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Trail of the Ancients: Our First Bikepacking Experience

In-Between Cedar Mesa & The San Juan River
Friday – Sunday, March 19-21, 2021

This bikepacking trip has been a long time coming for us. Over the past couple of years Diane and I have talked about and planned this bikepacking trip for the early spring but something has always come up or the weather didn’t cooperate with our plans. This year we were determined to finally make this trip happen, especially since we both got new mountain bikes that we like riding and Diane had biked the White Rim Trail for her birthday in October. Diane has been pretty busy with school since the beginning of the year, but she finally had a Friday off and wanted to get away for a three day weekend, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to go on our very first bikepacking trip together, and we were looking forward to it!

We left home on Friday morning and made our way to Cedar Mesa where I had hoped to buy an annual hiking pass and get in a little hiking. Unfortunately, not only could I not buy an annual pass in person (Even though you still need to pick up the permit in person or have it mailed to you, but that’s another story!), but muddy snow-covered roads prevented us from getting in the short hike I had hoped to do today. But no matter, we spent a relaxing evening in camp and got our bikes prepared for the following morning.

Getting my bike prepared for our first bikepacking trip.

Bikepacking Setup

Things may not have gone as planned today, but we still made time to visit a few small petroglyph panels along the way.

Wide Shoulders

Duck Head

Duck Head

Even though Diane didn’t have school today, she still had to spend some time studying at camp.

Johns Canyon Camp

It was a beautiful evening at camp just before sunset.

Johns Canyon Evening

We woke up with the sunrise on Saturday morning, finished packing up our bikes and then started riding down an old road. We would stop and see a lot of petroglyphs throughout the day, but the further we rode the softer and sandier the road got. This route might have been better suited for a fat bike! Early in the ride both Diane and I went over the handlebars once each on downhill sections of the road and I scraped up my leg pretty good. Not only are we novice riders, but the additional weight on the handlebars made the bikes handle differently (especially on the soft road surface) and we were not used to it. Thankfully neither of us got injured too badly and we were able to carry on with the trip.

Diane rides ahead of me as we started our journey down the old road.

Down The Road

A shot of my outfitted bike at the beginning of our ride.


Footprints Boulder

Footprints Boulder

Below the rim of Cedar Mesa.

Cliff & Clouds

Lone Sheep

Lone Sheep

Specialized Rockhopper


Specialized Stumpjumper


Diane stops to check out a panel of petroglyphs on this large boulder.

Checking Out Petroglyphs

Here’s a closer look at the petroglyphs.

Hands Panel

Can you find Diane riding below those massive boulders?

Big Boulders

Lower Petroglyphs

Among Boulders

Atlatl Boulder

Atlatl Boulder

Along The Mesa

Three Sized Sheep

Three Sized Sheep

Along The Edge

Along The Edge

Busy Panel

Busy Panel

We stopped for a lunch break among these large boulders.

Time For a Break

This large boulder was definitely a highlight of the trip for us. I know the scale is not conveyed in this photo very well, but the atlatls on the right side were taller than me, which makes them over 6’5″ tall!

Huge Atlatl Panel

Here’s a closer look at the main panel on this boulder.

Atlatl Boulder Petroglyphs

The rest of the large boulder was covered with plenty of other atlatl petroglyphs, too! I’m not sure I’ve seen so many in one place before?

More Atlatls

Atlatls & Birds

Atlatls & Birds

This other boulder nearby had some really nice petroglyphs on it, too.

Duck Head Boulder

These large spirals were very nice!

Perfect Spiral

Back To Work

Little Feet

The Road Less Travelled

Boulder Petroglyphs

Sandy Road

Boulders & Clouds

The Broken Boulder

The Broken Boulder

A closer look at the petroglyphs at the bottom of the broken boulder.

Broken Boulder Petroglyphs

This seemed like a good place to stop for the day and set up camp.

Good Place to Stop

I had hoped to find water up this side canyon, as I had read there was a small spring located here, but no water was to be found today. We would have to ration the rest of our water for the ride back tomorrow. We would just barely have enough…

Searching For Water

This was the last panel I visited before heading back to camp for the evening.

Last Panel

Last Petroglyphs

This anthropomorph that incorporates a natural feature of the rock as a belly button reminds me of the petroglyphs we visited last Thanksgiving weekend.

Belly Button

This was our original chosen campsite since the wind was supposed to die down with the sunset in the evening. Unfortunately, the wind stayed very strong and it even started to rain a little bit, so we made a last minute decision to re-locate camp further back along the road where we were able to find a little spot that were were able to stake down the tent next to a large boulder that blocked some of the wind and provided a little bit of shelter.

Desert Bikepacking Camp

Dark clouds and light at sunset as we searched for a new sheltered campsite.

Dark Clouds & Light

Moving camp after sunset turned out to be a really good decision since it stayed windy for most of the night and it rained on and off a few more times. Even though the large boulder we were camped next to didn’t provide as much reprieve from the wind as I had hoped, it was a much better spot than our original location that was wide open with no way to stake down the tent. Still, I don’t think either of us slept very well overnight because the wind was pretty loud even when it wasn’t striking our tent.

We got an early start on Sunday morning so we could make it back to the Jeep before it started to get warm out, especially since we were running low on water.

Morning Ride

A morning view across the San Juan River canyon to Douglas Mesa.

Douglas Mesa Morning

Diane coming around a bend in the road.

Around The Bend

Big Headdress

Big Headdress

Almost back to the Jeep…

Old Road Riding

After this trip I’m not entirely sure that bikepacking is for us. I think that I would have preferred to have just hiked this route with a backpack and not have had to deal with the bike part, and I’m pretty sure Diane enjoyed her White Rim ride better since she had me in the Jeep for support and didn’t have to carry much gear on her bike or back. Maybe it’s because the old road was too sandy and soft, but perhaps we would have enjoyed it a bit more if the road surface were more hard-packed and easier to ride? Maybe we will still give that a try in the future? Still, I’m still glad we were finally able to give bikepacking a try, and we did see some amazing petroglyphs along the way!

>> Trail of the Ancients Photo Gallery


  1. Dianne
    Dianne May 11, 2021

    Nice post. Interesting to see what’s up top as I have only seen the river area from the river.
    Amazing glyphs. So old!! When we think of how old the Earth is, these photos remind us
    of tortuous times to leave rock that jagged and rough. Just amazing territory. No wonder geologist love to go there, too. Thanks for the amazing share.

  2. Steve Riggs
    Steve Riggs May 11, 2021

    Although I have bikepacked in order to expedite access to fishing spots via logging or mining roads that were closed to vehicles, as a dedicated mountain biker I prefer to keep biking and camping separate. Loading up a bike with all that gear sucks the joy out of fast and fun travel on 2 wheels! Only my opinion of course, and the current popularity of bikepacking says that many would disagree. Your images show a loose surface with obvious tire tracks- you are correct that a harder surface would have made things much easier.
    As always, I’m enjoying the latest dump of trip reports!

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