October 31, 2020

Mt. Lemmon High Jinks

 This summer the Bighorn Fire scorched most of Tucson's iconic Mt. Lemmon. The north side in particular has been decimated and all trails remain closed to access. However, there was a glimmer of hope as the dirt Control Rd. reopened providing a way up/down the mountain from the Oracle side on the northeast.

I wanted to not only check out the road condition, but also witness the fire damage first-hand, so I planned an out-n-back ride from American Flag Ranch with the added bonus of making the side trip up to High Jinks Ranch where I would join the Arizona Trail, AZT, back down to the car. This would substitute as the route for anyone taking on the Arizona Trail Race while Oracle Ridge remains off limits.

Of course, like I tend to do on solo rides, I slept in too long and started my ride about 1 1/2 hours later than I wanted. Sorry, K, I'll still try to make it home for dinner...-ish.

What's this?!? The Circle K in Oracle closest to the AZT. CLOSED. Drat. The one on the far end of town is open 24 hours.

The iconic sign at American Flag Ranch trailhead. I'd be finishing today's ride by cruising underneath.

A couple miles of pavement brought me here: Arizona Zipline Adventures. It's not far from the AZT,  has food & is known to have some bike supplies if in a pinch.

The first dozen or so miles undulate along the foothills, but it was evident how far down the slope the fire encroached.

The popular Peppersauce Campground was spared, not by much though.

The steel cow signals the start of the main climb, but one short downhill is tucked in there.

What is this?? Actual running water!! It's been so dry here lately, I was shocked to see this near Gibb Wash or maybe it was Gibb Wash.

Higher up the charred remains linger.

Still some green hanging around.

I can't image the scene here back in June.

Crystal Spring trail, currently closed.

At least the sign is still intact.

This was a welcomed sight. Tall green trees, perhaps most of this area was more of a low intensity burn?

Oracle Ridge trailhead.

Looking up Oracle Ridge. I'm very curious to see how this trail fared, but it'll have to wait until at least mid-2021 for access.

These next few shots are all near the Summerhaven Fire Station. A huge thank you to the men & women who fought hard to save this mountaintop community.

Looking down the Control Rd. at pavement's end.

So glad to see the fire station intact.

The same couldn't be said for this structure across the road.

Looking up towards the summit of Mt. Lemmon.
If you haven't seen the time lapse footage from the Bighorn Fire, here it is. It's two concurrent videos, both shot from the fire station in opposite directions. It's mesmerizing in so many ways.

Bighorn time lapse video. 

I dropped into Summerhaven to grab a snack, looks like mine is the best looking of the bunch!!

The town appeared largely unchanged.

Getting ready for the 12+ mile descent!!

Control Rd. cutting in front of Marble Peak.

San Pedro Valley spread out below.

From the tall pines to desert scrub in 45 minutes via bike.

Overall, the road condition itself wasn't too bad. Dry, but not thick moondust either.

Wide angle view of Arizona Zipline Adventures.

Now on Camp Bonito Rd. heading towards High Jinks Ranch.

Yeah, that'd be great. Thanks.

It's for sale too.

Water available for weary AZT travelers.

Future oasis??

Some neat relics from days gone by.

Looking out from the ranch, that's the AZT connector trail. It's that convenient.

The AZT is barely 500' away. So, if you need water, it's that close!!

Utah: 602, Mexico: 199 miles.

The AZT, when not winding around boulders, it's dropping off a plethora of waterbars!!

Back at American Flag Ranch before dark!! I guess it's going to be a late dinner tonight...

Leaving Oracle, let's keep the fire in the sky, not on the mountains. Mmmkay??
While Oracle Ridge remains closed, the Control Rd. & High Jinks Ranch offer a worthy alternative. For all the hike-a-bike enthusiasts out there, c'mon, there are a few!! Don't worry, Oracle Ridge will be back in the fold soon enough!!


October 25, 2020

SoCal Triple

 Evan and I have been trying to meet up for months to do a full SART, Santa Ana River Trail, shuttle ride from Big Bear. 2020 had other ideas as our two prior attempts were halted due to wildfire and smoke. Third time's the charm as they say, right?

The stars finally aligned albeit with a lot less daylight this time of year, but we'd make the most of it. Evan was able to secure two nights camping near Big Bear Lake, dispersed camping was still off limits since the forests had just reopened barely two weeks prior.

Evan was driving up from San Diego and I was making the trek across I-10 from Phoenix. I was going to arrive a bit before Evan so we decided to meet up in Idyllwild for a short ride Friday afternoon. I had about an hour or so to fumble around the HUB trails before Evan arrived. He gave me a suggestion of riding Black Bear & Rattlesnake as a warm-up. The trick here, no signage and an old map printout from the HUB Cyclery (Now closed) for navigation. Old skool style. While I didn't know where the trails went per se, they were bound by a series of forest roads. Ride the trails down and dirt roads up. I think I can handle this.

My guide. Parked at the HUB TH and rode those squiggles to the left.

An extension of the map to the left.
I rolled out of the trailhead down a dirt forest road where I saw a small group of riders. Must be the trail I'm looking for. I guess this is Black Bear. I passed the riders and was on my own, pristine loamy forested singletrack dirt. Boom.
Very flowy, lots of twists & turns.

It had a medieval forest sort of feel.

I found a few forks in the trail, which turned out to be short loops to incorporate rock features. Neat.

Trail builders did a nice job of finding natural obstacles and using them in the trail design.

Other sections opened up and ripped.
I could tell I was nearing the bottom of Black Bear so I began taking right turns to bring me back to where I started. The trails zigged and zagged all over. I made a couple of loops here & there, but started to get my feel of how they were laid out. It was getting close to when Evan said he'd arrive, so I needed to get back to the car. I popped out on one of the forest roads and began to climb. Then I thought, that Rattlesnake trail will also get me back up, why not take the trail? Done.

Not a bad view.
Once again I popped out on the forest road, but this time I wasn't exactly sure which way to go. A quick check on my phone pointed me in the right direction. I was barely back at the car for 10 minutes when Evan pulled in. He said we'd have enough time to do a cool outer loop, but to bring lights. That means one thing: I'll NEED lights.
Evan led the way, up a steady grade of twists and turns.

Over some rocks too, we continued to climb. Photo by Evan.

A payoff view for our effort.

Payoff of a different kind as the trail took full advantage of the terrain provided.

Doesn't look like much, but it was a bit of an awkward roll. Photo by Evan.

Behold!! The splendid riding network of Idyllwild. Photo by Evan.

Evan charging down a larger feature.

This one shot you out of a cannon!! Photo by Evan.

Hard left into a smooth rollover. Photo by Evan.

Did I mention the twists & turns?? Photo by Evan.

Just when you think you're in the middle of the forest, a vista opens up. Photo by Evan.

The sky painters put on a brief show for us.

Time to break out the lights as we made our way down to a forest road.

Night riding is fun!! Photo by Evan.
Evan wanted to show me another loop, but I was riding a bit tentatively in the dark. First time on the trail, my night vision isn't the greatest and I couldn't use my prescription goggles because they kept fogging up!! Plus, we still had to drive down to the valley, find a place to drop Evan's truck, eat something, then drive all the way up to our camp near Big Bear Lake. It was a wise move to stop riding a bit early.

We found a fantastic mexican food truck for dinner and a quiet neighborhood street to leave Evan's truck. It was sometime after 11p when we finally arrived at camp.


We set our alarms for 5a the next morning and actually stuck to it. It was nice not having to break down camp in the wee hours too. We made our way to the other side of Big Bear Lake to stage at the trailhead. We were first to arrive, but that didn't last long. A few cars of hikers soon popped in, some unaware they needed a parking pass to be there. Evan had us all squared away on that front and sometime after 7a we began our day's adventure.
The route started by climbing Pineknot trail. The surface was crushed granite and the grade wasn't too bad, enough to get the blood pumping and generate some heat in the cool morning air.
All quiet at the trailhead...for now.

Buff trail climbing. Photo by Evan.

This was about the time my goggles began to fog. Photo by Evan.

Lots of cool rock outcroppings along the way. Photo by Evan.

Up, up & up we go. Photo by Evan.

Our first view of Big Bear Lake.

We didn't realized there was a xc race going on that day, but we were ahead of the masses.

At the top of Pineknot, racer checkpoint and where the course distances split. We were warned that we may cross some racers along the famed Skyline trail.

I've heard lots of great things about Skyline over the years, it was good to put my wheels on a few miles of it.

Good climbing and swooping downhills. Fun!! Photo by Evan.

Moar contouring. Photo by Evan.

Next time I'm up here, I'm doing the full Skyline loop. Photo by Evan.

Cool routing through natural features. Photo by Evan.

San Bernardino Mtns. in the background. Photo by Evan.

Fast trail up here.

Only thing missing on Evan's bike is a number plate!!

I think my days of number plates are over. Photo by Evan.

The climbing never seemed to long and the payoffs were a blast. Photo by Evan.

The trail wasn't too far off the dirt road where the racers were heading up, I saw one guy longingly look at Evan on the singletrack wishing he wasn't pedaling the dirt road!! Photo by Evan.

We began seeing a steady stream of racers coming our way, luckily we were almost done with our segment of Skyline.

We hopped off Skyline and began a steady climb over to Sugarlump. A precursor of things to come.

No chairlifts on this ride as we passed under one of Bear Mountain's.

Won't be long until these get fired up.

Bear Mtn. access road.

Last time I was here was for downhill skiing about 15 years ago!! Photo by Evan.

Still grinding up the hill.

Oof. This would be a recurring theme over the next few hours.

Take note of how many hike-a-bike photos Evan took. I think he was getting a kick out of it.

At least this one had a cool shot of the lake framed by trees!! Photo by Evan.

Finally!! The top of Sugarlump.

Lots of gadgets to keep the ski patrol & lift operators warm and entertained.

Top of Chair 8 at Bear Mountain.

NE view from 8805'.
Evan had warned me about a section of the route where the trail sort of disappears. It's one of those, find your own way to the top. Our destination: Sugarloaf Mtn. But first, we had to get there along a ridgeline traverse. We had taken a short snack break at the ski hut and Evan said the trail dropped off the side. He wasn't kidding, downhill hike-a-bike ensued.
There's a hint of a trail in there.

I know, it looks like I should be riding, but that slice of open ground closed quick!! Photo by Evan.

Would you look at that!! A trail emerged and riding was had. Photo by Evan.

This was a true backcountry ride, you could tell the trail sees little use, but it was cool. Photo by Evan.

Evan doing his part to clear a down tree.

The terrain varied from rocky to pine needles over dirt. Photo by Evan.

Moar hike-a-bike. Photo by Evan.

Evan getting artsy with the hike-a-bike shots.

This would be a good time to mention our progress was slow. Photo by Evan.

Sugarloaf Mtn. getting close, but still a ways off.

Most of the riding portions were short lived, but welcomed. Photo by Evan.

Let's count the ways to hike-a-bike bliss, shall we? Photo by Evan.

Massive tree while Evan assumes the position.

Good sense of the grade here. Photo by Evan.

Was that a hike-a-bike portal?? Photo by Evan.

At least Evan had good views of the lake while I slogged up behind him!! Photo by Evan.

Back at ya!!

Huge views to the north. Photo by Evan.

Panorama time. Photo by Evan.

After all that, NOW things get rugged!! Photo by Evan.

I think we're still on the trail.

Talk about a solid upper body workout. Photo by Evan.

Are we there yet? Photo by Evan.

I don't think I realized how difficult the approach to Sugarloaf Mtn. was going to be. Photo by Evan.

I was getting worked over and we weren't even to the hard part yet. Photo by Evan.

I think I'm going to take a nap. Photo by Evan.

Sugarlump was way back down there!! Photo by Evan.

Our progress so far was agonizingly slow, but we were now finally on Sugarloaf Mtn. Still a semblance of trail. Photo by Evan.

For an added challenge, climb over some down trees. Photo by Evan.

Let the free-for-all begin.

Ugh. Talus slope.
This was by far, the most difficult & frustrating part of the push. It was so steep, footing was an issue. The talus was so deep that if you tried walking, you sunk into it and slid down the slope. We found the only effective way across or up it was to lift the bike with both hands and raise it upslope, then climb up to it. Repeat that for a hundred times. Did I mention we were now above 9,000'?? So the oxygen levels were a bit low too. Evan began to get a bit ahead of me, but I'm certain he could hear me grumbling about how stoopid this was. I lost my balance once and slide down the slope a bit, not happy. This was way more challenging that I had hoped.
Me, getting more frustrated by the minute. Photo by Evan.

It was a nice view if you cared to look. Photo by Evan.

Nearing the top of the talus slope, footing gradually became more stable. Still steep AF.

Photos simply can't convey the misery index here.

Finally reaching the top!! 'Evan, I hate you right now!!' Photo by Evan.

Rest & snack break.

Not quite 10k, but that's fine by me. We made it.
There was a group of hikers milling about when we arrived, giving off that typical SoCal vibe. Blah, blah, blah, taking selfies at the old sign & just blabbering about stupid shit. I had my bike leaning by a metal post and large rock cairn when this fella decided he needed the metal post to point at the newer wooden sign for his photo. While removing the metal post, he bumps my bike and it begins to fall over, but lucky for him he caught it. The rest of his group began fussing about them leaving before all hell breaks loose. Evan & I were delighted when they began their trek down the access trail.

Of course not five minutes later a gust of wind did knock my bike over and broke my GPS mount!! Dammit. Now I wished the hiker would've knocked it over & he could've paid for a new mount.

It was probably for the best since I could no longer see how slow we were going. It had taken us 6 1/2 hours to get here. That's 13.3 miles. Do the math. Our full route was to be 60 miles. Hmmm. Evan knew our daylight was limited due to us postponing this ride until so late in the season. From here, most of the remaining miles were downhill and Evan swore the riding was spectacular. I was still skeptical as to the work to payoff ratio. It better be amazing after all it took to get here!!

Our original plan was to drop down and ride the entire SART, but the lower portion was still closed due to a burn area. Evan suggested skipping the upper segment, since he said it wasn't the best part of SART. That would save time for sure as it cut out a bit of climbing.
Old sign is barely legible.

Evan drops off the top of Sugarloaf. More loose rock ensues. #meh

This section was cool, but the loose rock continued way longer than I hoped. Where was the good stuff?? Photo by Evan.

Some chunky uphill was thrown in too.

We passed by the annoying hiker group and the last bit of rubbly trail was finally put behind us.

Shortcut!! Evan warned me about it being steep & loose, but it wasn't bad at all and over quick.

The start of Wildhorse trail.

Things were looking up almost immediately. 

Arm pump in full effect after miles of downhill. Photo by Evan.
We bottomed out at a Boy Scout camp. A short bit of climbing was on tap, it wasn't steep and the tread was fine, but man, my legs were wet noodles after all the hike-a-bike. I was really feeling it, so I downed some more calories as I pushed up the trail. We were soon rewarded for our efforts.

Boom! Huge vista opened up with the valley blanketed in thick clouds. The leading edge of the oncoming storm system perhaps?

We had already descended from the ridgeline behind Evan.

The trail surface smoothed and the fun factor spiked.

I think this is more of what I was expecting on this ride. Photo by Evan.

Photo by Evan.

These miles had photo opportunities on every turn.

Nearing the bottom of Wildhorse.

We merged with Hwy38 for a few fast downhill miles. This is where we cut out the upper section of SART.
As much as I enjoyed Wildhorse trail, not sure the payoff was worth the effort from Big Bear. Evan mentioned that it could be accessed from this side either by shuttle or riding up from Hwy38. I think I'd prefer those options, then assuming the full SART was open, link the two. That would still be a huge solid ride.
Feeder creek to the Santa Ana River.

Here we go!! Evan said this was the section of SART that gets all the press.

Great trail from the get-go.

The first couple of miles were slightly uphill or level, but the downhill was coming.

Here we go, let 'er rip!!

There were a few side slopes to be aware of. Photo by Evan.

I love trail routing like this. Photo by Evan.

Legs were still feeling it on the uphills. Photo by Evan.

Photo by Evan.

Neat tree tunnel over the trail. Photo by Evan.

One of the dicey sections, tree painted red, but almost created target fixation. Go off the tread here and you're going to tumble for a bit.

Overall, the SART did a wonderful job hugging the slope. Photo by Evan.

Shadows beginning to grow long, but Evan thought we'd have enough time to clear the SART portion of the route in daylight.

Evan navigates another potential trail pitfall.

We did get to see some fall color, nothing overly vibrant, but still some yellows.

It ended up being perfect temperatures the entire day.

A hint of east coast riding. Photo by Evan.

Photo by Evan.

We were now covering ground at a solid clip, maybe we won't finish at midnight!! Photo by Evan.

Looking back up to our high point of the ride.


The trail meandered from the exposed slopes to thick groves of tree cover.

Nice to see some more flowing water. Photo by Evan.

Set the controls for the heart of the Sun. Photo by Evan.

Our bikes sure take us to some amazing places, don't they?

Another creek crossing.

This area had a pacific northwest feel to it. Photo by Evan.

Another one for the scenery scrapbook, minus the powerlines.

It's funny how much ground you can cover when you're actually riding your bike on great trail.

Finished up the SART section in daylight!!
Evan couldn't recall the effort required on the ensuing 3 mile dirt road climb. He sort of remembered it being 'soul sucking'. Not what I wanted to hear, but we had to do it anyway. Let's get at it.

Right out of the gate it was sublime and it really didn't change much to both of our surprise. It ended up being a really nice gradual climb back to Hwy38.

Time to break out the lights.
Angelus Oaks marked our alternate ending to the full SART, instead we'd go down Loch Leven. This route was the old Hwy38 and while mostly a dirt route now, there were still bits of eroding pavement present.
This was a really cool way to end the ride. I actually was glad we were riding it at night.

Into the abyss we go.

After hours of descending, the city lights of the Inland Empire are visible.
Evan found some last minute singletrack before we had to peel off, cross Hwy38 and roll a few miles through some neighborhood streets back to Evan's truck. Somehow, after the slow start to the ride we ended up tallying more than 50 miles and finished around 8:30p. I guess the 10,000'+ of descending sped things up on the back end!!

While I wouldn't exactly rush back to go over Sugarloaf Mtn., the rest of the ride was the real deal. Once the lower section of SART re-opens we'll have to make plans for a full pull + Wildhorse trail. Thanks again Evan, this was one I won't soon forget.

We managed to find a mexican restaurant nearby that was open for another 30 minutes. Score. We still had over an hour drive back up to our camp. I slept really good that night!!


The next morning we were in no hurry to get going, but a bunch of other campers were already up & stirring before daybreak to hit the roads home. I had a 6+ hour drive home, but we still wanted to do another short ride. I made the rare request to avoid any hike-a-bike, I had my fill the day prior!! Believe it, it does happen.
Our site for two nights, considering the place was full, it wasn't too bad.
One side bonus for camping here, there was direct access to trails from the campground. Even though we only planned a short ride, we opted to shuttle it since the dirt road we'd need to ride back on was the camp exit road. Campers + dry dirt road = excessive dust!! No thanks. We dropped my car down by the lake and got rolling from camp on the Hanna Flat trail. 
A short climb through the boulders greeted us. 

So far so good, buff singletrack!! Photo by Evan.

We thought we may have to dodge rain showers this morning, but the blue skies said otherwise. Photo by Evan.

There's something awesome about riding around huge boulders. Photo by Evan.

The landscape up here was amazing.

Evan dwarfed by nature.

It felt like we could see to the Pacific Ocean.


There it is, Sugarloaf Mtn. Gah!!

Look, Ma!! No hike-a-bike!!

The Hanna Flat trail had really good flow to it.

Photo by Evan.

Photo by Evan.

Photo by Evan.

Photo by Evan.

A short dirt road connector brought us to the Grout Bay trail to finish things up.

It was a final downhill cruise to the lake.

Big Bear Lake always feels like a mini Lake Tahoe to me. Photo by Evan.

Micro cairn village. Photo by Evan.

Evan's bike enjoying the overlook. Photo by Evan.

The final ride was only 5 miles, but it was a perfect end to the weekend. Evan still had some time to kill so I dropped him off at another trailhead before I made my way down the mountain and home. By the time I arrived down near Redlands, the storm had moved in, wind whipping and rain beginning to fall. Quite the contrast from our morning up in the pines.

Thanks again, Evan for putting together a stellar weekend of riding. All new-to-me dirt which is always a great thing. Now, to figure out a payback route for Sugarloaf....