June 27, 2015

AZ Tourguide

It had been a while since K and I had family visit us here in Arizona. We had talked about hosting our niece when she was old enough to fully appreciate a tour of the Grand Canyon state. The time had come and our niece, Sydney, had recently turned 11. She was eager to leave the humidity of Florida behind, but was she ready for temps over 110ยบ??

We had 6 full days to show her around. How do we keep things interesting enough for her? I've been known to overdue vacation itineraries, so I had to be mindful of that, but there's so much to see and do here!! We put together a rough plan of our week, half would be spent up north in more tolerable conditions this time of year.

Syd's plane was delayed a little, but otherwise a good flight. Let the vacation begin! At home our first task was to break out a black light and go on the prowl for scorpions. We found one glowing brightly next to our side garage door!

No alarm clock for the first day, just a scenic desert drive complete with ice cream, cliff dwellings and a stop at Los Hermanos.
Our first of many side stops.
Tortilla Flat = Ice Cream!!
Scenic overlook along AZ88.
Roosevelt Dam.
Aqua waters of Roosevelt Lake.
Tonto National Monument.
I think we all slept well after our desert drive.

Day 2 had us going north to Flagstaff. A stop at Montezuma's Castle broke the drive up and Sydney became a Junior Ranger in the process.
Almost as tall as Auntie K.
Very cool tree bark.
It's official.
It turned out to be a beautiful day in Flagstaff, so we drove up to the ski resort to take the scenic skyride to the top of Arizona. At the top, the wind was light and temps were in the upper 60's!!
Ready to rise another 2,000'.
Big difference from the flats of Florida.
Found enough snow for a snowball fight!!
Humphrey's Peak, highest point in AZ at 12,637'.
Alpine blooms.
Enjoying the ride down.
After dinner in Flagstaff we made the short drive up Mars Hill to the Lowell Observatory for some star gazing. It was our first time up there as well and what a cool experience. Plenty of telescopes were out all cast on different objects in the sky. We were able to see Jupiter + 2 moons, Saturn's rings + 2 moons, Venus and a fantastic closeup of our moon.
Only one of the many structures up there for viewing.
Cosmic cat.
A rather large meteorite.
Day 3 was all about the Grand Canyon. Our first stop was at the Imax in Tusayan to watch the film on the ultra big screen. Our next challenge was finding a parking place. Market Plaza ended up being a good choice since it was close to food and the shuttle stop.
Cool exhibit along the Rim trail.
Kolb Studio perched on the edge.
Glimpse of the Colorado River on our way to Hermit's Rest.
In all my visits, I hadn't made it out to Hermit's Rest before.
Grand Canyon from Hermit's Rest.
Golden hour at Mather Point.
We hit the road and arrived down in Sedona well after dark.

Day 4 was for playing on the red rocks at Slide Rock State Park. I hadn't been there in almost 20 years. It was a good decision to arrive early, even on a weekday, as the place fills up quick. We got in easily and found a nice rock overhang to call our own for a few hours.
Plenty of people out on a Wednesday morning.
Perfect day to be in the chilly water.
Took some coaxing, but she finally went for it...twice!
Chapel of the Holy Cross.
Our time up north came to a close as we heading back home. We needed a good nights rest as our next day would be an early rise to go feed the animals at the Phoenix Zoo.
First stop, Giraffe deck.
Photobombing giraffe.
Champing down on prickly pear.
Hard to see, but there's an elephant back there.
Orangutan chompers!! 
K feeding the anteater some avocado.
Cheetahs made a quick appearance.
Lunch at the ballpark, no game today.
With one day left, we headed south for cool temps underground at Kartchner Caverns. We went one time before, during the park's first year. If you haven't been to the caverns, put it on the list of things to do in the summer.
Escape the heat, go underground.
The caverns are in those hills.
Obligatory Saguaro photo at Saguaro Nat'l Park.
By the time we finished our meal, the storms were brewing.
Just like that, her trip came to a close. I think she enjoyed seeing what Arizona has to offer, it's a big state as we tallied up over 1200 miles of driving for our sightseeing itinerary. Hopefully she'll have some good stories for her friends and memories for a lifetime. Her mom relayed a funny quote upon her return: 'There are no lazy days at Uncle John's'. True.

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.