to desert safetyEcology for Mountain Bikers

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To see an article about Moab environmental issues by Dreamride owner, Lee Bridgers, printed in the October 2002 issue of Mountain Bike Action magazine, click on JAGGED PILL.

The surface of the desert around Moab, Utah is covered with a fragile living crust called cryptobiotic soil. This "crypto" is based on a microscopic net of cyanobacteria that stabilizes the surface of the desert by encasing grains of sand in a twisted mass of threads, much like a vine. Cyanobacteria is almost invisible to the naked eye, but if you push a finger into what looks like hardened barren sand, the top of the soil breaks like a bread crust and tiny fibers cling to the outmost fragments. This is the first stage of what eventually becomes a garden of flowers and trees.

After about ten to thirty years this crust begins blacken as it becomes host to colonies of lichen, moss and algae. In a couple of hundred years these colonies develop into a highly textured and multi-colored crust. This crust photosynthesizes sunlight into nitrogen and holds sparce moisture just beneath the surface. At about 225 years seeds begin to germinate in cracks in the crust or in small footprints of animals that carry seeds across the desert in their fur or droppings. Areas stabilized by the crypto give birth to gardens, that in turn support the rabbits, pica and other small mammals and insects. The insects are eaten by birds and lizards. The rabbits are eaten by eagles and mountain lions. This process that gives life to such a harsh and dry environment is dependent upon these fragile crusts.

The worst thing you can do as a mountain biker in Moab is bust the crust. The sands are not the only place this stuff is found, either. Mosses and lichens cover the slickrock, stabilizing the surface of the rock and collecting sand that eventually grows into small pockets of soil. Blackened pits in the rock collect water and are home to desert shrimp, toads, snails and insects. Riding through these blackened pits destroys life we cannot see with the naked eye.

Because of this, mountain bikers in Moab must practice a sort of etiquette that allows us to experience the desert without killing it. You must learn to recognize bare rock as a surface that is fine to ride on, as opposed to rock encrusted with lichens and mosses. You must learn how to dodge patches of vegetation that are smaller than one inch in diameter. It may seem absurd to someone who is coming from a wet climate, but our plants do not grow back! Frankly, this just presents another technical challenge that becomes part of the enjoyment of the ride. If you love technical trails, then dodging obstacles should bring you joy. If you don't love technical riding, then what the hell are you doing in Moab?

Dreamride Tours includes in your first ride a complete evaluation of your skills and intensive instruction in how to ride across slickrock without leaving a trace. Staying on existing trails is very important. NEVER riding across soils that are encrusted (that means everything but drift sand), is the order of the day. Tracks across the crust, skid marks on the rock, and ruts through the bottom of standing water pools will soon cause us to loose access to many of the freeform slickrock areas around Moab. It is coming. Let us delay this process by practicing responsible skills.

As long as you are on existing trails, all you have to do is keep your speed at a level where you can keep the bike on the trail. When you are freefrom riding on slickrock areas, make sure those areas are previously impacted or free of vegetations. Water courses are almost clear of crytobiotic vegetation.

Bartlett Wash is a good example. Pockets of crypto on the rock and vast stretches in the valleys are rapidly being scarred and destroyed. Tracks become water courses and widen, killing all vegetation. Pits in the rock become barren and lifeless. There is plenty of good, clean rock to ride at Bartlett Wash slickrock but people seem too lazy to pick an environmentally clean line or just plain ignorant as to how much impact they have on soils in pockets on the rock. Learn it! Ride on the barren rock, only. And if you see folks trampling the life, tell them that ignorance is not an excuse.

When on a mining road or jeep track DO NOT WIDEN THE TRAIL BY RIDING ON ITS EDGES. Stay in the right or left tire track. You will notice many areas around Moab where ATV's have begun to turn tiny mining routes into freeways by slowing eating away at the edges of the trail. These ATV things are weapons against nature in the hands of ignorant and/or beligerant people. Even the guided rides are extremely destructive.

AND don't get involved in racing in lands that are fragile. Too many riders at one time make for a 24 HOUR RACING'S HUGE MESS. For news and more info click on MOAB ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS.


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