June 27, 2020

Washington Park to Cabin Loops

I had been doing a few rides lately in Mogollon Rim country the past month, but this ride felt different. Arizona had been decimated by three large scale wildfires, the Mangum fire up on the North Rim which happened to alter our Kaibab bikepacking ride, the Bighorn fire down on Mt. Lemmon and the Bush fire near Four Peaks. The Bush fire had closed AZ87 for weeks limiting access to the high country. This would be my first look at a portion of the burn area now that AZ87 re-opened.

It was a somber drive north as mile upon mile of scorched Sonoran Desert flew by. As far as I could see, a blackened landscape dominated the view. I did take note at the number of Saguaros that appeared mostly green and intact. Could they have withstood the firestorm? The ones that grew next to bushes were torched, goners. Fire has a mysterious random approach sometimes as it crawls over the landscape. I spotted a few isolated areas of green, untouched desert, but not many.

The fire perimeter ended after passing AZ188 heading into Rye. I had debated on where to stage my ride, do I drive up through Pine to the Rim Rd. then across the 13 miles to the start of the Cabin Loops or make the short 15 mile drive along Houston Mesa to Washington Park? This would be 45 minutes closer, but also meant a 2 mile grind up the rim, probably 50% hike-a-bike. I ultimately opted for Washington Park with the thought that I'd save time at the end of the ride.

I had yet to ride the entire Ubar trail and I had never made the side ride over to Buck Springs cabin. Those were my goals for the day.
I've been seeing a lot of these signs lately!!

New bike bling!! Upgraded my worn out 26t round chainring to a 28t oval. Maiden voyage.

This is the second bridge crossing along the Colonel Devin trail.

Love riding next to flowing water, here are the headwaters of the East Verde River.

Gaining ground, now on the utility corridor on my way up the rim.

The AZT zigzags steeply up the rim, the Tunnel trail leads to an abandoned railroad tunnel project.

A short rideable bit!!

Assume the position!!

Everybody loves hike-a-bike, right? Gets the blood pumping early in the morning.

Rapidly gaining elevation.

Almost to the Rim Rd. This is where the AZT merges back with the utility corridor.

Yep, that's the trail, straight ahead!! Oof.

The end is in sight!!! That tiny sign is on the Rim Rd.

Into the Cabin Loop trail system. General Springs cabin.

The ferns had tripled in size since my last visit a few weeks ago.

There are 5 historic cabins or sites along the trails here.

Fred Haught cabin site. My first time riding the short spur here.

Looks like it would make a nice camp spot too.

Zooming along a long gradual downhill on the Fred Haught trail.

It's not all buffed out like this, a few short steep climbs are tossed in for good measure.

Then there's this. FS95 has been washed out the past year. This is near the north end of the Fred Haught trail and uses this horseshoe bend as part of the trail. It's a bit sketchy on the downhill hike-a-bike, but is manageable. The trail resumes on the other side with a short hike-a-bike back to singletrack.

The Pinchot cabin is the reward for climbing down/up the FS95 washout.

Some history for you.

I debated about doing the one mile out-n-back to Aspen Spring cabin, but opted to head straight to Ubar. The plan was to ride down the super fun 4 mile stretch of Houston Bros. trail to Aspen Spring later in the ride, thus hitting all 5 cabins and saving the best trail for last.

Big rowdy descent to Barbershop Canyon. There's a sizable hike-a-bike out the opposite side and that's the main reason Ubar isn't as popular as some other trails up here.

Fun stuff, keeps you on your game.

Down at the bottom the small creek was flowing.

A hiker had pitched a hammock in a perfect location.

Bike pushing time.

Up top, the trail resumed its buttery smoothness, well, except for the increasing number of down trees. Ugh.

If the trail was routed entirely like this section, it would be a destination all by itself.

Another group of hikers made camp a few feet off the trail. I think they were surprised to see another trail user when I rode by.

I wasn't expecting another structure out here, wasn't exactly sure where I was other than on Ubar trail.

Around the corner from the log structure, I struck gold in the form of crystal clear ice cold spring water. Dane Spring delivered refreshments!! My water had long been warm, this was a most unexpected gift.

There were a couple of small groups of hikers camped out near the spring, seemed like a great spot to spend some extended down time.
Leaving Dane Spring the trail was wonderful, then the down tree hopping resumed. Seemed like I was climbing over a tree every 100 feet!! I stopped counting after 15 or so.

A short downhill brought me to the Barbershop junction. This is also where I'd go left for one mile to Buck Springs cabin.

That short trail was chock full of hike-a-bike!!

It was worth it though. Buck Spring cabin is actually two well preserved cabins.

More history.

The other cabin only 50' from the first one.

Uncle Sam is coming for you!!

Back on Barbershop trail...yeah, that's the trail, straight ahead. There was a marker on the far side of the meadow.

Look, another down tree. The miles were ticking off painfully slow the past few hours. I began to wonder if I was going to have time to ride down Houston Bros. trail to Aspen Spring.

Barbershop trail has plenty of chunk. Lots of pushing.

I thought I was in the home stretch, but there were still a few more steep climbs.

It wasn't all rough trail.

There were some nice canyons to ride across.

And more of this too.

A real yin and yang trail.

Reaching FS139 it was decision time. I knew if I turned right towards Houston Bros. trail it would add about 1 1/2 hours, I didn't have that kind of time. Drat. Missed out on the best 4 miles of the entire Cabin Loop system.

Always stunning views off the Rim Rd. and traffic wasn't too bad.

The southern end of Houston Bros. is kinda meh, but it's easily bypassed using FS300, FS139 & FS139A - that's where the fun stuff starts going northbound.

I barely noticed the change to the oval chainring.

If you can get up here midweek, the Rim Rd. is an amazing gravel ride.

For the most part it contours the rim's edge for something like 30 miles.

There are a handful of incredible dispersed camp sites with views like this.

If you can avoid getting dusted by the OHV crowd, this road is rad.

It's mind boggling how far you can see on a clear day. PeakFinder app.

Back at the AZT, time to descend this mess.

At walking pace anyway. Some of it was rideable for me.

At least it's fairly short, riding or walking.

The final mile is back on the Colonel Devin trail.

Seemed like only minutes ago, I was way up there.

A few tricky rock moves up top, then the trail settles down.

Great finish to an otherwise punishing day.
Of course I had to make the obligatory stop at Alfonso's in Payson to pick up dinner. That place is so good, I think I had eaten there six or seven times in the past few weeks!!

Driving home through the Bush fire burn area, sun now lighting up the blackened hills.

A few spots of green can be seen here and there.

This was by far the most promising sight, a good stand of pine trees still hugging the upper flanks of Mt. Ord.

This is the view near Sunflower, where the AZT crosses AZ87.

Superstition Mtns. in the distance, this area is known as The Rolls, is near where the fire started.

Almost three weeks after starting and burning over 193,000 acres, there's still a spot fire. So sad.

In the end, I'm glad I started down at Washington Park in spite of the tough start climbing the rim. It did shave a bunch of time off my return drive home. Naturally, a couple weeks after this ride, most of the down trees were cleared by a buddy of mine. Thanks dude!! Next time I'll be sure to give myself enough time to ride to all five cabin sites.