June 14, 2015

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment