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Ripe for the picking

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Fruita, Colorado is a high-desert mountain biking paradise on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. About 10 miles outside of Grand Junction, Colorado, this agricultural community is also known for its paleontology – fossiles of ancient giants have been excavated here. On the surface it’s a premier mountain biking destination where the riding here can bloom year round.

There are two main trail systems in Fruita: The Book Cliffs off 18 Road to the north with a smooth, flowing character, and the Kokopelli trail system to the west, with 50 miles of trail that mix soft and fast with chunky and technical, skirting slot canyons and even a few portages. It’s all split down the middle by U.S. Interstate 70 – a paved jet stream that funnels in hordes of riders, and many of them head to Horsethief Bench – one of Fruita’s gems.

The Ride: Horsethief Bench is a 7-mile upper intermediate clockwise loop in the Kokopelli Trail System within McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area, home to the second highest number of arches in the world. The ride has about 900 feet of elevation gain and can generally be done in one to two hours.

The Trail: After a short and slightly hairy climb on a jeep road, part of Mary’s Loop, the grade lightens up with striking views before Horsethief breaks off Mary’s and dives down a heinous staircase that is actually ridable by skilled experts. This short portage is part of the fun to get down to Horsethief Bench.

The Fun: While there are a few intimidating maneuvers that many riders will eschew, most of the trail a solid blend of comfy fun and stirring challenges. After a steep slickrock ramp into the sand, the ride eases up for a bit. Overall, it rips and roles over soft stretches of sandy trail, punctuated with gritty, rock ledges, drops and step ups that push body and mind. In a few cases the trail brushes the edge, and there are some narrow washes to negotiate, but this is a favorite for a reason. It’s a joy for capable riders and a skill builder for aspiring ones, and the views of the Colorado and the soft sandstone bluffs beyond are moving.

Eat: Camilla’s, next to Over the Edge Sports bike shop in downtown Fruita, serves big, fat breakfasts. The Hot Tomato serves New Belgium beer, New York pizzas, killer strombolis and huge salads.

Drink: Suds Brothers Brewery has a nice Nut Brown Ale and great pub fare.

Sleep: The BLM campground at 18 Road has about 30 sites, where you can hop on singletrack right from your tent. No hook ups. Highline Lake State Park has 31 shaded sites with hookups on the grass next to a large lake, with laundry and showers.

 

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