February 1, 2015

Estrellas in the Mist

Superbowl Sunday arrived and while I enjoy the NFL, my team had been perfecting their golf swing for the better part of a month. I wasn't too enthused to say the least about the matchup, but figured it would be a decent game anyway. I was more looking forward to kicking back with some friends over a couple of brews than actually watching the game. The nice thing about the 'Big Game' is it doesn't get going until late afternoon. What to do, what to do....
My street. Where are the mountains?
We had a rare treat on this particular Sunday, it was foggy!! Real foggy. Why all the fuss? Fog isn't exactly prevalent in the Sonoran Desert, we may get a few patches of fog maybe once or twice a year, but this morning the fog was legit. It blanketed the entire metro area reducing the visibility down to only a couple dashed white lines on the freeway.

I opted for a solo spin out on the west side of town hitting up the incredibly fun trails inside the F.I.N.S. network (Fantasy Island North Singletrack - semi-modeled after a popular riding area in Tucson called Fantasy Island). I was then going to connect over to the Estrella East trails, aka Pirate Trails, to do some 'splorin'. I've been on some of those trails a couple of times and they have great flow. I heard some rumblings of a new trail higher up the mountain that sounded interesting. I would then complete a loop of sorts via the community greenbelt/trail system.

It's a solid hour's drive for me to get out there, part of the reason I don't ride there more often. I finally had my crap together and started following my rough route idea around 9:30a. I wanted to be home before 3p, so I better get moving!!

My route consisted of a few nested loops, so I also came armed with a printed map all color-coded out so I could quickly keep my bearings on the new-to-me terrain. I simply created a map in Topofusion from the GPX tracks I had. That sure paid dividends!!
F.I.N.S. entrance.
Since I was a bit limited on time I opted for a quick outer-ish loop of F.I.N.S. and made sure I hit the Hurl - a short downhill run with banked wooden berms & features!!
One of the many sweet trailmaps mounted throughout the network.
These trails are so well constructed and thought out you kinda forget how short each trail is. It doesn't really matter which trail you pick or the direction, no need for a route, just ride!!
It was that kind of morning.
I curved around the east end and picked up a neighborhood connector I recalled from the Thursday Night Ride series I attended a few months back. That linked me up with the Estrella Mountain Ranch trail system. A series of what I thought were only wide gravel pathways & paved multi-use corridors. Wrong!! I found out later in my ride the north end of the community trails are really nice singletrack connectors. Seriously.
'Wicked' trails to the north = sweet singletrack!!
I ended up riding north on Sunrise, which is mostly a gravel/sandy connector road to the goods. Hang a right onto Park Ave and the exploration begins.
A Stonehenge-esque arrangement of Saguaros randomly plopped in the open desert.
Cruising up Park Ave you soon enter the area known as the Pirate trails, aka Estrella East. I haven't seen a map of the area, but the trails are easily seen on satellite imagery and some quick Strava sleuthing, it's not too hard to figure things out. I've heard the trail names: Bootlegger, Buccaneer, Rum Runner, Pirate's Cove, etc. But I don't know exactly where each one starts or ends. Perhaps one of the locals will upload the system to Trailforks. (hint, hint)

Armed with my highlighted paper map I completed a few foggy loops before the clouds finally began to dissipate sometime after 11.
4-way trail intersection, complete with seating, bike rack (not pictured) and a hidden cooler!!
 While navigating these trails, one thing became evident. The folks out in Estrella Mountain Ranch (EMR) have a good thing going when it comes to quality singletrack. They take the time to create an interesting route, then put in the effort to maintain the trails after the storms wreak havoc on the Valley. The passion of the trail builders/users is everywhere, from the quirky stuffed animals, abundant signage, wood features, odd trailside attractions and weekly night rides hosted round-robin style.
Theme of the day. Arghhh!!
I was starting to run out of time and had to cut out one of the loops on my proposed route. I still hadn't reached the new trail, which I believe is being called 'Up There'. I zipped down a fun section on Bootlegger for a second time before reaching a split in the trail.
Gotta have fun with all those extra trail rocks.
Looks like new dirt to me peeling off to the right.
This area had a distinct BCT vibe going on.
I started in on Up There and immediately could tell it was fresh dirt. There's something about riding a new trail that hasn't been stamped out by a dozer. You can feel the creativity in the design flow and appreciate the vision it took to route a masterpiece high on the slopes. This is true singletrack, yet plenty of rocks for your riding pleasure, not buffed out dirt. I caught myself almost laughing out loud at how much radness this trail had.
Built by hand.
There was actually a full picnic table & benches at an overlook on this trail!! I didn't see an obvious way up there either. Did I mention the table was made of stone?? Sheesh. I finally came to another fork in the trail, left kept going up some switchbacks, right went down and crossed a wash. The right trail was undoubtedly my exit, but I couldn't resist a bit more climbing. There had to be a good view around the corner!!
There was a view indeed, and more trail!! Estrella Regional Park is over that ridge somewhere.
Fog gone, showing an expansive view to the west.
I was now really getting pressed for time so I had to find my way out of the Pirate trails. I made a beeline to the north end and quickly hooked up with the EMR Loop trail. It was a bit hidden entering from the sidewalk, but 50 feet later I was on prime singletrack - WICKED indeed!

The Tunnel trail connected me to Market trail. This was cool since it contoured the mountainside directly behind the local Safeway before dropping down to cross a road. That's where I picked up D-Votion trail. This was yet another fine example of well laid out, easy grade climbing trail. It wasn't long before I linked into the wide multi-use corridor of Corgett Wash which led me back to my car at Westar Elementary.

I was about 30 minutes over my time and needed to hustle home. I just needed a quick bite to eat and some gas....where's my wallet? Aww shit, sitting at home on my kitchen island!! D'oh! Hmmm, food can wait since I had a few snacks in my Osprey pack, but gas was an issue since my gas light had just come on!! I was able to scrape $4 worth of change out of my console and had just enough juice to make it across town. Whew.

We even made it to the Superbowl party just before kickoff!! Cheers to a great day of riding. I'll be making more frequent trips to the west side for sure. Kudos to all involved in the trail efforts out there, you all rock!!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, can't believe it's been so long since you posted. Hard to believe that we're already back to Superbowl time. I really love the detailed outlines you have here. I'm not the brightest guy haha and any help I can get really helps when I am on the trails. Do you plan on posting anything else soon? I know I am looking forward to more.

    Wilbert Bowers @ Mirr Ranch Group