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May 1, 2010

Harris Secret Trail

Filed under: MTB Travel, Virgin Utah 2010 — anotherheader @ 6:31 pm

No, not the green dots. Going the wrong way trying to find Harris Secret Trail.

After Saturday’s epic on Gooseberry Mesa and three straight days of Virgin riding, Becky and I were toasted on Sunday.  It was time for an off day.  The problem was that we were slotted to leave our RV spot on Monday.  But the mesa beckoned and, with quick trip over the RV parks office, we extended our RV spot for a day.  With that, on Monday, after a rest day, we headed back up for more riding on Gooseberry Mesa.

Becky making a climb

Josh and Jo had left on Saturday evening.  With just Becky and myself, we headed out to Gooseberry Mesa to try to find Harris Secret Trail.  We’d known of this trail’s existence for years, but had neither ridden nor even found the trailhead.  (It is hard to search for new trails in larger groups as the search can quickly turn a ride into a hike.)  Monday was our best opportunity to find Harris Secret Trail.

Built by twin brothers Morgan and Mike Harris in their fifties, the super cool trail system on Gooseberry Mesa is generally well marked.  BLM signs, white dots, and cairns clearly define the route.  Less well indicated, at least at the entrances, is Harris Secret Trail.  The Internet provides sketchy details about this Harris Brother’s creation.  It is kept as an off the map “secret” trail.  Indeed, though there is GPS track information on websites such as Utah Mountain Biking , Becky and I, without a GPS, had a big challenge in finding this trail.  I suspect that even with a GPS, the trailhead would be hard to find on the trackless slick rock.

In search of Harris Secret Trail, we departed the Gooseberry Mesa parking lot on Cattle Grate Trail.  Soon after connecting with the South Rim Trail, we started looking for cairns or any other sign of Harris Secret leading off to the left.  When made first climb and reached a slickrock expanses on the top of the mesa we spotted small cairns and bike tracks leading off to the left.  It seemed as likely to be Harris Secret as anything.  We followed this line as it dropped off the rock into the sandy dirt collected between the rock masses.  After a short distance in the dirt, we followed the bike tracks as they climbed in a slot between the rocks up to another mesa top slickrock section.

A rocky section of Harris Secret Trail

At this point, with the bike tracks and all, we were convinced we had found Harris Secret Trail.  But, on the slickrock mesa top, we once again lost the track.  (Slickrock is perfect for hiding trails and trail entrances.)  We saw a couple of very small two rock cairns leading left but we saw no other signs of a trail.  On the slickrock expanse there were some aging green spots of the type that originally mark the Gooseberry Mesa Trails.  We figured this was the way to go and traversed the slickrock sections from green dot to green dot.  Next thing we knew, the green dot route intersected with a white dot trail.  Damn it!  We were back on the main South Rim Trail.  It seems that the green dots seemed to mark an abandoned spur of the original alignment of South Rim Trail.  Though it was interesting to see the evolution of the trail alignment (the white dot line flows much better), we were definitely not on Harris Secret Trail.  Where was this trail?


It seemed that we had no choice, but to continue along South Rim Trail looking for the trail entrance.  Based on our recollection of the maps, it seemed that we had passed the trailhead.  Further on, in a right hand bend of the trail, we saw an abandoned road cut leading left with a couple of bike tracks in the dirt.  I doubted this was Harris Secret, but what other choice was there?  Desperation took over.  We followed the dirt road cut, taking a right hand road fork that appeared further on, and headed out to the edge of the mesa.  Now it was certain that we were not on Harris Secret.  But maybe we would cross the trail at some point?  We continued to the rim of the mesa.  The view from the edge towards Little Creek Mesa was scenic, but where was the trail?  I looked back in the direction that we came from and saw two distinct spray painted dots on a low, flat rock.  Looking closely, there was a faint trail and more dots in both directions.  This had to be Harris Secret Trail.  So we turned left (facing the edge of the mesa) and started to ride the white-dotted trail along the lip of the mesa.

The trail we found was indeed Harris Secret Trail.  Near the mesa’s edge, Harris Secret is feral, sandy, and brushy.  It is well marked, however, with frequent double white marks and occasional cairns.  Riding the trail, the sand and the brush conspired to make the otherwise straightforward technical sections frustratingly challenging.  Eventually, as the trail turned from the rim towards the heart of the mesa, the character of the tread became more typical of the Gooseberry style with less brush.  But, just as the trail conditions turned good, Becky snapped off her rear derailleur on a rock.  We had no replacement derailleur hanger.  Even the hanger that Becky had back at home in her little used jewelry box was for a different bike.  It took time to remove her derailleur and shorten her chain with our marginally functional trail tools.  And it took even longer to reassemble Becky’s Avid Juicy brakes that spontaneously dissembled when the wheel was put back on the bike.  It would have helped to some experience with these brakes before trying to fix them on the trail.  But, in the end, Becky was back riding and focused on completing the ride.  Having only the granny gear is not such a bad thing on the mesa.  Even the addition of a leaking rear tire and a blown fork seal did not shorten our ride.

After Becky’s bike issues were dealt with, Harris Secret Trail only got better.   Perhaps this trail wasn’t as primo as the Gooseberry standouts like South Rim and Hidden Canyon.  Nevertheless the extended slickrock sections and the always-amusing line choices of Harris Secret are quintessential Gooseberry Mesa.  If I had to choose, I might take Harris Secret over the trails on Little Creek Mesa and Guacamole.  But then picking amongst these Virgin area mesa trails it is pretty much like choosing your favorite child.

Harris Secret Trail is a little over six miles long.  That is long on the Gooseberry trail standard.  I’d guess that we did most of that distance from where we joined the trail.  It took us some time but we eventually reached the top of an extended section of white Navajo sandstone.  At this point, the dots ended and the cairns became scarce and small.  We knew we must be near the end of the trail, but where was South Rim Trail?  A short foot search later, we determined that we were right at the point where small cairns had led away green dot trail earlier in the ride.  We should have followed the cairns rather than the green dots, but who knew?  It is very hard to see the entrance of Harris Secret Trail.  But we managed to ride the trail, or, at least, most of it.  It was well worth the search.

The Harris Brother’s trails, on Little Creek Mesa and on Gooseberry Mesa are masterpieces.  Though I wouldn’t ride Harris Secret as my first or even second ride of a visit to Gooseberry Mesa, I would make a point of checking it out.  It is another classic.

Back on the main trail, we retraced our route on South Rim and Cattle Grate Trails making it back to the truck after another 5+ hour adventure.  The next morning we’d reluctantly start the long trip back to the Bay.  We are already plotting a return trip to Virgin.  I figure that there are at least 6 full days of mesa riding available plus some new (or new to us) trails nearer to St. George that we could check out.  Next time, we promise to stay longer.

More pictures are here.

Trail finding pictures.

Some suggestions for finding and riding Harris Secret Trail:

  • While we proved that a GPS is not essential, it would really help in finding the trails.

  • Generally we don’t use Slime tubes for Virgin area rides but, for Harris Secret Trail, they are a good idea.  The cactus is close to the tread.

  • Leg or shin armor as protection against the thorny brush is a good idea.

  • Our route on Harris Secret Trail was in the opposite direction as shown on the maps we’ve seen.  I couldn’t see that the direction of travel would matter too much on this trail, like on many of the mesa trails in the area.  For a future ride, I’d consider doing this one as an out and back from the green dot intersection until the trail turns sandy near the rim.  Of course, maybe we should complete the trail from end to end first.

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