October 30, 2011

AZT - Gila River North

As the State of Arizona approaches its centennial celebration, another one is unfolding along with it. The official completion of the amazing Arizona Trail. I'm running out of words to describe the magnificence of this trail and its varied terrain.  This particular ride was a bit of an exploratory ride.  It was on passage #16, White Canyon, which happens to be the missing link of trail construction.  They are on the final stretches of trail building with the route already flagged.

Chris and I wanted to see exactly what was built at the southern end.  Was the trail easily accessable from the parking area? Rideable?  We knew this much: the first 3.1 miles may or may not be built, the next 6.4 miles were constructed and after that we weren't sure. So we set off for the small mining town of Kelvin, AZ just south of Superior across from the enormous hole in the ground known as the Ray Mine.

We parked over the bridge that spans the Gila River, yes there was a little flow going, at the start of the Florence-Kelvin Hwy, i.e. dirt road.  Passage #15, Tortilla Mtns, terminates at this point as well. We crossed over the bridge, followed some cues and found where the AZT turns into the surrounding mountains. Still no trail here only flagging. 

Trail flagging at the start of Passage #16
Back to the bridge and Plan B, get to the constructed 6.4 miles of trail.  We were able to ride a bit over a mile on the AZT heading alongside the F-K Hwy of passage #15 to where it crosses the hwy. 
From there we stayed on dirt road to the bottom of a large hill and began looking for ways to access the riverbed.  We followed a wash down to the railroad tracks that follow the Gila and took them back towards the east.  On the otherside of a train tressel we dropped down into a thick stand of mesquite trees and picked up the trail flagging.  We followed the flags for a short bit and came upon a gate - this would be the start of the completed 6.4 miles of trail. Time to ride new terrain!

Our crossing spot down in the trees

The tracks are LIVE

How did the chain do that?? Star bolts on the chainring?@#!

A splash of autumn down by the river

We would follow the trail out to the saddle & around the mountain on the right

Chris on some sweet new AZT

End of the line today

Only a few short sandy sections

Finished up with a 2 mile trek on the tracks, Woo Woo!!
It was another fantastic day out in the desert exploring some new-to-us terrain. It won't be long now until the AZT is complete around the White Canyon Wilderness.  This section will become the envy of non-desert dwellers everywhere! From the Picketpost TH south to the top of The Big Hill will be truly an epic 45 or so miles of singletrack bliss. Come join us for a ride!!  More photos from this ride here.

October 29, 2011

Mt. Lemmon - Marshall Gulch Hike

It was such a pleasant surprise to see the abundance of fall color up on Mt. Lemmon last week that I made plans to take Kara down there to do some hiking.  We can practically see Mt. Lemmon from our house, yet it takes a good 2 1/2 hours to get down there & drive up to the top. Our goal for the day was to hike a loop from the Marshall Gulch TH (we rode through there on the Lemmon Drop) via the Marshall Gulch Trail to the Aspen Trail located in the Pusch Wilderness.  After arriving in Summerhaven we were pretty hungry. There are only a few spots up on the mountain to get food, the general store has some grocery type items, but we opted for the Cookie Cabin & Pizza Too.  What a great choice, fresh pizza & homemade apple cobbler. Now it was time to work off some calories.

Cookie Cabin in Summerhaven

Trailhead parking

Autumn was still going strong

Point me at the sky

New growth in the burn area

Proof of the devastating fire from a few years ago

Even the ferns were colorful

Aspen leaves

Best views in town

Yes, there's skiing up there too
The total distance for the hike was 4.2 miles mostly done at 8000'.  We were glad we did the hike in a CCW direction as the other way would have had a long steep climb in the beginning.  We finished the day with another stop at El Guero Canelo's for some Sonoran Hotdogs & Horchata!!  More pics can be seen here.

October 22, 2011

Lemmon Drop

The posting was simple enough 'Lemmon Drop Oct. 22nd'. I checked my calendar and with that I was IN. I've done a few rides now on the outskirts of Tucson, but nothing up on the mountain. The proposed route down Mt. Lemmon would take us on virtually all the popular rides that I've been reading/hearing about.  We would rent a shuttle from Southwest Trekking to do some of the dirty work, dropping us off at the top at 9000', $10 well spent.

14 of us piled into the short bus!
The temps were cool, most of us had layers that were quickly shed on our descent of Aspen Draw. The upper trails were good for me, awesome views, a bit of tech thrown in and the changing leaves.
Some remnants of the devastating fire from a few years ago.
Yes, this is AZ in October
I was really glad to see so much red & orange
A young couple take advantage of the perfect day
Many borrowed photos from Seron

After we reached the Catalina Hwy, we had a short steep climb to another overlook, then the real 'fun' began on the Green Mtn. Trail. I struggled with the trail over the next 3 miles or so, it was a bit above my comfort level. I walked more than most of the other riders on this section, but I know my limits, 1 OTB was enough on this day.

For a shuttled downhill run, there was quite a bit of this
We were a small army short in our attempt.
Hall of Presidents
Rockin' the SS all the way!

Whew! What? This is the HALFWAY point!?!? I'll grab a beer then
Duncan was kind enough to leave refreshments in his car along with my second water bladder, sure was nice not having to lug that around all morning.  Next up was the HAB section up the beginning of Bug Springs. Put your head down, one step at a time, and 20 minutes later you're at the top.

So cool to ride through trails like this

Chain of riders
Catalina Highway
Bug Springs dumps you out into Molino Basin or Prison Camp for another fun few miles of downhill.
Prison Camp

Molino Basin
Another new section of AZT to ride!

Molino Basin dumped us out at the Catalina Hwy once again for the start of the La Milagrosa trail. This was our last point to bail out, or do another one mile HAB up the ridge to a very technical descent over the last 8 miles. We opted for a pavement finish on this day.  My entire body was spent, Seron's knees were hurting and cold beverages awaited in the car.  Plus, by committing to Milagrosa it meant another 3 hours on the trail in the waning light. We made the right call by taking the fast way down. Duncan and Daniel also joined us for the speedy 5 mile plunge back to the car.

Zooming down the Catalina Hwy at 30mph
Finish line in sight
Back at the car, brews were cracked open and stories of the day's adventure began to spill out. We were separated from a couple of newer riders on the way down, found them, then one, Brian, took a wrong turn again. We were really hoping he'd find his way out quickly or he was in for the long haul. To our surprise he came riding down the rode as we chilled carside! He ended up tacking on an extra 15 miles or so before finding his way out of one of the many drainages for a total of 40 miles!! Way to get it done Brian!

The Lemmon Drop ride is definitely not for the novice or really the intermediate rider. It has a bit of everything and requires your full attention and preparation. I'll be back next year, and hopefully can complete the full run down the mountain including La Milagrosa. Perhaps a side trip to sample that section of trail is in order so I know what to expect for next year.

A huge thank you to Duncan for putting this all together and allowing a couple of Phoenix guys to come down to the Old Pueblo for some shredding.  Great bunch of riders down in Tucson, they deliver the goods!  They even gave us a great post-ride food recommendation, El Guero Canelo for some of Tucson's famous Sonoran Hotdogs. So good.  Full photo album here.

El Guero Canelo

October 19, 2011

View from the East Coast

I received the wedding invitation a few months ago and was very pleased that my good friend, Rick, and his now wife, Melissa, were getting married in October.  Such a beautiful month to be back east. The only real question was if the weather would hold up, boy did it ever.  Four straight days of clear blue skies and pleasant temperatures, absolutely perfect.  We were only going to be in Allentown for a few days, with Sat. reserved for the wedding, so we wanted to get out and enjoy the changing seasons that we rarely get to do in the desert.

On Friday we opted to do some short hiking/bird watching at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.  This also happens to be the raptor migration season and the birds were everywhere. We made the short trek up to the South Overlook, stopping at a few others along the way.

Nice chart showing total sightings

Quite a variety that can be spotted

Panorama overlooking the River of Rocks

Making our way up the trail

Hawks in flight

South Overlook & the PA countryside

Colors were beginning to pop in localized areas
On Saturday my good friend, Rick, was tying the knot with his beautiful fiance, Melissa. We are so happy for them and hopefully they'll make a trip out west for a visit soon. Congrats to you both!

The happy couple

Even met up with another buddy from years past, good times.
Sunday rolled around and it was time to hit some singletrack! A HS friend of mine let me borrow his Gary Fisher carbon fiber 29er!! This would be my first true ride on a 29er and I've been wanting to give it a go for some time now.  I talked another one of my longtime friends into joining me on the ride. Our destination for the morning was to ride the trails at the Walking Purchase Park, i.e. Salisbury, somewhere in the 10 mile range.  The trails were cut in very nice with a good climbing grade for the flow of ups & downs.  No real big climbs by any means, but the trails had a sweet flow to them.  There were a few log pile obstacles thrown in, a few rock tech gardens, banked turns and even a bridge crossing.  I had to laugh a bit when we hit the rocky sections, they were techy for sure, just not the loose super chunk I'm used to in the desert. Again, just a different feel to the riding.  Of course my favorite part was actually riding on DIRT, in the TREES, with LEAVES on the ground. What a concept!

My ride for the day

Brant hittin' some terrain features

The aroma of autumn was everywhere

Nice work on the berms

Post ride dorkin'
After a great morning ride it was tme to head back, pick up my wife and make a run for Yocco's Hot Dogs for lunch. So good. A loaded dog is still only $1.24!

Still the Hot Dog King!
After lunch we made our way up to the town of Jim Thorpe to see if the leaves were changing a bit more. It's a very nice drive to the other side of Blue Mountain.

Northbound on the PA Turnpike

Blue Mountain

Lehigh River in Jim Thorpe

Scenic train rides are available

Race St.

Live music & vendors were in the center square for  the autumn festival
One last trip to the grocery store for some local goods: Tastykakes, A-Treat soda, Drakes Cakes & Yuengling Beer!

The goods! Mmmmm
Although it was a short visit, it was great to be back home for some spectacular October weather.