Colorado's Fab Four
The first challenge of the Tabeguache Trail is to pronounce it ("tab-a-watch"). The second is to resist the temptation to turn around and repeat the 144-mile ride that many riders swear is the archetype of western Colorado bike routes.
Coursing across valleys, mesas, pinion-juniper forests, and remote BLM range lands, the Tabeguache is a snippet of classic Colorado. The trail got its start in 1988, when a fledgling group of resource-savvy mountain bikers calling themselves the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Association (COPMOBA) dedicated the elbow grease to create a contiguous link between Montrose and Grand Junction. By connecting existing dirt roads and ATV trails with 11 miles of newly built single-track, the Tabeguache was born.
Like you'd expect from any long-distance route, this wild and wooly ride requires excellent map-reading skills. COPMOBA has placed strategic trail markers, but between extreme weather, pot-shotting cowboys, and toothy critters, many of the markers are illegible. Generally, you can find water in most of the many drainages the trail transects, or atop the vast Uncompahgre Plateau. But later in summer, or after a dry spell, water can be scarce at lower elevations.
Most fit bikers can hammer out the Tabeguache in four days. But there's no need to hurry. The route meanders through at least four distinct ecozones, including desert, woodlands, montane, and sub-alpine zones, each with requisite flora such as scrub oak, pinion-juniper, ponderosa pine, aspen, spruce, and fir. Because the Tabeguache tops out at 9,500 feet, lingering snowfield can hamper upper elevations until mid-June.
The region has what wildlife officials believe is possibly the largest population of bears and mountain lions in Colorado, due in large part to the sparse human population and rough character of the land. On that note, COPMOBA discourages riding during the fall hunting season, when hunters descend in droves. If there's any doubt, riders should wear blaze orange tops to visually announce their presence to hunters.
Resources: The definitive guidebook is Bill Harris's Cycling the Uncompahgre Plateau (Wayfinder Press, 1988).
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication