We usually think of grandiose, epic-level expeditions when we start pondering bikepacking trips. Or at least we did until last July. Joey Sparkles and I attended the Specialized product launch in Morgan Hill. This is a trade show. We spend our days seeing product, listening in on seminars and being sold stuff. The evenings are filled with mingling and then you end up in your hotel. The thing about hotels is I would rather sleep under a bridge, in a culvert or behind a jewelry sales stand on the Rez instead. To say I wasn’t looking forward to that part of it would be accurate.
Luckily, we were invited for a #campoutwithyourlampout overnight adventure. This was reserved for a handful of attendees and consisted of strapping whatever clothes you would want onto your bike and riding out of town for about 15 miles. A van was planned to drop off our sleeping gear, food and firewood. All we had to do was get there and back under our own power. The ride over was a combination of easy spinning, sprints into trails on bikes not meant for dirt, full on sit up and chat sections and ended with a steep climb up to the campground.
When it was all said and done, we had an enjoyable time camping out and sitting around the campfire. Mostly, it resulted in my lamenting that we didn’t have camping close enough to the shop to be able to organize our own rides. Which is probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever lamented because it simply isn’t true. It took me a few days until my eyes were opened and I realized we had tons of places in Washington County that would fit the bill for copying this quick, easy format.
Snow Canyon State Park sits in Washington County and is often overlooked due to its proximity to Zion National Park. While not as big as Zion, the canyon has plenty to offer. Red sandstone cliffs tower over the valley and transition to white sandstone as you go up the canyon. The park sits where the Mojave, Great Basin and Colorado Plateau deserts intersect providing a wide range of desert flora and fauna.
The canyon walls provide a perfect backdrop for the many hikes that are available for visitors. The paved road is a popular road cycling route being the climb for the Snow Canyon Loop. There isn’t any mountain biking, but the West Canyon dirt road provides an awesome out-and-back ride that will remove you from the crowds and give you a different perspective on the canyon.
According to the park’s website:
Created in 1959, Snow Canyon has a long history of human use. Anasazi Indians inhabited the region from A.D. 200 to 1250, utilizing the canyon for hunting and gathering. Paiute Indians used the canyon from A.D. 1200 to the mid-1800s. Mormon pioneers discovered Snow Canyon in the 1850’s while searching for lost cattle. Modern-day the canyon has been the site of Hollywood films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Electric Horseman, and Jeremiah Johnson. Originally called Dixie State Park, it was later renamed for Lorenzo and Erastus Snow, prominent pioneering Utah leaders.
It’s also known, in local parlance, as Snows Canyon. We aren’t entirely sure why an S is added to this canyon or for that matter to Zion Canyon, but it happens and if you are planning on visiting, it’s a good thing to know in advance so it doesn’t catch you off guard. No, the Snows don’t own the canyon and no, there aren’t multiple canyons or Snows, but that’s they way they say it.
We highly recommend you check it out.
Day 1 – We left from Red Rock Bicycle and headed up 300 West to Diagonal and then used the bike paths on Bluff Street, Snow Canyon Parkway and Snow Canyon Drive to get to the campground.
Day 2 – We headed down canyon for a detour up West Canyon. This is highly recommended. Not only is dirt always more enjoyable than pavement, the views are spectacular and well worth the effort. After our detour, we headed up canyon climbing up and out to Highway 18 where we jumped on the bike path again and head back into town using the bike lanes on Diagonal and 300 W to get back to the shop.
The Packing List
- Main frame bag
- 1.5 Liters of crystal clear tap water
- 1 7.4 oz MSR ISOPRO fuel canister
- 1 titanium spork
- 1 MCA Flask with Bulleit Bourbon
- Saddle Bag
- Big Agnes DriDown Puffy Jacket
- 1 titanium bowl
- 1 pair of cotton boxers brand unknown
- 1 QBP Beanie for keeping my bald head warm
- Extra pair of socks
- Toothbrush and paste
- 1 hobo cup
- 1 Esbit titanium 750 liter pot for boiling water
- 1 MSR PocketRocket stove
- Handlebar Bag
- Stoic down sleeping bag stuffed tight enough that it fit between the drop bars
- Left fork bag
- North Face packable rain jacket
- Nemo pillow
- Right Fork Bag
The motley crew of bikepackers gathered around the bike rack outside of Red Rock Bicycle Co. As usual, we all had a few last minute straps to pull on and snaps to get buttoned up. The Crew was three strong, namely Moose, Joey Sparkles and Blake (Pronounced Blah Kay). We were to pick up Mama Bear en route as she was getting things snapped down at home a couple of blocks away.
We snapped a couple group photos before taking off because that’s what you do. And more importantly it’s not a selfie if someone else takes the photo.
Once the photo shoot was over, we headed north. Our first objective was to pick up Mama Bear. Easy peasy, she was in the group. Next on the list was procuring burritos. Originally, we had planned on going the greasy, not so healthy, Jalapenos route. Joey Sparkles had other plans and being the Foodie of the group, we reluctantly changed our plan to burritos from La Cocina. It was another five or six blocks and we were ordering burritos. Part of the pitch for the plan change was the claim that it was the best Salsa Bar ever. While we were ordering he demonstrated proper Salsa Bar safety while loading up on every possible flavor that they had to offer.
No he didn’t drop the camera into the salsa. Thanks for asking.
With the burritos and accompanying salsa safely stored in our packs, we only had one thing left to do, pedal to Snow Canyon. As we were loading up our burritos, a few rain drops began to fall. As we looked toward the canyon, there were heavy, looming clouds. Being that we weren’t too far from home, we just went for it any way. I mean we had packed rain jackets. Joey Sparkles had at least 1/3 of his tent and he was confident that it was the part that would keep him dry. We felt good about the prospects.
We had a headwind that was just strong enough that you couldn’t ignore it, but weak enough that it didn’t ruin the enjoyment of spinning along the bike path. The clouds continued to grow ahead of us and we kept getting sprinkles. Fortunately, nothing more than that materialized and as we turned up the canyon the storm shifted. The clouds got lighter, the sprinkles went away and it looked to be a perfect evening.
In fact, just as we rolled into camp, a rainbow exploded from the top of the cliffs.
By the time we had reached camp, it was past supper time and the burritos were calling our names loud enough that the other campers could hear them. We chose to wait on setting up camp and instead spent the next 30 minutes devouring what we determined was the best Mexican food ever. I mean we knew that we were hungry and that can cloud one’s judgement in this kind of situations, but the food was so good, especially the salsa, that we’re confident that it was a fair and unbiased taste test.
We had failed to fully plan out where we were getting firewood from and some last minute text/phone taggin happened and a delivery was made by Mrs. Sparkles providing us with hippy television for the evening. After getting our tents and Joey’s rainfly set up, we sat around telling exaggerated stories and sipping on that flask I had conveniently packed in my frame bag.
Random Mid-Story Hobo Tip
Is that a Vargo Hobo Cup? Why, yes. Yes, it is.
If there is one thing I do not go hoboing without, it’s my hobo cup. Why? You ask. Well, a hobo cup is good for many a thing, but most importantly, if you have the mental capacity to ensure your cup is always attached to your pack or in your hand, chances are you’re going to be just fine. If you lose everything else, it can be used for panhandling, soup getting or making, whiskey and coffee drinking and pretty much anything else you would ever want to do with a cup. This also includes one of its most important capabilities – making you look like a weathered hobo. And while you can walk into Red Rock Bicycle and buy this exact model of Vargo Titanium Cup, it does not come with the dings, smoke marks and stories. Those have to be added by you.
The Ride Continued
After our breakfast, after our sunrise viewing party and after we had cleaned up most of our camp, we jumped back on the bikes and headed down the canyon to the turn off for the West Canyon Road. At this point, we began treading on dirt. The morning light danced on the cliffs and the cool breeze on our faces made us contemplate the beauty of the universe, life and everything. It was just about as close to perfect as you can get without being part of the rapture.
There was a surprising amount of people on the road, but even with the extra numbers, we were all alone once we hit the end. One of my favorite parts about this ride, is once you get to the turn around point, you get to coast almost all the way back down. And if you get on it, you can pick up some good speed increasing the wind on your face and producing that grin that you get without realizing that you are smiling.
Once back at camp, we loaded up the bikes and the decision was made to take the long way home meaning we would be pedaling up to the top of the canyon and then down Highway 18.
If you’ve never ridden up Snow Canyon, you should, at least once. It’s steep. And the closer you get to the top, the steeper it gets. It’s almost a right of passage as a cyclist in Southern Utah. Plus, if you ride up it you can coast bike down or finish off the loop. Both of which are worthy rides.
Once we peaked out, high fives were thrown around. We saw the bench donated by Red Rock Bicycle and sped right past it as we began the descent back to the shop. The bike path was our route and it brought us right back into town and dropped us in the bike lane on Diagonal which we used to reverse our route back to the shop. Once back, high fives were shared and vows were taken that we would do it all again…soon.
It was an unfamiliar sensation for me to have my bike loaded, but not be worried about the pending pain. With a ride that I assumed would last about an hour at the most, there’s not much pain. And there’s not much to worry about when you can have someone drop wood by just sending out a text message. Will quick overnighters replace our desire for weeklong epic adventures? Absolutely not, but escaping for a few hours to eat burritos and sit around a campfire is definitely a worthy cause. And one that can easily happen a couple times a month.