Apparently REI has an in-house line of bikes called Novara. I went there recently and test-rode a hardtail mountain bike called the Novara Ponderosa. It was extremely light for what it was (I figure about 24 lbs.) and was real smooth. It had Deore XT components and a Monitou Black Elite fork. The frame is built by Giant in Taiwan and an assembled bike is sent to REI, where they disassemble it and re-assemble it again (I don't know why they do this).
The guy that helped me said it was $699 but they had cut it down to $549 for the labor day weekend. I'm really thinking about getting this one...anyone had any experience with REI bikes before? The construction of the bike seemed to be decent.