to desert safetyEcology for Mountain Bikers
24 hours of destruction Part 2 - See for yourself!
The horrible truth about 24 hour mountain bike racing in wild areas south of Moab.

"In the linear, mathematical way of Eurocentric male society that has long dominated America, . . . One is expected to know things, to believe things. Knowing and believing are all in your head--there is nothing in your heart. If you cannot feel that the earth is your Grandmother, then of course you will find it easy to rape her, to behave as though she is under your dominion. You will find it easy to believe that we humans are the dominant species, and to act as though the earth and everything on it are ours to do with as we please." ~ Russell Means, Where White Men Fear to Tread

"Yes, It is an ecologic disaster, but the 24 hours of moab is a great event." ~ email "response" from "Dogboy," received 11/03/03.

This, my friends, is what we are up against.
Moab 24 hour race damage

More DamageThese photos are graphic evidence that the 24 hour mountain bike race held south of Moab over the past few years is the prime cause of continued widening of the Behind the Rocks Trail and the further degradation of surrounding public lands next to Behind the Rocks wilderness area. The darker stuff on the edge of the sand is cryptobiotic soil crust, a living colony of bacteria, mosses, lichens and algae that stabilize the surface of the desert, which in this case is deep sand.

In this second picture on the right, you can see "crypto" at the top of the picture where the trees are growing. The crust is being desimated the closer it gets to the trail. Ride over the crypto, destroy it and you just get more sand and a wider trail, as you will see in pictures that follow. The catch is that it takes cryptobiotic soils a couple hundred years to fully recover from a single track. The trail is widening, and is probably going to get a lot worse. Read down the page and click on CARING FOR MOAB to understand more about the cryptobiotic soil crusts, the darkened soil that may look like dried mud to the unaccustomed visitor.

On Thursay, October 23, 2003 I rode the southeast corner of the current course with our newest guide, Jim Collins. It did not take more than a few seconds to be shocked by the sandy, wider trail. We spent the midday hours amazed by the fact that this kind of mess was done by outsiders on mountain bikes. We only saw two people on the trail, a couple of environmentally clueless mountain bikers. At the end of the ride, as we drove out through the barren camping area, there was one of these guys, his ass hanging over a rock, taking a crap in our direction, a turd falling out of his ass. We both remarked that it was a fitting end to our day.

Jim is now on the program as a guide. This is the lesson that we all have to learn. Within yards of being on the course, he figured it was futile to start picking up trash. I told him it was basically enabling the promoters and race organizers. I gave up picking up their garbage years ago. I want the BLM to see it. Near Prostitute Butte I spotted Alex Van Hemert, BLM officer and official bureaucratic permittee of the race and asked him what was going to be done about the litter. He said he was going back to town, "to make them pick it up." If the course had already been patrolled for litter after the race four days ago, it must have looked like a garbage dump.

As for pictures, I have over a hundred more. If you want to see the shots I have so-far uploaded, click on 03 RACE PICTURE FILE. The damage is massive. In just one third of the course, I used up an entire 256 megabite chip in my digital camera with pictures of off-trail tracks, litter and the widening trail itself. When the camera's memory chip was full, I bailed. I was sick enough. I have NEVER seen the Behind the Rocks trail this sandy, EVER. Of course it was wider, too. Just the weekend before a race organizer came into our office bragging that the course was "best ever--totally packed and fast." Well, the monkeys that flew out his ass are now running the show. If it was packed then, the race certainly tore it up REALLY BAD. Now, it is beach sand from one end to the other. Worst ever. Even the four wheelers have a hard time creating this kind of mess, but they DO come out and use the damage that the race has done as an excuse to ride on the "new" tracks.

Our frustration at the hundreds of pieces of litter, the energy snack wrappers, wads of duct tape, shards of sunglasses and helmets, course markers, tools, the hat and that single pair of dirty underwear, did not come close to rivaling the sinking feeling as we were continuously confronted by newly widened trail--miles of it. When do you think the trail will be wide enough? When do you think it will be sandy enough? When do you think that the race organizers, promoters and sponsors will stop blaming other users for this damage?

Off trail scars

The picture directly above is of a section of the course where a new mountain bike spur is being created. Note the tracks on the right going up the hill to the right of the juniper. This short spur was created by just a few cyclists in the race, maybe even just one cyclist who rode it repeatedly to cut the course off and avoid the real reason to ride Behind the Rocks, the damn rocks. The tracks travel around a group of trees that will eventually be completely deprived of needed nutrients produced by surrounding cryptobiotic soil crust should the diversion not be blocked. The small spur will certainly be picked up by ATV riders who are even bigger pussies than mountain bikers. This has been the pattern on this specific trail. The race creates short spurs, others begin to use them, the trail gets wider, as below.

wider and wider Money, the root of all evil

Money, Very, Very Wide "Singletrack," a Cloud of Dust and Hi-Yo Silver, Away

You can see why land management turns a blind eye: Lots of little pictures of George Washington. Understand that the race is REALLY not about the LOCAL economy. If it were truly about boosting the local economy, the race would be held from Moab, using local hotel and restaurant services, as well as the much better, less sandy, trails near town. Instead, the race is held next to a Wilderness Area miles south where the only services you are going to get are those offered by the race promoters and sponsors, and the only thing underneath that fragile soil crust is sand. Do you know the ONLY local business that benefits from the 24 Hours of Moab Race on a steady basis? The provider of the Port-O-Potties. Yes, the locals take care of your shit for you. Meanwhile, out on the course you are in a captive environment, a captive audience. You get to camp in the dust for a lot of money, eat crap for lot of money, and ride around in a cloud of dust for a lot of money. And what do you get if you win? Not fucking much, I can tell you. Can you hear the howl of that coyote over the ring of the cash register? Follow the money into the hands of the people responsible for taking advantage of your passion for riding a bike and you will have the primary source of true blame. Demand creates supply, but in the case of this sorry-ass excuse for a big-ass bicycle race, no one has yet been held responsible for the damage because no one admits there is damage. Maybe the Sierra Club cops who think mountain bikes are horrible tools of destruction, should come down on us. And, you know, they would be right. But no one is coming down on this race, not even the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the very organization that set up the boundaries of wilderness that the race has violated for years. I think the time has come for the subculture to clean its own house. It is mountain bikers who must stop this Moab race.

off trail excursions

trail widening Economy, appearances and wilderness aside, 24 hour races are singletrack destroyers, second to no other human powered recreational activity. They leave the trail desimated AFTER A SINGLE RACE. Thousands of people on bikes riding over and over a single trail for 24 hours trying to avoid the technical stuff IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRAIL--imagine it. It only takes one idiot to make a new singletrack in this ecosystem. Done in a populated area, this can be great fun that creates wider trails for fatter people, but done in the desert in Moab or the forests of Canaan and Snowshoe? Ask the local mountain bikers who rode those trails prior to just one 24 hour race. They will get really angry. Let me paraphrase their response: "24 hour race comes to town. Our favorite singletrack is now a wide, rutted mess." We have heard from natives that many trails used for races on their home turf have been closed, temporarily or permanently, to local riders due to damage done by a 24 hour race. It's like this: Racers go away. Locals stay to ride. Land management deals with damage by keeping users off for however long it takes for it to be attractive enough to rape once again. When the bucks show up, hey, pay the man to rape the place one more time. The race must go on, because the almighty dollar is far more important than a natural environment, ESPECIALLY TO PROMOTERS AND LAND MANAGERS whose favorite greens are wads of money. The big difference in Moab is that the course does not revegetate rapidly. Actually, it does not revegetate. Since it takes about a hundred years to start to look like the place did before the first race, you can bet that you won't be seeing the original Back of Behind course ever again.

Moab 24 hour race damage

Moab 24 hour race damage

Pictures here are evidence of a specific kind of damage done by RACING. This off-trail problem was caused by slower "racers" dealing with a fast downhill section of the course where other riders are flying down the road (to the right), in the daylight and in the dark, at speeds approaching 50 miles an hour. Slower riders are slogging off-trial to avoid getting hit. Though these picture do not reflect the fact that this road is about 8% downhill grade, trust me, it is VERY fast, the fastest pedaling section of the course.

The race course itself and the surrounding lands Behind the Rocks used to be a favorite of our clients, but we rarely ride there anymore. If we return with a repeat client, we all get depressed. It is easy to see the damage progressing year by year. After the race, the four wheelers invade once again, cementing the wider trails by keeping the wide. We just cannot get too excited about riding back there anymore. O.K., our tour business has lost money due to the damage done by the race, . . . but that is not really the point. Why should you care about Dreamride, a mountain bike tour company that caters mostly to folks who agree that the majority of mountain bikers are idiots? O.K. Fuck us. We suck. If you are a feeling human being, though, you should care about the real victims--the coyotes, bobcats, foxes, pica, lizards and other nervous critters already shell shocked by cattle ranchers and noisy 4WD and motorcycle traffic. And, you should be concerned with the destruction of one of the most important archaeological sites in Utah. If you are not mortified by the stupidity of people who patronize such 24 hour race events, then maybe you can get mortified by the fact that not so very long ago Back of Behind used to be a place where on any given day in summer you could see vast herds of deer, collared lizards by the dozen, and examples of three species of Fox. If you cannot get pissed at folks who just cannot see beyond some selfish social subculture trip, then maybe you can get pissed at folks who carelessly ride over a badger den with little baby badgers in it while momma badger has run away for a few days to avoid the pack of hooting assholes on mountain bikes.

24 hour race damage

damage done by mountain bikes

Mountain bikers manage to do more damage than any other group in Moab in just 24 hours, and then come back again the next year and make it worse. In 2001 the dust cloud kicked up by the race went up to 7000 feet. The smoke from campfires drifted for miles as a huge a brown cloud. The promoters were seen shoveling sand off of the course, which smothers adjacent soil crusts, which in turn dissolves into sand, which blows onto more adjacent crusts and smothers it as well, and so on. They built new trail and didn't use it. They made TWO roads where there used to be one. They always have a reason, or course, but those reasons are always based on problems that they caused in the first place.

Another irony of the race is that many of the participants are now showing up in Winnebegos pulling a trailer with ATV's on it. The race promoters are among the people who cart in their ATV's, then when their ATV is out of sight, whine about ATV's being the "enemy." After the race, they hop on ATV's in a futile attempt to clean up a huge mess that can never be cleaned up. Every year I ride the course after the race and every year I find enough to fill my pack heavy with half sucked goo packs.

This race is huge for our sport, but not in a good way. LIke I have here, environmental groups use pictures of the event to paint mountain bikers as insensitive to wilderness concerns. It is like shooting fish in a barrel. There is no way to hide it. It is not hard for an educated person to understand what environmental groups are talking about. It is not to hard to see that other users have seen the damage and are piling on. The 24 hour race course is now used by ATV and 4WD tour companies because the policy of the BLM is that when one user gets to trash it, everybody should have a piece. So other mass events are booked. As in other areas around Moab, such as Gemini Bridges, where racing broke the cherry, the eventually place becomes lousy for biking because the point is build the road to subdue the land, then develope it. Once the motors arrive, the very obstacles that make the trail worthy to ride on a mountain bike are knocked down and flattened out so you can drive your Honda Civic up to the arches and the buttes.

Why does something so environmentally aware as a bicycle have to create such havoc? My theory is that the promoters of these events DON'T RIDE MOUNTAIN BIKES.

Moab Damage

See that road running across the picture--the one just above the bike tracks? Every year race organizers come up the great idea of making the course more interesting or safer, or more whatever stupid reason they can find. They have done this by breaking new trail near the wilderness area or alongside the Back of Behind Trail next to the archaeological site called Prostitute Butte. One of the reasons to introduce more "singletrack" into the course was, "Riders are complaining about the fumes and danger of the heavy traffic on the road to the staging area." Of course, the reason to make the new trail is to deal with the overuse and congestion that they have created in the first place. When racers complain about the new route(s) being too-o-o-o sandy--well, duh! They re-route the trail again. Sand is what is underneath the fragile vegetation in this area. The crypto holds the stuff down so it doesn't blow all over the place and create sand dunes the size of football fields. If the weather is wet, bikes can pack down the sand. If the weather dry, bikes churn it into powder. Packed or loose, though, it is still sand, and when the racers go home to New Jersey, us locals see the sand, changing, drifting, widening, growing. Drift sand compounds erosion by smothering the crypto it settles on, so the problem accelerates drastically with dry weather. On top of that, cows find any new track, pulverizing it even more, making it wider and wider until it is wider than the county road.

Even more damage when the cows find it. Cryptobiotic soil crusts are not a joke. They are the bottom of the food chain in the desert, sort of like plankton in the ocean. Cyanobacteria forms an invisible net on the surface of the sand over a period of fifty years. Bacteria, lichen, moss, and algae form a hard, brittle, crust on the cyanobacteria and by processing sunlight into nitrogen eventually lead to grasses, shrubs and trees. The continuing processing of sun and water into nutrients sustains the vegetation that you see. When you kill off the crypto with linear bike tracks you leave a scar that will last the rest of your lifetime, at least. If you wipe out area of crypto with multiple spurs of trail that all go to the same place, the trees die. The United States Park Service and many scientific publications state that the best examples of cryptobiotic soil formations take at least 225 years to heal from a single track, and NEVER heal if the track forms a water course. If the case of a watercourse, over time you get massive destruction of all nearby lifeforms. In the case of ATV riders finding it, it gets widened in a real hurry.

Moab is a place, not a race.

Cryptobiotic soil crusts churned into drift sand for a mountain bike race are akin to chopping down virgin forests to make paper for Japan, or filling rare wetlands to create a golf course. It takes knowing this place, rather than simply visiting this place, to fully understand the damage that is creeping through the desert around Moab, Utah. As mountain bikers we must decide where to draw the line in order to protect access for people who DON'T think of a mountain bike as something to gang up into mass groups of 1500 people and RACE on, but rather something motorless to explore the wilderness in solitude! The freshly cut spurs off of the main road out in the Back of Behind area are adding up. From the air they appear as a mesh of scars intermingled with spidery fingers surrounding Prostitute Butte and the Behind the Rocks Wilderness Area. Add the bike tracks to the 4WD tracks, the cow tracks, the ATV tracks, and and the motorcycle tracks and what you have is something very ugly. Pay for a scenic flight and ask to fly over the Back of Behind area. Compare.

While you are in town for the race, ask a longterm Moab local what the Back of Behind area used to be. Find someone who used to camp out there as a child.

Who is guarding the archaeological resources?

Litter on the course, five days after the race.Just a couple of years ago I personally discovered an archaeological site one hundred yards from Prostitute Butte, the stone formation in the photo. It was excavated in the summer of 2000 by the BLM and shortly thereafter fire debris found in the stone pits was carbon dated to 4000 BC, making this find the oldest of it kind in Southern Utah. Prostitute Butte has long been known as a site of great archeological wealth by Moab residents and the BLM scientists, but despite this fact, the area has been allowed to be trashed by 4WD, movie, motorcycle and mountain bike events. Why? I can only assume the answer is all those pictures of George Washington. And when the damage is so severe that the course itself is no longer desireable to race on, you can bet REAL MONEY that the promoters will continue to milk the event until no one pays for it anymore, then they will pick up and splt, to find another place to screw up.

Write the Bureau of Land Management in Moab and let them know that you, as a mountain biker, you support responsible access, but do not support the use of the public lands west of the Moab Rim for mass sporting events. Be specific. Hand write the letter. It is more effective.

Bureau of Land Management
Moab Field Office
82 East Dogwood Ave.
Moab, UT 84532

At this point I want to congratulate Fruita, Colorado's organized mountain bike crew (Fruita University or FU) for running the fat promoters and sponsors that raped the Back of Behind area off their turf in Fruita from the start. Racing is great fun, but sometimes it sucks, especially when it ruins the trails and places we love to ride, which is really what mountain biking is about, right? RIDING!

Moab. It's a place, not a race.

Moab 24 Hour Race Damage

Thank you for your interest,
Lee Bridgers

P.S. If you continue to race in the event in the face of the evidence, we hope you break your stupid pickle.


to reserveVacation CatalogDreamride HomepageReservationsScheduling

Call 1 (888) MOAB UTAH in the states.
If you are calling from foreign shores the number is 435-259-6419.
FAX number is 435-259-8196.
or write to:

P.O. Box 1137
Moab, UT 84532

For email contact information click on:

copyright Dreamride 1997-2003 None of the material, written, graphics, or photographs, may be broadcast, published, re-written, re-edited, or used in any way outside of this site without the written consent of Dreamride Mountain Bike Tours and Film Services and Lee Bridgers. Use of this site signifies agreement to terms of use.