January 15, 2016


I first heard about the Lake Pleasant trails about a year or two ago, but they are a bit of a haul from my house for a 20 mile or so ride. I thought it would be cool to link up the Black Canyon Trail for some added mileage, but never really pursued the thought further.

A couple of months ago it was announced an event was going to be held on the Maricopa Trail in the area, the Prickly Pedal race. While I'm not interested in doing the race, it did provide a linkage between the BCT and Lake Pleasant. This had me thinking, how about a loop around the lake? From what I could tell no one had put such a route together.

I began looking at topo maps & satellite imagery. The route seemed fairly straightforward. I did have a bit of a concern regarding the ability to cross the northern section of the lake based on conflicting satellite images. More on that later.

With my Fridays now open, it was a perfect day to give it a whirl. I contacted a few friends, but no takers. I ended up sleeping in a bit longer than I would have liked, but opted to go for it. I didn't start pedaling until 9:45a. (I had hoped to be riding no later than 8a)

My ride would start/end at Emery Henderson (EH) trailhead near the south end of the BCT and ride in a clockwise direction.
Stark landscape from the get go.
My first time on the southern 6 miles of BCT.
The southern 6 miles of BCT were nothing what I expected. I had heard that it was flat, sandy & boring. In reality it was indeed flat, no sand - plenty of rocks, and anything but boring because you had to constantly look for the trail and follow the GPS track. This trail was very vague in sections and non-existent in others.
This IS the trail.
 I added a short out-n-back to officially 'finish' the BCT down at the Carefree Hwy. I figured unless I'm doing a larger bikepacking ride, I have no need to ride this section of trail again. So, I made the quick 1 mile sprint to the highway, then back to the split with the Maricopa Trail.
Nondescript end to the BCT. Hard to comprehend the awesomeness that lies to the north from this picture.
The now World Famous Black Canyon Trail. Believe it.
I began heading west on the Maricopa trail through what can best be described as a giant desert floodplain. The desert seems to lose its way through here, random bushes, river rock, cacti all tossed about unlike other areas where nature seems to belong. The riding was ok, but I was hoping it would improve. Thankfully it did.

I came up on a pickup truck where the driver flagged me down. He asked if I was doing the Prickly Pedal race. No, just out for a day ride. He told me how he was building trail this morning, cutting re-routes with the mini-dozer and there was a trail crew about a half mile behind putting the finishing touches on his work.

I soon came to the new trail, obviously super loose, damp churned earth.

Freshly cut trail.
First tracks on the brown pow.
The trail crew was making good progress on making the trail rideable. I thanked them for their work as I tested out the newly minted trail. The routing soon gained a small ridge outside of the work area and I was now on the packed down section of trail. This entire stretch of Maricopa Trail rode really well, fast in spots with a few punchy ups & downs thrown in.

I was glad to see the clouds pushing off to the east, soon the skies were clear and it was a perfect day to be out on the bike.
The Maricopa Trail will eventually link all the Regional Parks together around the Valley of the Sun.
First glimpse of Lake Pleasant above the dam.
Very fast trail through here.
Waddell canal below the dam.
The trail routed around the Waddell canal and into the Agua Fria trailhead. I was now on the Lake Pleasant Regional Park trails, the Beardsley trail.

I was eager to see how these trails rode after hearing a few glowing reports. The southern portion below Pipeline Canyon trailhead were reminiscent of the Black Canyon Trail's renowned contouring.
Beardsley Trail.
Didn't expect to see a 4x4 on the trail!! I mentioned to the guys that I was fairly certain this was a non-motorized trail.
First up close encounter with the lake.
Pipeline Canyon trailhead at mile 23. Water & restrooms available.
Continuing north the trail became progressively more rocky, but still very rideable.
The trail routed over this neat floating bridge where a couple of fishermen were casting lines.
The Cottonwood trail lead me to the end of the singletrack inside the park.
My route was now entering the dirt road phase, conditions unknown. I love these types of exploratory rides. This is where my satellite imagery differed wildly on the probability of my route punching through. If I couldn't, I could always turn around, but I really didn't want or plan to.

As soon as I got rolling on Castle Hot Springs road I spotted a few of the local inhabitants the area is known for.
The first of 17 wild burros I saw on the day over 6 sightings.
The dirt road was in great condition as I made good time covering the miles around the north side of the lake. By now the clear skies were gone and cloud cover ruled the afternoon.
Nice vantage point of Lake Pleasant from Castle Hot Springs rd.
A track drawing error had me going through this area!! A quick check of the satellite map showed my turnoff another 1/2 mile up the road.
Cow Creek rd. would take me all the way across and down to the Agua Fria crossing.
Still a long ways off, but I'm aiming for the gap to the right of the small mesa.
I was now approaching my first real route challenge on the day. Below are two images of the same area taken years apart. How long ago? Who knows. I was betting on the lake not being close to full capacity. Ray informed it was at 82% full. Here's the website. **I suggest using 80% as the upper limit before doing this route**
Here, my route goes directly through the water on 3 occasions. Assuming this is near 100% full.
Same area with the lake considerably lower. I was hoping I'd be closer to these conditions.
What I found in reality was somewhere in between. That was fine as I could skirt a bit to the north of my drawn track and make my way across the open floodplain to rejoin my route on the other side.
I could see the lake retracted enough for me to pass.
Easy crossing.
Rejoining the route. Win!!
Of course my small triumph was almost short-lived. I climbed up from the scrub brush, rounded a corner and saw my dirt road dive directly into the lake!! Huh. The good new: the shoreline was rideable and the track was only a few feet into the lake, but it made me verify my route on the GPS once again.
My route is about 30-50 feet into the water!
Cow Creek rd. was a bit primitive through here, but as I pedaled on, it became a more viable jeep road once again with favorable riding surfaces. Things were looking up. The miles ticked by and the sky kept growing darker. I felt a few drops of rain, but nothing ever materialized. This was a very good thing as parts of this route would definitely turn to sticky peanut butter mud. No thanks.
Running water in Tule Creek.
Approaching that small mesa from the earlier photo.
Old muffler parts dual purposed as ranch gates.
Shortly after the muffler gate the road became 'rocky'.
I didn't feel like fighting my line choice through all the rubble, so I HAB'd up to the saddle.

I knew I was getting close to my second challenge on the day. I was now near 40 miles in and had no intentions of turning around. I was going to swim across the river if I had to.
My route going through the lake during high times.
Same section during lower periods.
As I approached the area I could see quite a bit of water down below. I wasn't sure what to expect. I also knew it could be a challenge getting down into the basin, as the imagery showed a steep drop-off where I planned to go. Luckily, it wasn't ultra steep, so I rode on down.
A bit more water than I hoped to see.
Top of the steep descent.
More like a marsh and a few feet deep.
My route track goes to the left under a few feet of water, but for how far?
 I contemplated taking a stroll through the muck as I couldn't see how far north the water went. I scoured the surrounding area and saw a clearing leading up the hillside. I made may way over a mound and down the other side where I saw my track above waterline basking in the now glowing sunshine! Score! How long would it stay dry? I started pedaling through the open valley occasionally playing chicken with a series of cattle.
I was very stoked to find a dry roadway.
White Bluffs.
I kept peering to the right hoping to see the water levels dropping as I rode north. The area covered by water definitely diminished and I knew it was simply a matter of finding a way across the river. I was looking for a narrow section or some steppingstones to get me across.
Small fork in the Agua Fria.
A bit of beach riding.
This was an easy crossing, but not the only one.
Fenced off staging area of some sort.
The real crossing of the Agua Fria River. I tried using the steppingstones near the top of the photo, but slipped off soaking my feet. Oh well.
Great place for a snack break.
I made it through the two questionable areas, now I only had to link up with the Black Canyon Trail at Table Mesa rd. 
I was surprised to see this sign on my way up from the river basin.
It was only a couple of easy miles on Table Mesa rd before I rejoined the BCT. It was now late afternoon and I thought I could get back to my car without needing to break out my lights.

This section of BCT is pretty solid, although it seems to be a bit more rocky these days. The climbing grades are still the same and the miles went by fairly easy.
Climbing southbound from Table Mesa rd.
Great view of the Bradshaw Mtns. at the top of the climb.
Fast singletrack through Doe Valley.
New River's Gavilan Peak.
Waning light at the top of the second summit.
All downhill from here!
Going southbound, stay left on the singletrack!
Sun still shining as the final miles tick down.
One of two bicycle rock art creations.
The sun finally dipped below the surrounding mountains, but I only had a couple of miles remaining. The sunglasses came off, but the lights were never needed as I returned to my car.
There goes the sun.
Post-alpenglow cholla.
Back at the car with a few minutes of daylight to spare.
I was really pleased with the route overall. Sure, there are some sketchy segments, some HAB, but none of it is too long and the scenery more than makes up for it. I thought this route had a bit of everything thrown in. It's not too often you can combine an urban trail system into an extremely remote backcountry outing all at once. 

I've cleaned up the .gpx track afterwards and it can be downloaded here (right-click 'save as') along with an overview map. This is an advanced ride and should be treated as such since it traverses through very rugged lonely terrain.

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