I still haven't figured out the desert though.
I realized I was growing resentful as everyone in the valley planned their annual escape and asked if I was doing the same. The desert requires a healthy time commitment because it's too far away for a long weekend. I suck at taking time off work and Tyler is even worse at it. I haven't ridden any of the classic trails and I still want to, but I don't quite see the appeal, although to voice that sentiment draws scorn from all.
But I was annoyed at everyone's travel plans, and the snow up high wasn't great and the trails down low were muddy, so I picked a spot: Vernal, UT, three hours closer than Moab and with enough riding for a couple days.
On either route, 191 or 89, the drive crosses hours of empty Wyoming nothingness and plunging canyons in the remote northeast corner of Utah. We saw pronghorns and coyotes crossing the Great Divide Basin, birds of prey watchful above rivers, obscure points of interest like the Flaming Gorge and Fossil Butte.
We camped on a bluff above McCoy Flats. The dogs ran amok. We rode over thirty miles, covering most of the worthwhile trails in the system. They were flat and pedally with some noteworthy scenery and the occasional horizon line, the kind of rock shelf you roll up to and decide in a split second whether to brave the unknown drop or stop and walk, cursing your timidity.
On the way back north we stopped at Red Fleet State Park and were caught off guard by its awesomeness. Here the rock formations were more striking, more southern Utah'esque, evoking frozen wind-swept sand dunes or piles of whipped potatoes or (as the name indicated) red battleships and U-boats breaching the calm water of the reservoir.
The riding was great too, with more elevation gain yielding playful sculpted red rock and dirt trails, and even a couple jump lines. Afterwards we sat on the beach, an unexpected bonus.