mountain biking the JEM trail virgin utah

The JEM Trail

The JEM Trail

JEM upper                                                                                                                                                        JEM Canyon                                                                                                                                                      JEM DH                                                                                                                                                              JEM Main 

JEM trail head pin

Difficulty: Intermediate                                                                                                                                  Kid Friendly: NO (cliff edge riding)                                                                                                                Dogs: Yes                                                                                                                                                    Wet Weather ride: NO                                                                                                                                     % Single Track: 100%                                                                                                                                       Quality: ***** (1-5)

In the winter of 1993 I was living in a small travel trailer in the Green Valley Gravel pit, along with John Czinczoll who worked for the owners of the pit.  On weekend mornings, while I was dozing  in my down bag, John would get up, make his vegan breakfast, then grab a folding army shovel and machete and be gone for the rest of the day.  When I finally inquired about what he was doing all weekend long with such strange implements he told me he was building a mountain bike trail somewhere around Hurricane. As more of a climber than a mountain biker at the time I had no idea what an epic process the development of a trail involved, much less with a tool as primitive as a machete.  Eventually John recruited his girlfriend Ellen, and another local climber Michal Nad to help out with the process, and when finished the trail became known as the JEM (for John, Ellen, and Michal)

Built in the era of don’t ask permission, beg forgiveness, the JEM was eventually sanctioned by the BLM and eventually became the center piece and crown jewel of an entire trail system that covers the clay foothills and limestone cliff edges from the base of Gooseberry mesa to the town of Virgin. With Zion National Park, the Hurricane mesa, Gooseberry Mesa as your surroundings, it would be hard to imagine a more scenic desert ride, not that there is much time to spend looking around as the trail plunges downward towards the Virgin river.

The JEM trail itself is a fast flowy downhill that loses roughly 1000 feet in elevation over the 6 miles from its top on highway 59 to the bottom at the Virgin river. There is a single technical section that descends through a rocky and sometimes dusty cliff band into the canyon bottom, where the downhill flow reasserts itself to the junction with Dead Ringer.  The upper section of the JEM has been designated as a one way downhill trail from the top to the junction. Climbing up to the top of the trail is far better accomplished via the Dead Ringer trail.

Jem trail finish

Andrew Penner at the finish of the JEM trail

Below Dead ringer the trail flows across the clay landscape with long swoopy turns and occasional rocky drops, past a brief rocky uphill section then through short rock gardens and wash crossings. A short section of dirt road crossing leads to the beginning of the cliff edge riding that becomes progressively more attention getting until eventually the Virgin river is 100′ below the tire treads.  This is not a section of trail for riders with either vertigo or poor bike handling skills, but makes for one of the most impressive finishes to any trail in the region.