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Bolt Mountain short but sweet

The BLM recently finished widening and signage work on the multi-use Bolt Mountain trail, south of Grants Pass along the Applegate River, and it's a great mountain biking destination for riders looking for a technical challenge and beautiful views.

The trail begins at the top of Fish Hatchery County Park. Leave your car at the gravel parking lot at the entrance to the park — but make sure you pay the $4-per-vehicle day use fee. It's a small price to help maintain the trail.

Follow the disused road to reach the trail, which will cross a seasonal riverbed before arriving the beginning of the climb. A nature trail that follows the river branches off to the left a bit earlier, but it's for hikers only.

Very quickly into the climb up the south-facing slope, the environment opens up. A particular type of tufted grass dominates here, with pines and the occasional cedar dotting the landscape. Manzanita and spiny tickbrush manage to eke out a living as well. But there's no room for Douglas Fir.

A quick local geology lesson can explain why the vegetation is so sparse here. The soil in this area is known as serpentine soil, consisting of an uplifted rock called serpentinite from the Earth's mantle (look for the blue-green rocks). It's rich in heavy metals, so only some plants can survive in it. 

Similar environments are a common sight in the Illinois Valley, particularly at Eight Dollar Mountain and in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, and this is one of the few places in the world where serpentine soil is common.

With little organic material, it's no surprise that another trademark of serpentine areas are their rockiness. And these aren't river rocks; the rocks that often sit in the middle of the Bolt Mountain trail are irregularly shaped, rough and sharp. Besides the isolated rocks, there are several rock clusters, what bikers like to call rock gardens.

If you don't approach the rocks with your front wheel at the correct angle, you may be forced off the trail. And if you're not conscious of your weight distribution as you go over, your front wheel may buck up and drift to one side.

Just before you reach the top, there is one final trial: A 50-foot section covered in loose rock. You'll probably end up walking this.

On a clear day, the Bolt Mountain summit offers a sweeping 360-degree view, or so I've heard. My trip up there was on a grey day, but when I got to the top, I could see that I was between cloud layers, giving me an unusual view of the midsections of the surrounding mountains.

Bolt Mountain could be a good winter ride as well, considering its low elevation, but don't go in the rain. Serpentine areas mean clay-rich soil, which is sticky.

The rocks at Bolt Mountain could chew you up and spit you out, but if you're up for the challenge, the trail is hugely rewarding.

Reach digital copy editor Forrest Roth at froth@mailtribune.com