. But imagine if Lambert were different. Imagine if instead of covering maybe a dozen acres, it covered a couple hundred acres. And imagine if it included over 20 miles of trail- all great singletrack- trails that didn’t just criss-cross each other in circles and figure-8’s, but trails that really went places, and went to places that were kind of different- some through woodland, some through open flowery meadows, some over slickrock slabs along canyon rims.
Then imagine that instead of being set in the scrub oak at the base of the Wasatch, it was set in the high desert through Piñon-Juniper Woodland. And then lastly, imagine that the trails Freaking Rocked. Like wild, buff, fast roller-coasters, where you hit maybe 2 G’s at the bottom of a trough and then 0 G at the next crest- over and over and over again, while turning and banking and twisting this way and that.
Seriously, how could it get any cooler than that? Here’s how- if it existed. And coolest of all- it does. It’s called Phil’s World.
Tangent: There is a delicate art to waking and exiting from a motel room before dawn without waking anyone else in the room. I am a master of this art. The key is to have everything that can be left in the car the night before- helmet, gloves, glasses, extra layers, etc.- already in the car, and to have a small pile of stuff at the door with things that cannot be left in the car the night before- shorts, jersey, socks, wallet, phone, keys and of course, bike.
I never leave my bike in or on the car in a motel lot. Yeah I know, most motels have those big “No Bikes in Room” signs nowadays. Screw that. Just get it inside fast, get it out at dawn, like a tree falling in the forest…
Nested Tangent: We also camped one night, which I mention only to highlight, once again, what an Excellent Camper I am. We had plenty of rain in the evening, but for the Well-Equipped Excellent Camper, rain is no obstacle. Here’s Awesome Wife happily toasting a marshmallow under the protective cover of the Single Best Piece of Camping Gear I Have Purchased This Decade- the Kelty “Noah’s Tarp” 9’x9’ fly. I cannot recommend this item highly enough- best $60 I ever spent.
The trails are in excellent condition and the soils respond well to moisture/heavy rains, becoming firm, not muddy. The trails are that weird, wonderful combination of interesting-but-not-actually technical, so that you feel like you’re riding really, really well, but when you stop and think about it, you realize you’re not riding anything all that difficult. The climbs are minimal, fast and moderate- just enough to provide a little elevation gain for the fast, thrilling descents. I rode it 3 times over the long weekend, twice at dawn and once before dinner, a different combination of trails each time.
Extra Details: I strongly recommend Rib Cage and Stinky’s Loop. The Ledges Loop (pic left) is a bit less exciting, but possibly the most beautiful, with a nice combination of woods and meadows. There are little signs at most junctions, making it near-impossible to get lost.
Bonus Tip: One of my rules when I get to a new trail network for the first time is this: If there’s a trail with the word “stinky” in its name, take it. “Stinky” trails are always great. I don’t know why this is.
Seriously, you gotta go check it out.
Riding The Southwest Uplands
As longtime readers know, I welcome any excuse to spend time in P-J woodland, and this is another reason to ride Phil’s; it’s classic Southwest Uplands riding. In many ways it’s similar to the flora atop Gooseberry or Little Creek, but it lies a couple hundred miles to the East, and as I’ve become more attuned to desert plants, I’ve started to notice little differences. The Utah Juniper is the same, but the Piñon here is 2-needled Colorado Piñon (pic left), rather than the 1-needled Singleleaf Piñon common to the St. George/Hurricane area. There’s Mormon Tea all around, but only of the “Green” variety (Ephedra viridis.) The “bluer”, more angular Torrey Mormon Tea (E. torreyana) that’s all over hills surrounding St. George is absent.
The Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) seems lusher, leafier and more strongly aromatic, probably in part due to heavy recent rains and time of year, but also I suspect due to elevation; Phil’s World lies ~6,200 – 6,500 feet, while Gooseberry and Little Creek range from ~5,400 – 5,800 feet.
These minor floral differences extend beyond Phil’s World. Here’s a shot of a Gambel Oak leaf against my hand that I took up in Mesa Verde; it’s bigger than any such leaf I’ve ever seen in the Wasatch. The higher mesas/cuestas support Ponderosa Pines in the sheltered draws. On Saturday as we hiked down the long, narrow canyon to the Ute Reservation-ruins site, Ponderosas started appearing in the lower, shadier, wetter reaches of the canyon.
Tangent: Several of the canyons up in Mesa Verde National Park have spectacular flora. A good example is the canyon in which Spruce Tree House is located, which includes everything from Juniper to Piñon to Gambel Oak to Skunkbush, Sagebrush, Mormon Tea, Poison Ivy, Hackberry and even Douglas Firs in the canyon bottom. Here’s a shot of some Eaton’s Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) also called Firecracker Penstemon, blooming alongside the trail down to the site.
Even the lichens were different. Bright orange Elegant Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans, which is all over the place around St. George, is almost absent around Cortez (though it seems common a bit further West, out at Hovenweep.) And foliose lichens (pic right), so rare around SG, are common throughout the area, both in P-J woodland and in open shrublands.
Phil’s World had a number of nice wildflowers in bloom, some familiar, some not. Groundsel was all over the place, but it wasn’t the Singlestem Groundsel/Lambstongue Ragwort, Senecio integerrimus, that’s all over the Wasatch right now. Instead it’s Lobeleaf Groundsel, S. multilobata (pic left.) You can tell by checking out the leaves, which are smooth and well, “multi-lobed”, rather than simple and hairy like our Groundsel up here.
But let’s zero in on my favorite, which was blooming all over the place: the fabulous Sego Lily, Calochortus nuttallii, which happens to be the state flower of Utah.
We’ve already talked about Desert Mariposa Lilies (genus = Calochortus) back down in St. George, when I woke up next to a Winding Desert Lily on my overnighter with KanyonKris. The Sego Lily is a close cousin of that flower, with an identical petal/sepal architecture. You can take your pick as to which is the more beautiful (I slightly prefer the C. flexuosus), but they’re both absolute stunners.
The Sego Lily earned its state-flower crown largely due to its supposed* role in early pioneer times. In the early years of Utah settlement, cricket infestations caused significant crop damage. According to tradition, famished pioneer families augmented their diets with the edible bulbs of Sego Lilies.
*The story may be apocryphal. I don’t know, but many of these early pioneer stories often are. A prime example is the Seagulls eating the crickets story, in which it’s usually told that Seagulls never existed in Salt Lake Valley before the crickets showed up. It’s not true; guano deposits on islands in the Great Salt Lake have been dated back over 5,000 years.
How I Really Am Like Euell Gibbons After All
Now, longtime (and I mean really longtime) readers may recall that I have a continuing fixation/jihad on identifying, collecting and consuming edible foods in the wild. The reasons for this are convoluted and, well, probably stupid, and I’ve already detailed them in another wandering, stream-of-consciousness tangent in another post, so I won’t repeat them here. But suffice it to say that most of my efforts to date- such as digging up Glacier Lily corms and roasting Gambel Oak acorns- have turned out pretty dismally. So I was determined to give Sego Lily bulbs a try.
On Monday morning’s Phil’s World ride I collected a couple of bulbs (pic left) and returned to the motel, where the Trifecta and I sampled the goods. And the verdict was… OK. Definitely edible. Though the Trifecta had no urge to indulge in seconds, I found the flavor not half-bad, and I daresay that a suitable quantity, sautéed lightly in butter or olive oil, might just make an appealing side dish. Have to tear up a lot of pretty flowers though.
So there we are. I like fry sauce and Sego Lily bulbs*, and I’ve got a whole posse of Mormon friends ready to baptize me just as soon as I kick the bucket. I think I’m a real Utahn now. Gotta get me a handcart!
*Oooo….. Maybe I should try dipping Sego Lily bulbs in fry sauce…