The trail is marked with white and green spray paint marks to show the path. The marks can be trusted. In fact, deviations from the path, though allowable, can prove to be anywhere from difficult to dangerous.
My wife has forbidden me from taking newbies or unknowns to Gooseberry. The ban started when I took a new guy in my neighborhood who owned a Lightspeed, full suspension, titanium mountain bike. With a bike like that, he had to be a rider, or so I thought. Turns out he was a roadie who had money to burn and wanted to ride occasional trails, and he overspent. Within a half mile of starting the trail he had fallen six times. He was riding high in the saddle like roadies do and could not manage the complicated, unforgiving undulation. On his last fall, he broke his wrist. Welcome to the neighborhood, buddy.
The second incident was a broken toe. The third was a broken rib, and the worst one was a dislocated shoulder. I took an experienced friend, my 14 year old son and a very athletic couple, Bill and Sonny. Within the first half mile, Bill wisely evaluated the trail and concluded that it was too much for him. He opted to go back to the car. The rest of us went on and had a great ride until we got to an obstacle in the hidden canyon portion of the trail with an enormous penalty. Mountain bikers say that an obstacle has a high penalty if the cost of not nailing it would result in pain or breakage. My friend and I had done the obstacle before and had told my son and Sonny that they would need a lot of momentum in order to clean it. My son opted out and Sonny decided she was going to try it. She made it about 7/8 the way up a very steep bowl, fell backward and sideways, tried to catch her fall with her forearm and pop. She was writhing in pain holding her shoulder which was now a lot closer to her collar bone than it had been. My son and friend stayed with her, and I high-tailed it out of there to bring a vehicle in as close as I could. While I was gone, two off duty paramedics happened on the same trail section within a minute of my leaving. They laid her down in a rock, moved her arm and pop, it went back in. We were able to drive Bill's SUV to within 500 meters of her location. She walked out and Bill drove her to the hospital.
I carry a larger than average first aid kit in my pack and have patched up a lot of people on the trail. It is not for beginners and I wait to take my kids until they prove they are proficient in certain skills.
Other than that, I have left blood and skin all over the trail. I have unintentionally taken home cactus spines and gravel that I couldn't remove from my skin while on the trail. If it is that treacherous, why do I go back?
I have ridden a few times with Quentin and make it a point to visit his shop on the way to the trail
This is a particularly juicy section. You can see the white dot in front of the rider's tire then further up the rock. For me, it takes the right gear, balance, torque and line to clean it from bottom to top. For better riders, it is no big deal.
Unless you ride a lot, I don't see how you can understand the draw Gooseberry is for so many riders. The fact is, even with cactus spines, scrapes, cuts and bruises, there is serious elation. I will try to be a little zen here. Unless you are Quentin Morrisette, owner of Over The Edge bike shop who treats it like his own little fun house, Gooseberry requires every bit of your bike, brain and body. If you lose concentration for a second, you could end up at least sprawled out over the landscape and maybe impaled or broken.
Quentin's first rule of biking with him, "Don't follow Quentin." Good advice.
Because the trail requires all three, bike, brain and body, to the nines, there is a high level of satisfaction when they all work perfectly to get you over a difficult section. Multiply that by a few hundred sections and you get serious elation, not to mention the brain chemistry I mentioned in another post. If you want to get the best tour of Gooseberry possible, go with Quentin on one of his rides there. Just don't follow his line.
Cool Plant Life
All year round you can break off a piece of Brigham Tea (Ephedra nevadensis) and chew on it during your ride. It has been used for 5000 years to reduce cold symptoms and seasonal allergies. It is reported to be good for asthma, arthritis, it is a bronchial dilator and on and on. The ephedra in it seems to have a stimulant effect that might boost you at the end of a ride.
Few things can beat the kiwi-like flavor of prickly pear cactus fruit. You can find it all over the mesa from late September to through October. During that time, I take a pocket knife to cut spines off and peel the outside away.
As I have ridden the mesa, I have seen (and in the case of the first, almost run over) desert tortoises, rattlesnakes and one of the biggest mule deer I have ever seen. There are spiders, hawks, occasional eagles and lots of rodents.
The views of Zion National Park are amazing.
Go there, but be warned. It could end up being a day that ends in the emergency room. And under no circumstances should you ever take your significant other or good friend or in-law until you are confident they can ride it.
Utahmountainbiking.com has a great description of the ride, where trails intersect and how to get there.