View of rock formations as we climb southbound up endless slickrock. Photos and trail write-up by Bruce, April 22, 2009.
Monitor and Merrimac Bike Trail
Courthouse Rock to Mill Canyon
The Monitor and Merrimac Bike Loop is a newly-repackaged slickrock ride north of Moab. The
apex of the loop offers a view of two rock formations, named Monitor and Merrimac in honor
of the civil war ironclad warships. The ride is 6.1 miles in length. Beginning altitude is
4450 feet. There is 500 vertical feet of climbing on the ride, almost all of it on open rock.
Right now, you may be scratching your head and saying, "Wait a minute. I heard Monitor and
Merrimac is an endless jeep road full of hot deep sand and biting flies." Well, this is NOT
the old Monitor and Merrimac four-wheeler road. This is a bicycle route on singletrack and
open rock. It doesn't actually go to the Monitor and Merrimac buttes. But you can connect to
the old jeep road from this loop if you want to.
Starting out from the parking area, we'll take dirt roads to the ruin of the Halfway Stage House, where we enter singletrack near CourtHouse Rock (the big butte center left).
The Halfway Stage House was a rest and supply depot for the stagecoach. This point was halfway between Moab and the railroad stop at Thompson Springs (east of Crescent Junction).
The route is well-marked with carsonite posts, each with a bicycle sticker and that-a-way arrows.
(There's one critical fork at mile 1.5 you might miss if you aren't looking.) Ride the loop
clockwise. The first 0.8 miles is on improved dirt road. Shortly after the Halfway Stage House
ruin, you'll enter singletrack and climb a gentle slope between high rock cliffs. A fence opening
blocks ATVs from the trail.
The trail in the valley west of Courthouse Rock is mostly firm with only a hint of upward slope.
At mile 1.4, there's a critical fork (the fork may fade with time and absence of ATVs). Veer
to the right up a short sandy section that takes you to the slickrock.
Continue south on a steady uphill slope. There's two miles of slickrock ahead. The route is
marked by white paint-spots and occasional rockpiles.
Riding southbound in the valley below Courthouse Rock.
Still angling uphill and southward, we're approaching the final butte of Entrada sandstone. We'll hook around this butte.
The slickrock here is very easy -- about the least-technical rock in Moab. But it does angle
steadily uphill. So while I highly recommend this ride for beginning mountain bikers, you've
got to have leg stamina. (And some sand-surfing skills for the downhill in Mill Canyon.)
There's always something pretty to look at. The mellow rock makes it easy to gawk as you pedal.
The sandstone you're riding on is the junction between the Navajo sandstone and the Entrada
of the Jurassic Period. You're riding on petrified 200 year-old sand. (The buttes you see are
in Entrada sandstone.)
We've reached the southern end of the loop. Across the valley, we see the Monitor and Merrimac Buttes. History buffs will automatically know which represents the little "cheesebox on a raft" USS Monitor, and which is the larger CSS Merrimac.
We're heading back north. High-speed slickrock. The little green dots are full-grown junipers in the distance. The cleft in the cliffs is Mill Canyon.
At the south end of the loop, the trail hooks to the right around a butte. To the south, you'll
see the Monitor and Merrimac buttes. You're there. Stop and take in the view.
Next you'll ride northbound on a slightly down-sloping sandstone tabletop. The gentle swells
in the rock seem to get bigger as you pick up speed. Keep your eyes open for the white dots
painted on the rock.
Heading north downhill in Mill Canyon.
Dinosaur tail bones. Little signs explain what you're seeing.
At the mouth of Mill Canyon, you'll again encounter singletrack. This is where you'll be grateful
you went clockwise. There are some sandy stretches here, but because the trail aims downhill
I was able to ride everything without hiking.
Midway down Mill Canyon, the trail dumps into the creekbed. As it comes out to gravel road,
the Dinosaur Bones walking trail is to your left. Dump your bike at the trail sign and walk
through the wash to the dinosaur bones.
Sauropod rib and scapula. Pretty cool, huh?
View from the Dinosaur Bones trail, showing the old copper mill, from which Mill Canyon gets its name.
The Dinosaur Bones trail is only about 150 yards long. It's definitely worth doing.
From the Dinosaur trail, you'll spot the ruin of the old copper mill across the valley. You
missed it on the way down the bike trail because it was above the creek's edge.
From the fork at the Dinosaur Bones trail, take the gravel road back along the wash, past primitive
camping spots. As you reach the main road, fork left and ride back to parking.
Final look back up Mill Canyon. The two dark spires are Determination Towers, a popular rock-climbing spot.
Riding notes, clockwise loop:
0.0 Head south on road N38 43.519 W109 43.968
0.5 Fork L (R = return route)
N38 43.089 W109 43.957
0.6 Keep R, N38 43.031 W109 43.913
0.8 Halfway Stage House N38 42.856 W109 43.922
1.5 R up sandy trail to slickrock
N38 42.350 W109 43.874
2.0 Shortcut forks L, keep R
2.9 Trail hooks R around butte
3.8 Keep straight (L = to jeep route)
N38 41.847 W109 44.439
4.0 Shortcut joins on R, keep straight
5.0 Fork, L to Dinosaur Bones
R = to complete loop
N38 42.751 W109 44.361
5.6 Fork L on return road
6.1 Back at parking
Monitor loop ride.
Getting there: From Moab, drive north 13 miles from the Colorado River. (It's 4.5 miles north
of the 313 Canyonlands turnoff, and 16 miles south of Crescent Junction.) As the road comes
over a small rise, spot the dirt Mill Canyon road crossing the railroad tracks on your left
(N38 43.634 W109 43.346). Ignore the ATV parking (on your right just after the tracks) and
drive 0.5 miles. Park near the trail kiosk at the fork in the road. The ride begins by heading
south (the left fork of the road) N38 43.519 W109 43.968.