May 13, 2012

AZT: Bismark Lake to Moqui Stage Station

A co-worker of mine, Rob, has set a bucket list task of sorts. He is aiming to travel the entire Arizona Trail before he turns 50, that gives him a little over 2 years to accomplish the feat via foot, bike and/or horseback. He is setting out to do one passage per month to reach the goal and this month was adventure no.3. He wanted to mountain bike a northern easier passage and settled on passage 35: Babbitt Ranch. This passage is mostly forest/jeep roads with little elevation change in a remote stretch of northern AZ between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. I decided to join Rob, his wife, Monica and friend, Mark for the trip. We all piled into the 4runner and went north. I asked Rob if they wouldn't mind dropping me off a bit early so I could get in some bonus miles. They obliged and dropped me at the split of FR151 & 418 on the flanks of the San Francisco Peaks. By doing so, I was going to do a short bit of climbing up to the Bismark Lake trailhead then join the AZT at 8900'.  From there I would head north and downhill for almost all of the next 25 miles to the beginning of Babbitt Ranch, this would also complete passage 34 for me.
Rob, Monica and Mark bidding me farewell for a few hours.

A nice climb up FR151 for a warmup.

Thanks to my bud, Harry, for letting me borrow his Niner on this one.

A few lingering snowfields high up.

Time for some downhill!!

Some of the best singletrack around.

Aspens all around.

I didn't want to stop on this stretch.

White Horse Hills in the foreground.

A bunch more singletrack than I anticipated, sweet!
The singletrack eventually dumped me out on a heavily washboarded forest road. The whole time down this road I was wishing for more sweet singletrack! My Garmin kept beeping at me 'Off course....course course....course found....' I kept glancing down at it, thinking, 'I'm on course, I'm right on top of the line!!' I finally did go off course, the forest road kind of lulled me to sleep as the trail veered off to the left, so I backtracked to a gate and found more singletrack!! I was getting back on my bike when I saw there was a trail coming in from the left....huh? AZT? I decided to ride back up the trail to see if I missed the cut-in from the forest road, nope. Apparently the AZT parallels the washboarded road very closely & I missed the entrance a couple miles back. Good to know for next time!
Getting set to drop down a saddle into open range land.

Looking back at the saddle & San Francisco Peaks.

Snack break & the beginning of Babbitt Ranch.

Kendrick Peak.

Lots of fast open riding here.

A few of the locals.

One of the few signs of civilization out here.

Caught up with Rob & Mark on this open windy stretch of 'trail'.
It took about 2 1/2 hours to reach the start of Babbitt Ranch, about 25 miles, so I figured I wouldn't see Rob & Mark for quite some time. I guessed that they had about a 2 hour head start, so I was really surprised to see them after only 8+ miles of the passage. Come to find out, they missed a vague turnoff and did some bonus miles as well - 4 down then 4 back up!! Monica just so happened to be driving in from the other direction when I caught up to them, so it was a good spot for lunch.

Rob was getting a bit tired and there were still 16 miles to go, so Monica stayed with him as he rotated between riding & hiking along the trail. Mark and I made quick work of the next 8 miles or so.
Lots of this along Babbitt Ranch.
We stopped for a quick break and Monica drove up behind us surprised at how far we were. She gave us an update on how Rob was doing and we rode on. We were cruising along down a slightly rutted jeep trail riding the high center when my front tire slipped off the powdery dirt to the right & my back tire to the left. I went down quickly driving my right knee rather forcibly into the ground. Ouch, that one hurt. At least I had a ton of water still on me, cleaned out the wound & cracked open my first aid kit. Always pays to be prepared. I've been learning a few hard lessons recently!
Finish line only 5.2 miles away.
Mark does a bit of road cycling and was riding strong, we'd yoyo a bit then he'd eventually pull away from me, stop for a minute for me to catch up then we'd be off again. We joked how after going through a gate that the wooden signs posted didn't have anything on them. Shortly afterwards, my Garmin was beeping again 'off course'. We missed a turn back at the gate. I tried to catch Mark, but I was getting a bit tired and that wasn't happening so I yelled out a few times, but he kept hammering. I knew both the road & the rare singletrack led to the finish/meeting spot, so I turned around to look for some trail.
This is the trail??? Sure is.
It was nice to be off the jeep roads and back on trail cruising the trees. The trail meanders along often skirting around deadfall, but is very rideable. I rode on for about 3.5 miles then crossed the FR that I last saw Mark on. The trail continued across the road for the final 1.5 miles to the end of the passage. I was expecting the passage to end with the trail dumping me out onto the FR, but instead the terminus is a 4-way trail intersection in a meadow. The 4runner won't be picking me up here! There was a sign posted that indicated the Moqui Stage Station was 0.25 miles to the left and I knew the road was that direction.
Only 1 set of tracks out here.

The end of Babbitt Ranch looking back to the south.

Small stock tank on the spur trail out.

Moqui Stage Station.
I made it out to the sign above around 4pm, roughly 7 hours for my 50 miles, not bad for me. I sat and waited, hoping to see Mark come by or the 4runner drive up the road. Nothing. 4:30, still nothing. About 4:45 I began to get a bit antsy, wondering where each of our parties were. I knew I was at the pickup spot, but did Mark keep going on the road & get lost? Did he turn around & find the faint singletrack (after 45 minutes I figured he didn't because he would have been done by then) or did he ride back until finding the 4runner? How and where was Rob?

At 5p I took inventory of my things, jacket, arm warmers, water, food, all good. Am I going to be stuck out here for the night? hmmm. I also knew I was too far out to ride out before nightfall & my cell phone had no signal - nice. I decided it was best to ride back on the road for a couple miles to see if I ran into anyone, they HAD to come this way, right? After 2 1/2 miles I spotted the 4runner heading my way, Rob's bike on the back and Mark inside as well - whew! Where's Rob? He was still hiking, now a couple miles into the singletrack section, but at last report he was hurting pretty bad. Shortly after packing up my things and rearranging the truck, we received a text 'I'm out at the road, come pick me up'. Rob was done. Time to head back to pavement.
Came across the fast moving pack of pronghorn on the drive out - 32mph!!

See, Arizona isn't all rocks & cacti.
An hour and a half of criss-crossing jeep roads we finally popped out onto route 180. We headed to Flagstaff for a cold brew at the Beaver St. Brewery then onward to Phoenix. It was a long day, but a fun one. I was really captivated by the openness of the land up there. The roads were smooth enough to enjoy your surroundings most of the day. I'll do this route again soon with the intention of riding all the way to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Perhaps as a 2-day bikepacking trip. Thanks Rob for letting me in on your bucket list adventure, just don't forget those last 3 miles when you do passage 36!!

Here are two ride reports from the full route to the Grand Canyon's South Rim:
September 2013
July 2015
Both include full returns on a series of forest roads, slightly modified each year.

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