Bartlet Wash

Bartlet Wash

I have been visting Moab, Utah for 12 years now for the purpose of mountain biking and exploring. I bought my first mountain bike, a Raleigh Elkhorn, and used it on the Slickrock Trail when we shared it with motorbikes. Now the days of Moab solitude are difficult to find, however, the rides are still thrilling. I have replaced my Elkhorn and now lead mountain biking trips with my company Adventure Trekkers which is based out of Denver, Colorado.

A few years back, during one of our mountain bike adventures in Moab, I was directed to a small patch of slickrock near Barlett Wash, one of the many canyons that pours into the Colorado River outside of Moab. Barlett Wash is accessible from two locations of which I will describe later. As I was between trips and was in the mood for exploration, I enlisted a couple friends to help me find a new “patch of slickrock” that we so eagerly sought after repetitive rides on Moab’s more famous jaunts.

Barlett Wash is a two mile wide valley that narrows to 50 yards at the mouth of a low canyon which is bordered by Entrada Sandstone, a thick layer of ancient sediment laid down during the time of the dinosaurs. In some of the predominantly red sandstone strata the rock is actually purplish in colour and swirls together where eddies of ancient river beds deposited the silt of eroding mountains.

Barlett Wash can be tackled from two points, the valley portion of the ride on the Dubinky Well road just off the main road to Island- in-the-Sky at Canyonlands National Park. After slaking our thirst, slathering sunscreen on exposed body parts and fulfilling other caffeinated habits picked up in Seattle, we rode across an expanse of slickrock toward the mouth of the canyon.

The slickrock seemed continuous. In fact it is not the square miles like Moab’s famous slickrock trial, however, all of it is rideable. We pedaled toward a few rises in the distance, each of us detouring briefley towards lips of sandstone that form “waves”. Not unlike surfing the pipelines of Hawaii, you can ride along these slickrock waves, up them, and speed down their faces as if you were showing off for the hoards of bikini-clad beach beauties ashore. However, these shores dried up 180 million years ago and the hoards have long left. Unfortunately, the bikinied girls weren’t there either.

As we reached one of the summits in the distance that we aimed for earlier, we were rewarded with a view of the area. No name spire and castle mesa fringe the wash. We dismounted our bikes for a view and noticed that our sandstone beaches may have not been as deserted as we thought. Neatly stacked like firewood were some stones and a dried up juniper boughs, ancient with age and weathering. “A lookout!” I thought. Sure enough, this viewpoint would be the ideal location for a bank of hunters seeking to trap and kill a deer in the lightly vegetated wash below. A series of “lookouts” fringed the wash as it narrowed towards the canyon in the distance. The next lookout we rode to was not adorned with any stones. Rather, under the weathered boulder that adorned the summit was a stoarage place. In that decaying sandstone ledge were three fist-sized chert stones that appeared to have been chipped. “Flint making tools!” It was obvious that they were not deposited there by mother nature. We realized that we were now playing in the hunting grounds of the ancient ones – the Anasazi, or even their predescessors, the Fremont Indians that are thought to have left the thousands of rock art pictographs, petroglyphs and granaries on the Colorado Plateau.

I have returned to Bartlett Wash a few times since our time of realization and we have found further evidence to confirm our hypothesis (besides the locals telling us it was true). The most startling find was atop another “lookout.” Placed in a 10 foot
circle were a dozen or more evenly sized sandstone rocks as if the author was creating a prayer circle. My first thought was that if I were a solace seeking hippie, I would surely choose this place to meditate. Upon closer inspection, the obviously placed stones had been there placed a long time ago. The rocks were covered with lichen. I carefully picked one up and an awesome feeling came over me. The lichen was not under the rock. Instead, the sandstone rock had eroded in the location where it had been set. A pile of sand lay beneath the rock and had partially cemented it in place.

Geologically it can take sandstone a dozen years, a hundred, a thousand or more for it to begin breaking down. It depends on the stregnth of the cement between the particles of sandstone. I tried to place the rock back in the exact place where I found it and finished my ride aware that I was not the only one on the petrified sandstone beaches of Bartlett Wash that day.

A visit to Barlett Wash is one of the locations that Josh Gerak and Adventure Trekkers takes participants on its Moab Mountain Bike Adventures. Trips to the Slickrock Trail, Porcupine Rim, White Rim and more remote slickrock playgrounds await explorers on our trips. We do hiking trips in the canyons of Comb Wash as well.

Copyrighted by Josh Gerak.