Phon D - Bulldog Loop: Hidden Gems & Pitfalls

I was looking for a nearby ride, yet something entirely different. News trickled out that there was a newly constructed bit of the Maricopa Trail connecting Pass Mtn. to the Bulldog Canyon OHV access area. This definitely piqued my interest because if it was good, I could use it to connect the Hawes trails over to Pass Mtn. without the need for any pavement riding and possibly less sand. Win.

I also began to notice some other trails popping up on trailforks near the northern end of Bulldog. Of course this led to a few hours poking around the area using satellite imagery to concoct some semblance of a route. When it was all said and done, I had put together a nice 21 mile loop. Would it be any good? It was time to find out.

Summer in Phoenix means you should probably get up early for your desert adventures. I complied and found a dirt pullout off the Bush Hwy & Phon D Sutton rd.
Faint, yet easy to follow trails.
My first order of business was to explore a little known parcel of Tonto National Forest tucked between the Bush Hwy & Salt River. Imagery revealed a plethora of trails zigzagging all over the place. Often times this only means game trails, but today I found they were more or less horse trails that weren't tore up. Funny thing was, when I turned to head west I later found out I was on an actual forest system trail: Salt River Trail #100 - complete with carsonite markings & POI placards.
I didn't come across this sign until near the end of the loop.
Different perspective of Red Mountain.
Very surprised to see a few of these on the trail.
Carsonite signs help navigate the way.
The SRT was actually pretty decent for a seldom used trail. I'll have to go back and explore the area more thoroughly to see the full length of the trail. On this day I veered south onto more faint trails to cross the Bush Hwy and link up with the Hawes trail system.

The Twisted Sister runout led up to Wild Horse and out to the remnants of the NRA jumplines. The connector singletrack dumped me onto Usury Pass rd where I'd stay true to my old routes and continue up the pavement for a bit to the Pass Mtn. sidedoor wash trail. Shoot, I even passed a couple of roadies on the Usury climb. ;) I wasn't sure where the Maricopa spur trail tied in, but I assumed it was up on the Pass Mtn. trail. It was not. There was a well marked split about halfway up the sidedoor trail, but I continued all the way up to Pass Mtn. so I could take a break in the shade.
Near the Pass Mtn. trail junction.
 I cruised back down, took the split to the right and tried to guess where the trail would go. It starts off very wide, almost wash-like, plenty rideable. It then veers out of this drainage and becomes twisting benched singletrack. Before long I was right next to Usury Pass rd. only higher on the slope. The trail ended up dropping me into the dirt staging area on the east side of Usury Pass rd across the street from where the NRA singletrack connector terminates. Cool.
Fresh trail.
Looks good to me.
The route now veered east onto a sandy jeep road, but the sand wasn't really an issue as it was easily pedaled. I was really looking forward to exploring these new trails off the jeep road. I came to a dirt cul-de-sac, saw my track turn to the right, but there was nothing to be seen. I poked around some, zoomed down to 50' increments on the GPS and finally convinced myself I saw something that maybe resembled a 'trail' or path into the desert. About 100' into it I could definitely make out a trail, although very vague, it rode quite well.
Obvious trail here!
I meandered around for roughly a mile when I came to a rock outcropping. The trail split here, the track went right staying down in the flats, but to the left things looked more interesting. I went left. The trail started off well, contouring the hillside with short bursts of steep ups & downs. I had to walk a few sections, but nothing more than 5 minutes.
The views were better up here.
I mostly paralleled that dirt road out in the flats.
Eventually I was walking more than riding and the steepness was getting rather ridiculous. It was getting hot too and I was beginning to realize this may take WAAAY longer than anticipated. I opted to eject while I still could and bushwacked down a severely overgrown wash. My rogue path intercepted the original track back on vague singletrack, but that was short lived.

Sand!! Way too much sand. The trail dropped me into an unrideable wash, sure wish I was on a fatbike at that moment. I began pushing, walking and on a couple of rare instances I actually pedaled for a few pedal strokes.
At least the equestrians like it!!
A mile later the track exited the wash crossing an open area. I was eager to find more singletrack to ride. Once again the track proved very difficult to find on the ground, so much so, that I didn't feel it would be a wise decision to go wandering off into a seldom traveled area with the rising temps and without a solid path to follow. I relented and went back to the wash for another mile of trudging. At least it was taking me in the correct direction!

The wash threw me a bone near the end: I was able to ride on a nice stretch of trail out to the Bush Hwy! There was a large sign at the dirt road junction and I peered back at it while crossing the entrance barrier. The Great Western Trail!! I should have known. Any time I've found myself on this 'trail' it's been fairly miserable. The GWT is more or less a jeep road route from Canada to Mexico. We have a running joke that it's called a 'trail' so the powers that be don't have to maintain it!!
I can't really blame the sandy wash on the GWT...this time!
The Bush Hwy meant fast miles on a wide paved shoulder. The river goers were out in force either self shuttling their inflatable keg parties or as most were doing, conga-lining it onto a Salt River Recreation bus. The river was beginning to sound quite refreshing, but I still had a couple more unknown trail miles to put my tires on.

The singletrack exploration began again at the far end of the Goldfield Rec site. This is where I saw the official wooden sign.
A little over 2 miles back to my car.
Sandy in stretches, but plenty rideable.
The trail brought me exactly where I parked, not sure I fully expected that. Overall the route was pretty cool sans the steep HAB & sandy wash, but some more exploration out there may prove to find a better alternative.


Brown's Ranch: Map Gaps

Trail construction has been going on in earnest up at Brown's Ranch in north Scottsdale this past winter/spring. I've been exploring some of the new stuff on recent rides, getting a feel for the layout and connectivity of the trails. It continues to be non-technical trail, which is fine. Really. It's nice to have options here in Phoenix where it seems rocks are a plenty. I do hope they incorporate some of the natural features at Brown's Ranch in the next phase of construction, the desert is beautiful up there, very lush with unobstructed views to the north.

Perhaps a little known 'secret' of BR is that it often is 8-10º cooler than the trails down in the city, i.e. South Mountain, Phoenix Mountain Preserve, etc. BR has three things going for it, higher elevation (it's a subtle change as you drive north, but rest assured it's higher sitting near 2000'), the McDowell Mountains blocking the urban heat island and no crowds.

I shot up there one recent Friday after work, it was 104º when I hit the road. By 3:30p at the BR trailhead it was 95º!! Trust me, 95º with next to no humidity is quite pleasant. I wanted to ride some more new stuff, hit Hawknest trail from the west and basically hit all the older trails that hadn't yet been added to the Trailforks database.

All I can say, it was a great ride at a brisk pace into the fading light. Great afternoon to be out in the desert riding trail.
Desert crossroads on newly constructed trails.
Dead end pointing east, trailflagging marking the route.
Another dead end near the northern boundary...
...but more flagging for future routes.
Almost ran over this fella, missed him by a mere inch as he was stretched out alongside the trail. He kindly posed for my picture without giving me a rattle.
More fast-track.
Brown's Ranch trailhead off Alma School rd.


Ride Rehab Route

To quote Yogi Berra, 'It's like deja-vu, all over again'. I found myself heading north to Flagstaff and a stay at Ray's for another weekend of riding. All three rides were the same, yet different. The first ride would again start from the Raymond Community Park, but head north. The second would include a large chunk of the Flagstaff Loop Trail, but this time add in some AZT miles south of town. I'd hit up Sedona on my way home again, this time checking out some new red dirt on the opposite side of town. This state of Arizona is loaded with rad places to ride, any time of the year. It's always prime riding season somewhere - usually out my front door or within a 2 hour drive. It's hard to beat. Anywhere.
Highland Trail.
We've been having a bit of an odd weather month here in the desert southwest. Typically sometime around mid-April the skies dry up and we're lucky if we see a cloud until July. Not this year. Seems every couple of weeks another storm system was moving through dropping sizable rain totals (at least for here). June is the stereotypical month of the 'it's a dry heat' mantra, but on this weekend in early June it had been raining most of the day as I prepared to head north. Rain is so rare this time of year that a weather stat began floating around that Friday. In the 100+ years since rainfall data has been tabulated, it had never rained on June 5th in Phoenix. That's 0-100+. Needless to say, we set a record this year.

I kept a watchful eye on the radar as I pulled into Mountainaire. I was on the cusp of the storm system, I could see clearing skies to the west and ominous dark clouds to the east, but it wasn't raining at Raymond County Park. Let's ride. Of course as I was getting my stuff together I realized I forgot my rain jacket at home, as long as it didn't pour I'd be fine.

I left the park and rode north on the frontage road for a short bit, dipped between a couple of homes and landed on some trail. A short bit later I intersected with the Highland trail. This would take me to Ft. Tuthill providing me with another link to my ever growing Flagstaff trail database. The Highland trail was fantastic. A well contoured trail on mostly fast forested singletrack.

A light rain began to fall as I approached Ft. Tuthill. I planned on knocking out a quick loop through the park then back on the Highland trail completing a small loop on the Highland just south of Tuthill. I had put together a track for my ride, but stopped it at Tuthill. Not sure why I did that.

Inside of Tuthill I hopped on a trail I had yet to ride, Bridge trail. This was another fun one, complete with rocky tech bits along the way.
Bridge trail at Ft. Tuthill.
The Bridge trail dumped me onto the outer Tuthill loop, Soldiers trail. I did a quick glance at the posted trailmap sign - turn left and follow around to the Highland trail. Easy. Well, for some reason I wasn't expecting to see the Flagstaff Loop trail when I did. I then figured the FLT would be a shortcut back to the Highland trail, not realizing I was envisioning the FLT on the north side of the park, not the south!! This mistake sent me in the opposite direction, but at least the trail was incredible.

The rain had picked up and I was now pretty much drenched and not fully aware of my navigational error. I exited onto FR523 then I saw Woody Mountain rd and it sunk in. Oops. My quick 9 mile loop was turning into a Gilligan's Island 3 hour tour. I scoped out the GPS and saw my error, then proceeded to do an unnecessary loop through a neighborhood before finally being put back on track.

Eventually I made it back to the Highland trail and I knew I'd be pushing sunset. At least I have my dynamo light setup dialed in, so lighting wasn't a concern. I veered onto the west side loop of the Highland trail and soon found my tires in sticky deathmud!! Are you kidding me? The entire ride was great in the wet weather and this 50' section of trail brought me to a halt and was wrecking havoc on my drivetrain.
Trail conditions improved, the rain stopped and I hoped I could begin to dry out by the time I reached the car. Most of the mud fell off the bike while riding, but with the fading light and my return to pavement the skies opened up one more time for the final mile. At least my light worked great in the downpour!

My 9 mile ride turned out to be 17+ and over 3 hours!! It was raining so hard in the parking lot I couldn't get in the car to grab my dry change of clothes. I waited it out for 15 minutes before attempting a change. I try to keep the car a 'little' clean on occasion! Thank goodness Ray has a dryer!! The only item still damp for the ride on Sat. were my shoes.

That night we all kept a keen eye on the local radar as the rain kept falling.We debated about calling off the AES race, but ultimately opted to wait until morning at the gathering location for the final word. As luck would have it, the skies began to clear out and the trails up north handle moisture very well except for known areas of clay-based soil, aka: Deathmud!! The AES route was safe from that, but I decided to alter my route slightly to avoid any chance of running into trail peanut butter.

The AES crowd began filling the Safeway parking lot, 25 in all for a fantastic turnout considering the weather and last minute course changes. Caroline joined me on our easier route as she's been doing more trail running these days. We departed the group as Ray was spreading the race day stoke.
Riders came from near & far for this one.
We knocked out some quick miles on the FUTS over to the FLT at Observatory Mesa. There are some really fun fast singletrack miles through there. We then did the section of the FLT where I had gone astray the day before. Still a rad trail, even better in drier conditions. We passed by the Ft. Tuthill bike park, too damp to put tires on. Drat.
Lonely jumps.
We ran into a minor trail snag exiting Ft. Tuthill as there was a bunch of construction on the frontage road. The trail parallels the road here and sections were roped off, so we did our best guess as to how to connect the dots. A few minutes later we were back on course and about to tackle our only real hitch in our giddy-up on the day.
I-17 culvert in massive need of better drainage!!
We started under I-17 into a box culvert. I was following Caroline and watched her tires sink deeper & deeper into the water...then the mud hit. Ruh-roh. We both tried to pedal it out, but the muck was too deep, almost up to our hubs. Down went our feet and gone were our dry shoes.

The skies began to clear out as we dodged only a handful of puddles on the trail. Conditions were turning into a perfect riding day, nice breeze to boot.
Blue skies & sun on the FLT.
We only stopped once or twice on our way across the FLT towards Campbell Mesa, the trail was begging for G-turns. We crossed over the AZT, where we'd later ride heading north, it was still a bit muddy so we officially made the call to skip the section of AZT to the east of Campbell Mesa that leads towards Walnut Canyon. Instead, we'd exit Campbell Mesa to the south taking a bit of a shortcut to the southern leg of the AZT just before it dives into Walnut Canyon.
We weren't racing, so we took a few spur trails to overlook points. Climbing fence ladders in the process.
Walnut Canyon overlook.
An abrupt dropoff in some locations.
AZT overlook at Fisher Point.
A couple of punchy climbs along Walnut Canyon really get the blood pumping. Back on top of the mesa the work doesn't end as the trail seems to undulate over rocky terrain for a bunch of miles. It sure is fun riding though, rocky, but not too rocky - mountain biking!! After our visit to the Fisher Point overlook we were about to join the trail at the bottom of our vantage point. Super enduro downhill time!!
Scientific proof: mountain biking is fun.
We didn't have too much trail left, we rode the AZT back to the FLT crossing - now all dried out, then proceeded back into town and over to Safeway to see the fast AES riders had just finished about 20 minutes before us. We still tallied a respectable 55 miles on our 'easy' ride and by far my biggest test on my wrist. Successful on that front as well.

I still had one more ride to go, but with time restrictions!! K wanted me home by her lunch hour, not my lunch hour. This meant I needed to be off the trail by 10a in Sedona to be home before 1p. That also meant an early rise time and I was out on the road around 6a.

I parked at the Broken Arrow TH off of Morgan rd.so I could go Hog Wild and explore all the Hog trails. I just hoped I had the time to sample them. One thing I've learned about Sedona riding is that the miles usually come slow due to the technical nature of the trails and my propensity to snap too many pics!
Good signage and maps!!
Empty trails on an early Sunday morning.
Linked up to Mystic trail.
Sunday service fully underway.
I left my short detour from the Chapel back to Mystic and ripped down towards Peccary trail. This was a rare flowy XC trail tucked unto the challenges of the Hogs. I completed my first loop through the area with a little over an hour left to ride.
Quite the contrast in color.
Pure Hogwash!!
From dirt, to forest, to slickrock, Sedona delivers.
Time to get moving, I made my way up Broken Arrow to the High on the Hog split. Double Black diamond rating, hmmm. Ride what I can, walk what I can't. GO!
Time to get gnarly.
Some steep rollers, followed by huge rock armored banked berms.
I was able to ride most of the trail and it went by fairly quick. Next up was Hog Heaven, same double black rating and only a few more walking bits for me. Super cool trails though. I did get a bit off trail right before re-joining Hogwash as most of the tire tracks led to the right, when in fact the trail spiraled down a rockface.
Hog Heaven.
My last trail to check out was Pig Tail. Man, what a hoot!!. It's essentially Sedona's red rock downhill run. A few steep rollers get things started then the banked turns, jumps and gravity defying undulations take over. Before you know it, it's over and Peccary awaits.

I was done snapping pics as time was running short. One more stint on Hogwash brought me back to Broken Arrow and the trailhead. It was 9:58a. Perfect. Trifecta of rides complete. Again. I even made my 1p curfew down in the Valley.

I can start thinking about doing the big rides once again, bikepacking too. I continue to regain range of motion in my wrist, but more importantly, I'm not feeling much discomfort at all while riding.

The routes:


Flag-dona Weekend

Armed with a three day hall pass, I pointed my car north. I'm not ready to tackle any huge bikepacking rides yet, so I opted for a suitable plan B: two days riding around Flagstaff and one day in Sedona on my way home. Sounds like a winner to me.

Ray was kind enough to let me crash at his place up north, so before I stopped by I made my way over to Mountainaire / Kachina Village for a quick loop through Kelly Pocket.

This hidden gem of a trail is virtually isolated from any trail system, but it can stand on its own. It's only about 4 miles long, but seems to ride longer. A nice lollipop route can be made from Raymond County Park utilizing the adjacent forest roads for a sweet 9 mile spin.
Directly across the street from the Shell station off of I-17.
The first 1/4 mile starts off chunky & rutted, but quickly turns to this.
Optional log roll.
It has a singletrack skills clinic feel to it.
Natural balance beam & more rollers.
Short steep HAB to keep things honest.
Junction with Fry Canyon.
On the forest road return.
Back at Ray's we cracked open some brews and discussed our route for Saturday. We settled on doing the Flagstaff Loop Trail (FLT) from Ft. Tuthill in a CCW direction. Both of us had ridden significant sections of the FLT, but we wanted to tie it all together and check out some new additions as well. Plus, the following weekend's AES event was also being held in Flagstaff and we had the chance to scope out an iffy section of the course due to road construction.

We were rolling fairly early, but first we had to do a lap or two through the new Ft. Tuthill bike park!
A Bell Helmets grant from an online contest got this project going late last year.
Look closely, that front wheel is going airborne!!
We satiated our gnar craving (didn't take long) and made our way out of Tuthill onto the FLT. Our route ran near the airport and was new to both of us, it was a nice mix of trail & forest road before finally giving way to some primo singletrack. The kind that has just enough rock hits to keep it entertaining, but not enough to wish they wouldn't be there. Ahh, mountain biking.
A beautiful morning to be out on the trails.
Ray squared.
We were whooping it up pretty good by the time we crossed the AZT. Such a fun trail and it was about to get faster. The FLT from the AZT to Campbell Mesa is 'pedal to the metal' kind of singletrack, buffed out and fast!! We zipped through here and Campbell Mesa, crossed under I-40 and rejoined the AZT heading north.
The pavement portion was short lived, crossing over the railroad tracks, then darting off into the forest once more.
The lowest I've ever seen the growth in this meadow, the benefit of an early season spin.
This guy can't be stopped!!
We paused for a bit on our slog up through the volcanic ash, let some equestrians through along with another group of riders. This section has some really nice spots, but the cinders can suck some of the life out of your legs. We were both ready to exit the AZT when the loop trail veered left onto the Christmas Tree trail after the US89 underpass.

A short HAB up Fat Man's Pass led us onto Forces of Nature. What a fun section of trail. I winds in/out of giant boulders with short ups/downs thrown in. It commands your attention, but is highly addictive fun!
Forces of Nature.
We stayed on FoN in lieu of Pipeline, more bouldery techiness ensued. This time the trail kicked up a bit more and had some HAB sections.

We were about 3/4 the way around the FLT and decided to cut a few corners to speed things up & give my wrist a bit of a rest. A short jaunt onto Pipeline led us to a spur trail down by the Elden gravesite. From there it was the Easy Oldham trail out to the Elden Lookout road.
Never knew about this.
Ray blasting off down the trail.
We were curious to know the condition of the Elden Lookout road as it was under construction for annual maintenance. Reports had indicated it would be open on weekends, but as we rode down towards the barricades we had an inkling this wasn't the case. Closed indeed, complete with a 'No Bikes' sign. This meant Ray would have to alter the AES race route scheduled for the following weekend.

We quickly re-joined the FLT near Observatory Mesa and were pleasantly surprised by the sweet singletrack here. A well graded climb to attain the mesa, superb trail up on top, then a screaming downhill back towards town had us grinning.
Rip it!!
I could climb for days on trail like this.
We opted for the fastest way back to the truck to meet our lunch date, skipping a few miles of FLT leading back into Ft. Tuthill. It was a great loop, a hearty test for my wrist and good to be pushed a bit faster than I normally ride. I think Ray enjoyed the more relaxed pace for a change, can't hammer all the time!!

Historic Brewing Co. was our next destination before calling it a day on the cool deck in the pines. Thanks for the great hospitality Ray, but I still had one more ride to do on my way home.

Sedona was calling.

My goal was to ride a route with more flow & less chunk. I found a route in an old mtbr forum that sounded promising, so I loaded it up and gave it a whirl.

I parked off of Vultee Arch rd and as I was preparing to leave the parking lot a hiker warned me about the warm temps and made sure I had enough water. I told him I was from Phoenix and he simply said 'have a good ride!' I thought it felt quite nice out. I then immediately jumped onto Chuckwagon for a CCW loop.
It's really tough to take a bad picture in Sedona.
Exiting Chuckwagon at Long Canyon rd.
What is it about riding new trails? Not necessarily newly constructed ones, just new to your tires. The unknown, the thrill of seeing a new slice of Earth, it's just awesome. I had a few 'new' trails to check out on this day and Canyon of Fools was one of them.

CoF is one of those trails that needs a couple of test runs. It's primarily a downhill trail through a tight twisty canyon often only marginally wider than your pedal girth. It has high banked turns, jumps and some chunky tech descents thrown in. In short, a blast!!
Next time I'll hit upper Canyon of Fools.
Let the fun begin!
Be alert for other trail users as there are many blind turns!!
Rather cozy in some spots.
 Next up was a CCW loop on Anaconda & Snake trails. This was an interested loop as it really didn't have much, if any, red rock. It was mostly a well graded climb to the top of Garnet Hill then a bomb down the other side. I think I chose the better direction too as the descent seemed a bit more loose than the climb up.
Well signed and maps!
Top of Garnet Hill.
My final loop was a more familiar one, a CW loop connecting Dawa, Cockscomb, Aerie, Mescal and Chuckwagon back to the car. What a fun few miles of rippin' trail!! It was also nice to not worry about high volumes of trail traffic since it was too hot for most tourists to be out on the trails. The entire ride ended up being exactly what I was looking for and I finished early enough to be back in PHX before sunset. Perfect ending to a fantastic weekend of riding.
Near the Aerie trailhead.
Such a great view from Aerie near the beginning of a super fun, twisty, rollercoaster downhill.
Natural features utilized masterfully.
Mescal Mtn. playground.
Upper Canyon of Fools split, new since I last rode here over a year ago.
Being an Arizona State grad, it's clear to me Sedona is Sun Devil Country!! Nature doesn't lie. Sorry, Wildcat fans.
Rolling south towards Cottonwood, the formidable Mingus Mtn. towers above.
Here are the routes for the three rides: