Dispatch from the Trail: Mountain Biking Flaming Gorge, Curt Gowdy, and The Black Hills

Curt Gowdy State Park

Blair wrote this post about some of the biking we have done so far.  Stay tuned for his accounts of the Maah Daah Hey trail and the Cuyuna Lakes system next.

If there is any kind of underlying theme to the beginning of our trip it is that the trails have been rocky and technical. From Flaming Gorge to Curt Gowdy State Park and on to the Black Hills of South Dakota, the trails have been riddled with granite — some jagged, some smooth.  With each change in location, the rocks have continued, but each trail system has had its own unique flair.

Flaming Gorge

Flaming Gorge - Red Canyon Trail

With views along the rim of a river-canyon-turned-reservoir with red rock walls, the trails surrounding the Red Canyon and Dowd Mountain areas were absolutely stunning. Not only were the views spectacular but the riding was as well.   Granite filled trails required a slower pace at times, but picking my way down some natural steps and then opening it up to boost off the next entrance to a rock garden made for exciting times.

The trail systems we rode could be tied in with some service road but we didn’t get a chance to explore too much beyond them. There were a few nearby 20 to 30ish mile rides that I will definitely return to explore at Current Creek and Elk Park.   After watching our four year old clean some fairly techy descents, we Rascals agree that we will be returning to ride more here!

Curt Gowdy State Park

Curt Gowdy State Park Mountain BIking

Sticking to our schedule, we moved along to southeast Wyoming. Curt Gowdy sits at a fairly high elevation, but within the park itself,  the hills only offer a few hundred feet of elevation change with each climb. There are about 37 miles of trail in the park divided by two trails systems and linked together by Granite Reservoir’s  Shoreline trail. As the reservoir’s name implies, there was granite everywhere!

The hills were big enough to offer some rioutous descents with drops, slabs, technical sections and boulder roll overs. There were various play zones with purpose built lines and also less technical, buff singletrack that we were able to take our son on.  All day adventures are possible here, and if desired, there are other nearby trail systems in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

Black Hills of South Dakota

Black Hills Mountain Biking

Our first stop in the Black Hills was Sheridan Lake. After a morning of hiking around Mt. Rushmore with my family, my wife and son dropped me off at the Big Pine trailhead just North of the wilderness boundary. It was here that I was dropped off with the expectation that I would be riding back to camp along a segment of the Centennial trail….after all it was only about 10 miles.

The first 3 miles meandered along hills and grassy plains as I worked towards a rather steep looking mountain. Once I crossed under the I-16, via a nice tunnel, I arrived at the Samelius trailhead. I took a little rest and continued on.  An intense rocky climb began right out of the trailhead. Most pitches were steep enough that I was off the bike and hiking, but some were rideable. Some able climbers might love this stuff. I struggled, but steep technical climbing is not my strong suit.

After what felt like the whole day (and was more like 90 minutes), I reached what I hoped was the top of the mountain. I then quickly realized there were about 3 peaks in succession before I dropped down a long finger reaching  below to Sheridan Lake. Each descent was steep, rocky, rowdy fun.   Each of those awesome descents were followed by more steep rocky climbs. I also crossed paths with 3 separate patches of wild raspberry bushes. A welcome snack.

When I finally crested the top of the final and highest peak it quickly dropped into a high mountain fall line of boulders and technical descening. Though exhilirating, I got distracted by the fun and let my 27.5-by-4-inch wheel push the suspension hard into a hole between rocks and I found myself head and shoulder into a few large rocks. I regained my composure and winced from the pain. The rest of the trail was steep, yet flowing and still fun. When reflecting on the experience, I was initially turned off by the amount of hike-a-bike I had but then thought about the fun lines that made the descents worth it. Because of those steep, rocky lines down the mountain, this has definitely been one of my favorite rides yet.

Spearfish was downright fun. I liked the town and quality trails were close. The trend of constant rock ended here. My friend Casey and I met up for a ride on the Dakota 5-0 course, a 50 mile race to the South from Spearfish. We did not make the entire 50, but put in about 32 miles.

Dakota 5-0 course

Though some fun technical, steep areas are on the course, there was a nice mix of flowing singletrack, gradual climbs and twin track to keep it fast. My friend and I also got to meet the creator of the race. He and his wife were doing maintenance on the course. We did not get to finish the course but traced our pedal strokes back along the way we came. I enjoyed descending down Lower Cardiac trail with the steep pitch and small rock gardens. The family agrees with me: we are most certainly going to return to Spearfish!

Signing Out

Although the first three locations remained true to the rocky theme, Spearfish offered a change of scenery and flow. I anticipate many varying ecosystems, trail conditions and awesome adventures for the weeks and months to come. I love seeing my family enjoy it all as well. I am going to keep searching for more rocky fall lines and blasting down trails with the kiddo in tow….. or in front rather.