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May 13, 2011

Grand Junction: Butterknife

Filed under: MTB Travel, Travel — anotherheader @ 7:19 am

“What about this trail ‘Butterknife’,” I asked the insistently helpful shop guy at Over the Edge Sports in Fruita.  In my hand was a blue flyer with a trail description.  Becky had found the information sheet on the shop’s table.

“You pay for it in the end,” he replied.

That sounded a tad ominous.  No doubt we looked more confused than usual.

The insistently helpful bike shop guy continued.  No, we wouldn’t need to have our VISA card ready at the end of the trail.  He merely meant that most of the climbing was at then end of the ride.  I suppose this was a warning of sorts in case we planned on rolling off the top with forty-five pound flat-pedaled downhill bikes.

The shop guy added more.  Butterknife is a new trail in the Tabegauche area near Grand Junction.  (Tabegauche is pronounced “tab-a-watch” more or less.)  The trailhead, we were told, is off of an ATV trail.  Per the directions on the sheet and from the shop guy, the ATV trailhead is a half-mile past the Gunny Loop trails.

“Park right, ride left,” the flyer and the shop guy stated.

“Park right, ride left,” Becky and I repeated in unison.

Seemed simple enough.  When an opportunity presented itself we headed on a windy day to ride the new dirt, Butterknife.

When we arrived in Tabegauche there was a problem.  Gunny Loop is accessible at many points off of the Little Park Road.  From the uppermost Gunny Loop trailhead, we crept carefully 0.9 miles further up Little Park.  There was no sign of a trail.  No mountain biking, all-terrain vehicle, deer, or Abram’s tank path was apparent.  Up and back the road we went.  Neither trail nor trailhead was to be found.

Eventually we returned to the Little Park Parking Lot at the top of Gunny Loop and scratched our collective heads.  Just then a hiker appeared returning to his car.

“Do you know where Butterknife Trail is?” Becky asked the hiker.

The hiker, it turned out, was intimately familiar with Butterknife.  He prattled off an extensive list of hints:

“Stay left on the ATV trails at the beginning.”

“Follow the tracks on the way out.”

“The ATV trailhead is a half-mile up the road.”

“Park right, ride left.”

“Park right, ride left,” we repeated dutifully.

There was remarkable consensus from all sources on the distance from the Little Park Parking Lot to the ATV Trailhead.  Once again we headed back up the road, checking the odometer carefully.  A half-mile passed once again with nothing resembling a thoroughfare.  This time we kept going on the road.  Finally the ATV trailhead appeared 1.1 miles (+/- 0.1 miles) past the Little Park Parking Lot.  We’d just missed it the first time.  If the directions had been a tad less specific or at least inconsistent amongst the sources we would have found the ATV trailhead easily.

“Park right, ride left,” Becky monotoned when she saw the ATV trailhead.

“Park right, ride left,” I mechanically repeated as I steered the truck off the road into the parking area.

(I’ve posted pictures of the trailhead entrance viewed from Little Park Road.)

Finding the actual mountain biking route was far easier than finding the entrance to the ATV trails.  From the parking area, a right turn onto the pavement and an immediate left took us on to the dirt Jeep road.  The first ATV trailhead is a short distance in from the road on the left.  This ATV trail is signed clearly as “Twist-n-Shout.”

Twist-n-Shout is an ATV width trail.  Rolling and rocky, T&S is fun enough to ride. T&S would be prime fun if it were narrower but then it wouldn’t be an ATV trail, would it?  We kept to T&S for a good distance by staying left at all intersections until we reached the marked BLM gate at the Butterknife trailhead.  Butterknife is marked as a black diamond advanced trail.

Here the real fun begins.  Butterknife follows the edge of a meandering bluff for miles.  The trail overlooks the farmlands of the valley.  Though the trail is physically close to Grand Junction it feels remote and isolated.  The bluff’s edge snakes about and the trail winds through scrub evergreens as several rocky drainages flow in.  Viewed on a map, the track of the trail is more like the serrated blade of a steak knife than the smooth blade of a butter knife.

Butterknife rolls easily.  This is classic rocky desert singletrack; it is narrow, rocky, and tricky the whole way.  The line flows with smaller step-ups and short rock drops.  The lines keep you focused but usually don’t mandate pre-drop inspections.

Compared to the adventures that lie across Little Park Road on Holy Cross and its sibling trails, Butterknife is easy.  Butterknife’s features can bite for sure, but there are no big cranium-threatening lines.  What Butterknife misses in raw committing intensity it makes up in length.  This trail feels like every bit of the 8.9 miles of pure singletrack that it is claimed to be.  Even though the trail is net descending, it takes plenty of effort to get to the end.

Eventually Butterknife exits through a gate onto the main Jeep road that we started our ride on.  Route finding on this portion of the loop is potentially the most confusing.  Over the Edge’s trail flyer suggests, “Stay generally right.”  That’s a rather vague and incomplete description but we’d have to go with it or spend the night in the bushes.

Becky exits Butterknife

We started the climb up the Jeep road.  The road passes a dozen or so intersections along the way.  Paths lead off the jeep road both to the left and the right.  Keeping to the main dirt road, staying right at all of the road intersections, and avoiding all of the ATV tracks took us back to Little Park without a wrong turn.  (It’s mostly ATV trails that come off the road to the right.)  In the end the most valuable trail finding advice for the return to the car came from our advisor at the Little Park Parking Lot—follow the bike tracks.  The highest density of tracks was always on the correct route back.  Good thing that a recent rain had not obscured the bike tread marks on the road.

Our advisor at the Little Park Parking Lot suggested another way back, return on Butterknife itself.  An out and return does seem to be a great option if there’s enough time and energy.  We had neither on this visit so the jeep road climb for us it was.

Overall the loop is a taxing 12 miles long.  It’s the type of ride that keeps you pedaling even on the descents.  Reports are that the bottom of the trail is 1,200 feet below the top and that there is 2,650 feet of climbing.  It felt like less climbing than 2,650 feet but more work than 12 miles of flat land pedaling.  No matter what, Butterknife is a sweet new trail option in Grand Junction.  Check it out.  Just remember, park right, ride left.

Becky on the final climb out

1 Comment »

  1. […] Butterknife (Grand Junction Colorado, 2011) […]

    Pingback by The List « Another Header — January 11, 2012 @ 3:17 am

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