“What makes a great mountain bike trail?” It’s the question at the forefront of my thoughts as I watch a team of volunteers sculpting the hillside with axes, picks, and strange-looking rakes. Levi is refining the slope of a curve with timber and soil when he responds, “That’s like asking what love is.”
Love. It is an appropriate metaphor for a day like today because there is certainly passion involved in trail building, biking, and teamwork. Two groups have come out to The Ranch to help develop what is already a considerable network of biking trails: Trails 2000 and DEVO. Trails 2000 has been serving Southwest Colorado for over twenty years. Daryl Crites and Trey Duvall are here leading the effort, and their competency is inspiring. They quickly organize DEVO’s coaches and student riders.
Working at a safe distance from each other, the high-school students chat and laugh as they chip away at the terrain. I move among them taking pictures and asking them how they feel about being here to build trail. There is enthusiasm and a sense of pride: “We ride the trails; it’s our turn to help,” Derrik says. Madeigh echoes similar sentiments, “It’s good to give back because we ride so much.” DEVO’s mission is to create lifelong cyclists, and an attitude of responsibility is a part of that. DEVO has around three-hundred children and adults in their program ranging in age from two to twenty-five. Sarah Tescher, one of DEVO’s founders and the current Director, is working to loosen a tree root when I approach her. Wiping the sweat from her brow, she speaks warmly about the expansion of DEVO from its conception in 2005 to its current size with seventeen programs and forty coaches. She is gratified to offer so many young people the opportunity to join what she sees as “a continuum of biking.” The other coaches share Sarah’s passion for community, health, alternative transportation, exploration, and the simple enjoyment of a great ride. (More at: Durangodevo.com.)
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Lance Roberts handing rocks to students working to support the trail higher up the slope. It’s a thrilling day for him; he usually maintains the biking trails alone or with just a few others. When Roberts talks about the trail system his entire being animates. With incredible attention to detail, he is dedicated to creating a network of trails that all levels of riders find rewarding. Crites shares his vision and passion. When I ask him what he thinks makes a great mountain bike trail, he says, “Each trail is different, and different to everyone. So, a great trail is one that is enjoyable to as wide of a range of skill levels as possible.” It’s all about inclusion with this man; it radiates from him. His joy in being out here is palpable. I ask what motivates his work. He smiles, “We all love trails – more and more opportunity, and it’s fun to see young generations really into it.” His peer from Trails 2000, Duvall, is also inspired by the community aspect – both in terms of contribution and connection. Duvall also adds that protecting ecosystems from damage while still allowing exploration of wild places is at the heart of Trails 2000 designs. (More at: Trails2000.org.)
So – what makes a great mountain bike trail? Kaydee and Emily hesitate, “smooth, packed flow” they agree. Flow – it’s the word that keeps coming up. “It’s like catching a wave,” adds DEVO coach Brianne Marshall. Levi’s response keeps ringing in my ears, “That’s like asking what love is.” I take a breath and look out through the trees to seams of blue sky. Around me, this stretch of mountain is becoming a clear trail and as laughter weaves it way among the activity, I add my own answer to the mix: a great mountain biking trail is made with care, vision, and pleasure.
Smokey, a Gelding, has smooth gaits, especially his trots. He can be a bit of a trickster with the wranglers; he enjoys pulling the radios off their belts and knocking off their hats. He is playful, but sweet and reliable with a compassionate temperament.
The sisters Belle and Button are said to be part unicorn, and Belle’s mane certainly suggests magic. Both are super sweet and gentle.
Sideburns is an excellent cow horse. He is mellow and athletic – meaning he is still responsive even at a fast pace, and he has good endurance. He is a favorite among the wranglers because his long back makes him a velvety ride.
Austin is strong and requires an experienced Western rider (no tight English reigns for this guy). Those that can match him find him to be a super, fun ride; he's surefooted.
Drifter is known for his creamy-smooth gaits. He even has a nice running-walk. Those that ride him compare the experience to gliding on water.
Jenni Darlow exudes strength and grace as she stands in a meadow that sweeps into distant peaks. It is a prime spot to enjoy “the view down the valley” – one of the things that keeps her coming back. This is her tenth season as an employee here at The Ranch, but she has actually been coming here since she was a nine-year-old girl – proud of her white, fringed boots. In fact, it was The Ranch that got her riding and keeps her riding. The “feel of the place,” her relationship with the Roberts’ family and other wranglers, and the connection she has with the horses keep her coming back to this valley. She teaches dance lessons, works with kids, and, of course, wrangles. The rest of the year she teaches math in Durango, so she knows this area. Standing in the meadow in her cowboy hat and pink-checkered shirt, Jenni is at ease; she is clearly home.
Paden is tough and he pays attention with quiet concentration – so I don’t recommend messing with him. He has been coming out to The Ranch since he was a baby, and this summer, at the ripe age of ten, he is helping to take care of the horses out at the barn. “What do you like about being here?” I ask. Paden takes a moment to consider the question before he answers, “I like how the ranch is so fun. I like meeting new people. I like all the fun stuff I get to do.” In terms of riding, his favorite thing is “enjoying the ride and the pretty country.” Paden has ridden calves and steers in rodeos too, but it isn’t the main thing that makes him a cowboy. No, the main thing that makes him a cowboy is his heart; he’s got that grounded gentleness about him that only the truest and best cowboys have.
There is something about this place that liberates the artistic flow – partially it is the spaciousness itself, but there is an abundance of something else too, something that every type of artist can relate to on some level – texture. Sculptors and weavers animate and translate texture intimately. Poets create texture with language, tempo, and space so that images have dimension. Painters have their paint and choice of canvas, photographers their cameras and sensitivity to light – etc. Texture inspires – this is the idea that this place has brought to me – and so I share a few glimpses of its tapestry with you.
By Lance Roberts
Mountain biking at WTR
The summer mountain bike riding season is in full swing here in Southwestern Colorado and the trails are in epic form. Mountain biking at WTR and in the Durango Colorado area is a great way for families to come together in a fun, challenging and safe mountain setting while exploring our areas stunning beauty and terrain.
So you have been told or heard that a full suspension mountain bike is better than a front suspension only, a hard tail model.
Read on to find out why this may or may not be true and how it may be more legend and marketing than general MTB trail reality and why Wilderness Trails has chosen “front squish” (the front fork of the bike has a suspension fork) only bikes for our guests.
Why We Choose Hardtails
In our seasoned view, a full suspension mountain bike can actually be a poor choice for most casual or beginning riders. On most corresponding beginner to intermediate trails and terrain the tried and tested simplicity and reliability of a hardtail is hard to beat.
Incorrectly fitted or adjusted full suspension bikes are like shoes that don’t fit- at best they may hurt and at worst you may trip, fall and injure yourself. A full suspension bike that is too big or too small combined with the wrong suspension settings, especially in the rear suspension- that is, too stiff or aggressive of rebound and the bike can buck you off- too soft and you can damage the bikes wheels or bottom out the suspension with excessive force and you can also loose control.
Even expert riders can find adjusting suspension settings (especially rear settings) to be an often daunting and frustrating ritual to make the bike perform in a way that rewards the rider with a consistent, positive and predictable ride.
At WTR, we feel strongly that the light weight simplicity and nimble ease and efficiency conveyed by a hard tail is generally the best ride for our WTR roads and trails and the majority of Durango area terrain.
A traditional hard tail mountain bike provides the best introduction to technical singletrack, forest service roads, and double-tracks (jeep roads) and is the best way to learn the skills, techniques and confidence to graduate into more challenging terrain.
We have been riding MTB since 1983 at Wilderness Trails, and believe it or not, I just started riding full suspension bikes for some of my riding- but not all of it- in the past couple years. But to be honest, unless I’m doing gondola shuttle runs at the park, you’ll likely find me grinning atop a good ‘ol hard tail.
At WTR we believe that from those who have done some MTB in the past to those who are completely novice and beginners, a hard tail with front suspension is the most predictable, fun and easiest way to create a rewarding, consistent and safe bike experience for nearly all of our guests.
If however, you read the above and just said, Ok, “wait a second I love my dually...” Please, by all means, bring your bike or we’ll help you rent a performance bike here.
If you are wanting to spend a considerable amount of your vacation-holiday time exploring the area by MTB, then we can accommodate those needs as well.
For Experienced and Hardcore Riders
For seasoned riders who really appreciate riding a trusty steed, we can handle receiving your boxed bike and have it reassembled and ready for your arrival.
And heck, you are already visiting a mecca for riding, so why not demo or try a high end bike you've been dreaming about- if you’ve been thinking about trying a long travel gravity type bike or a nimble and fast cross country single speed maybe visiting Durango is the time to do it.
Happy trails- we can't wait to go ride with you!
The community at Wilderness Trails Ranch is truly a rich one – with chefs, artists, a massage therapist, dogs, melodic birds – the list could go on. Of course, most visitors to our ranch are eager to meet our horses and wranglers, and they are a lovely crew. To this aim, each week from now until the end of July six horses and one wrangler will be featured here on our blog.
Rick and Red, our gentle giants, are Belgian Draft Horses. They have been with The Ranch for ten years and team up to provide our weekly hayrides. Being in their presence inspires awe, and the opportunity to benefit from their considerable strength and grace during the hayride is a highlight for many. They are also our resident stars as they have been featured in several movies.
Ember was born on The Ranch in 2002, the year of the fire – hence his name. Ember, a Morgan Quarter Horse, is super gentle and playful - ideal for beginning riders to help them build confidence and develop a deeper sense of joy while riding.
Tigger is a favorite among guests because he is highly responsive. He is a perfect fit for people with riding experience. Tigger was born on The Ranch and was Lance Robert’s private horse for many years. The evidence of his loving training is evident to those who ride him. He is a Quarter Appaloosa Horse and has half-brothers who also live with us here at The Ranch.
Lenita, a Paint Mare, requires a confident rider. For those looking to build a relationship that requires more attention, Lenita provides a more complex riding experience. She is appreciated by our wranglers because she calmly walks to and waits in her stall each morning. Lenita was born here at The Ranch and is known for her lasting love for Sideburns, another one of our horses.
Willa’s eyes will tell you how kind she is, and, indeed, this Percheron Quarter Horse mix is a favorite. She is highly responsive and enjoyed both by beginning riders looking to build confidence and experienced riders who want to enjoy a week of ease. Her strawberry-roan coloring is unique, and those that ride her may find themselves enchanted.
“I don’t remember learning to ride” smiles Kathryn Forynski as she watches the horses graze. An unsurprising comment considering that Kathryn’s mother first took her up into the saddle when she was only four-days old. Kathryn grew up riding Arabians in Bedfordshire, England where she was also an event rider in cross country, jumping, and dressage. She will tell you about it – with her customary reserved sweetness – if you ask. Kathryn has been with The Ranch since 2008, and she greatly enjoys the relaxed approach of Western riders. She respects the gentle power of horses, and the feeling of oneness that often arises while riding ties her heart to them even further. Part of what keeps Kathryn coming back is the trail riding; “There’s always something new to notice” she says. And she’s keeping her eyes open for elk shed because she wants a pair of antlers to paint pink and hang on her wall.