December 1, 2012

Route Scouting

I'll admit it, I've been bitten hard by the bikepacking bug. I have the gear, my fitness level has improved and I've done a few over-night rides on some wicked terrain. Lately Ray and I have started thinking of cool routes we could do from home. He lives in the north part of the valley & I'm down in the southeast corner, so our routes do not overlap.

Last week I began the process of piecing together the GPX files that I had on hand to complete my route. This enabled me to cover most of the singletrack on my route, but didn't close the circle. With the aid of Topofusion & Google Earth I was able to 'see' potential pavement bypasses. I drew in the rest of the loop  freehand and completed my 'Salty Gila Tour', a 210 mile loop right from my front door.

Next up was to physically go out and scout the unknown sections. Today was the day. K was kind enough to get up with an alarm on a Saturday to drop me off in Florence. We both resisted the urge to buy a present at the prison gift shop, instead I rolled out from the McD's parking lot a block away.
Ready to go.
The main goal for the day was to get back home with the least amount of pavement possible. I crossed the Gila River (dry) and turned onto my first stretch of dirt along the banks of a small canal. The riding was fast on compacted dirt, bonus. My only other real concern for the day, other than route detours, was the amount of sand I would encounter. Luckily the sand wasn't much of a factor, at least not until near the end.
Things started out great.
I quickly found out that quite a few people live out by this canal as I ended up on multiple driveways! I backtracked a few times to get going on the proper route when I came upon my first roadblock of the day. Both banks of the canal were fenced off with no possible entry, plus they were signed with NO TRESSPASSING warnings, bummer. On to plan B.

The canal was paralleling the Hunt Hwy so I bailed out to it, looking for re-entry back to the canal banks. Fortunately, Hunt Hwy has a nice 2-track frontage road of sorts. Each time I came upon a road crossing I was shot down with more signage & barbed wire fencing. One spot looked enticing, but I didn't feel comfortable squeezing through a gated community entryway, so I pressed on for a couple more miles.
Poston Butte, 'F'lorence.
Access denied once again.
Finally! An open roadway & I'm back on the canal. 1 mile later the canal portion of my route was over anyway, back on the Hunt Hwy for a short jaunt. The highway turns north towards Johnson Ranch and I kept going west onto a dirt road behind some agricultural testing site.
Plants of the future.
The next handful of miles had a real remote feeling to them. Surrounded by desert, the hum of bumble bees and the distant sound of gunfire. Well, it can't be perfect. I missed one of my turns onto a vague 2-track, so more backtracking ensued. Back on route I soon came upon the group target shooting, I was sure to make my presence known, waved and pedaled on.

Walker Butte. 'C' is for Coolidge.

 This section of dirt road dumped me back out on Hunt Hwy. I rode the frontage 2-track for a bit then I was back onto a dirt maze behind a neighborhood. I started to go off route, but quickly saw my error & was able to cut over to where I needed to be. A few miles later I came to a known detour based on current imagery. My plan was to take local roads around the fenced off quarry & pick up the route on the other side. Easier said than done.
End of the line...for now.
Follow the dirt road to the homes & hang a left.
Right next to the quarry was what appeared to be an abandoned subdivision, it too was fenced off, but there were gaps in the fenceline. I didn't want to take the route through an area that may not be viable in the future as this subdivision was going to be a gated community. This also made getting around it a bit more problematic as I couldn't locate a true exit into the established neighborhood. I finally gave in and backtracked to a downed section of fence, it was then that I realized the road was indeed a public access roadway. I made the turn back to the south to pick up my route when once again a couple of barking dogs came running after me!! Thankfully, the road was relatively flat and I put the hammer down to distance myself from the barking terrors, of course I had to wonder if this road was leading me to a deadend!! It wasn't, but I had to turn again to head west where I picked up a paved stretch of road. I was at the spot where my route was indicating, but again it was fenced off with no access. I followed the pavement around a corner hoping to intersect my track later down the road. Another gated community, no access!!
Foiled yet again.
Backtracking once more I ran into a roadie out for a spin and asked him if he knew of a route over to San Tan Park. He mentioned the paved route, which I knew, and as soon as we departed I saw a 2-track heading west across from where I first hit the pavement. Let's follow it! Not one mile into it my drawn route met up with my dirt road! Perfect. This continued for a bit as I followed a barbed wire fence signed for a Maricopa County Park. Soon my planned route peeled off to the south with no way for me to keep following it, I stuck with the fenceline as the road conditions deteriorated. Eventually I had to HAB up a couple of short inclines only to find a vague to non-existent jeep road.
Now it's a mountain bike ride!!
I just need to get over there.
I spotted a horseback rider coming down a dirt road near where I wanted to be. I found enough of a jeep trail to get me to the road and proceeded to zig-zag up & over a few hills in a rugged remote community. In the end I wound up on Brenner Pass Rd which would take me directly to the south entrance to San Tan Mtn. Park.
Look at that nice trail!
I stopped at the park trailhead, paid my fees, had a snack, then started up the Rock Peak Wash Trail. The first 100 yards were great, then the trail drops into the wash and STAYS THERE. Total sand trap, unrideable, bleh. I walked for a bit, then remembered that my planned route went into the park a different way a little farther down Brenner Pass Rd. So I bailed out of the wash to find my second park entrance.
Ugh. Sand.
I made my way over to the spot where I thought I'd be able to get into the park. Nope, another fence right next to a home with a couple of frenetic barking dogs! This time the dogs were behind a large fenced in yard and the park fence was short so I hopped it to see if this was indeed the way I wanted to go. Again I was denied. Back to the sandy wash. I was bummed that I wasted 15 minutes exploring this failed alternate route when I could have been done with my walk up the wash. At least now I know this second option is not feasible. The wash is only 0.8 miles long, so it didn't take too much time to reach the San Tan Trail. The highlight of this section of trail is the beautiful crested saguaro giving the 'Shaka' I had to stop & collect a few more pictures of this gem.
Hang loose brah.

It seemed like some trail work has been done on the San Tan Trail as the dips in & out of the lower washes were all ridable. I was pleasantly surprised by this and soon I was back onto my normal San Tan loop heading towards the Dynamite Trail.
Exiting San Tan Mtn. Park at the Goldmine Trailhead.
I quickly got through the park then it was a 7 mile road ride back to the house. In the end it was a little over 45 miles, but I'm betting with all my backtracking it was closer to 40. Today was a perfect example of why you should always scout a route, detours happen, access doesn't show on a map. Now I know this route can be done, only slightly altered from my original draft. This will be a nice way to end a 210 mile loop in the near future.

Stay tuned...

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