February 14, 2021

The Fool's Loop

 The Fool's Loop has been on my radar for a few years. I had planned to ride it last year, but wouldn't you know, I got rained out not once, but THREE times!! Never even started. Why? There are many areas that turn to peanut butter death mud and need a few days to dry out. It was an easy decision to postpone.

2021 brought another opportunity to give it a whack and the weather was looking mighty cooperative over the President's Day weekend. Mike was also available and looking for an adventure, plus he lives only a few miles south of the route in Scottsdale. We would stage our ride from his place and do a big CCW loop.

The main attraction for both of us was to finally make it out to Sheep's Bridge north of Horseshoe Reservoir. Then there's the Black Canyon Trail, which I've ridden a bunch, but is always so good.

We figured we could ride the 200+ mile loop in three full days, but it was looking like I could get out of work early on Thursday. Why not split a day and start/end with two half days of riding? Sure.

**We encountered a couple of areas on the route that didn't seem correct. After the ride, I was in contact with Bikepacking.com and those areas have been updated. The route link at the bottom will be for the new updated route to avoid any confusion.**

High noon, rollout time.

We only had a couple miles on surface streets.

And just like that we were on the bikepath heading north.

Mike suggested a short detour to Westworld for an up close look at this massive sculpture.

We linked into the main loop and continued up the wash trail.
I should note that we didn't follow the official main loop of the Fool's Loop 100%, for instance, we cut out some road riding along Thompson Peak Pkwy in favor of more wash trail like the bit pictured above.
Hmmm, looks like a new high end community is getting prepped to begin construction.

We ducked under a few yellow ropes while landscaping crews were tagging native vegetation for relocation. Not sure how much longer this piece will be accessible. *This was one area in the proposed changes to the route*

The Reata Pass water tower, known from the movie 'Raising Arizona'.

Another slight detour, hitting singletrack into Brown's Ranch trailhead.

Cathedral Rock at Brown's Ranch makes a good setup for my ride: Binary Bicycles SSP

Leaving Brown's Ranch we use a short connector on the Maricopa Trail. This gave me some flashbacks from January as I completed a full run on the entire MT and all the spur routes.

Topping off water by the Cave Creek Ranger station off Bartlett Dam Rd.
Leaving our water stop, this would all be new-to-me terrain until reaching Cordes Lakes sometime tomorrow. I love filling the blank spots of my mental atlas.

The first few miles were paved and had one screaming downhill.

Then a long, steady grind until we reached our turn at Horseshoe Dam Rd. Photo by Mike.
The road eventually turned to dirt and before long we reached an extended downhill. Of course it was loaded with washboard, so finding the best line down at 30+ mph was fun!! The views were spectacular, but I didn't dare try to snap any photos while screaming down this hill. I came around a corner and saw Mike had stopped up ahead. I slowed to see what was up. He pointed to the left, somehow he happened to spot a crested Saguaro on the far hillside. Great catch!!

Crested Saguaro, pic is zoomed in quite a bit. Not sure how Mike spotted this thing.

The pause in the downhill let me snap this pic.

We finally flattened out as the shadows grew long.

K A Ranch, we'd be riding around it after crossing the Verde River.

A wide section of the Verde River.

Mesmerizing late afternoon light.

Horseshoe Dam.
We had loosely set a goal of reaching Horseshoe Dam, knocking out about 30-35 miles before making camp. It was still plenty light outside, so we pushed on knowing that any miles we stacked up today were miles we didn't have to do tomorrow.

Passing under the dam. In times of high water, the release cascades over the top like a Pipeline surfer. Not today. :(

Verde River downstream from the dam.

Horseshoe Reservoir.

Lake levels are low as you can tell by the receded shoreline.

Mike riding into a postcard.

Winding our way to the north side of K A Ranch.

Getting close to Sheep's Bridge!!
Mike had been out this way before and had camped about 6 miles up the road near Deadman Creek. We set that as our goal since light was fading and we figured it would be cool to reach Sheep's Bridge in the early morning.
Continuing on, the riding was fast along mostly level roads.

The north shore of Horseshoe Reservoir comes into view.

Golden hour lights up a Saguaro forest.

Mike spots a second crested Saguaro on today's ride!!

These majestic sentinels were standing guard over our camp for the night.

Could this lumpy Saguaro be in the early stages of forming a crest??

Our campsite for the night above Deadman Creek (Dry).
We ended up completing 47 miles on our early rollout. We had targeted the Black Canyon Trail, BCT, for our second night which now meant we only needed 55 or so miles tomorrow instead of 70. We liked our chances in spite of heading into unknown terrain for both of us.

The sky lit up with millions of stars under the Milky Way. Mike caught a fireball streaking across the sky much to my disappointment since I missed it!! Drat.

It was a bright, crisp morning. Let's ride!! Photo by Mike.

Nearing Chalk Mountain.

The early miles were swift, things would change after Sheep's Bridge.  Photo by Mike.

Moon dust!! Wouldn't want to ride through here when wet.

Rounding a corner and boom!! Sheep's Bridge.

It's quite the sight and span.

Looks like a prime swimming hole.

We topped off water here for the push to Cordes Lakes.

Birds love the nesting options here.

Mike's Transition rig.

Mike digging the ride across the bridge.

Some history of the bridge. It really was for sheep!!

We were both blown away by the structure itself, a real beauty.

It's the smallest Saguaro evah!!

Upstream along the Verde River.

Downstream view.

One of the old buttresses.

It really is a massive structure, all to herd sheep to safety, yet withstand the Verde's temperament.
Our next goal was to find the nearby hot spring. We knew it was down in the reeds after crossing the bridge. We could see a couple of footpaths leading in that direction. So we followed suit.

The path quickly turns into a tunnel of reeds.

There it is!! Clear, hot water running over the stone wall.

Just hot enough to steam.

Hot water flows out to the Verde here.

The masonry walls have cup holders!!

Felt great to soak our feet.
We took note of the camping opportunities in the area. If we do the route again sometime, we'd leave a bit earlier to arrive here in daylight and not on a weekend. Even though it's a remote area, it is a popular OHV destination.

Leaving Sheep's Bridge we begin the long climb out. Photo by Mike.

One last overview of the bridge area and surrounding peaks. PeakFinder app.

It didn't take us long to gain plenty of elevation. The climbing was steady, but not overly strenuous.

The road was generally in good condition too.

Mike nearing one of the saddles on our ascent.

The main climb would top out near Turret Peak off in the distance.

Hey, look!! Some mud along an otherwise bone dry road.

There was just enough downhill to give our climbing legs a break.

Spotted this roadside memorial on a tight curve.

Another oasis along the way.

It would also make for a nice camping location.

Tangle Creek actually had some water flowing too.

The running joke here is: It's Western.

Slowly transitioning into the high desert.

Are there any backroad signs in AZ without bullet holes? Doubt it.

Hmmm, looks like our climbing is about to ramp up. Nowhere to go but up.

We stopped for a lunch break, then resumed our elevation gain. I think Mike is smiling.

Looking back down and seeing the road we were on adds perspective.

To the sky we go.

Nearing the false summit, of course there was one of those!!

A short cruise through this tree filled elevated valley.

The top is near!! Mike hangs out waiting for my arrival.

Weeeee!!! Photo by Mike.

The various peaks of the Bradshaw Mountains. The BCT follows along the near base of the Bradshaws.


Our one wish was granted: smooth road surface on the extended downhill. Zoom!!!

Leaving the Tonto Nat'l Forest...

...and entering the Agua Fria Nat'l Monument.

We were keeping our eyes on the threatening skies all afternoon, but so far, nada.
We had packed rain gear as the forecast had called for a chance of showers on Sunday, our projected finish day. While parts of this route would be miserable if wet, we'd be well beyond those areas by Sunday. However, the ominous clouds ahead could spell doom if the northern portion of BCT became saturated.
Huge downhill on tap.

The rest of the downhill.
We had been riding on the well maintained Bloody Basin Rd. for quite some time. We spotted some RV'ers camped on a roadside hilltop and noticed our track veering off onto a less traveled jeep rd. We soon arrived at a gate:

Seemed pretty cool.

It was a good sized ranch, but all was quiet on a Friday afternoon.

Hmmm. Now what?
There weren't any 'No trespassing' signs or other signage to keep out. We opted to find a way around the locked gate and we did. Until we came to a second padlocked gate. Again, no signage indicating we shouldn't be there, but it just didn't feel right. We didn't see any obvious way around, so we hopped the gate and made our way through the ranch.

Mike arriving at the second locked gate.

There were some neat antiques sitting around, but we didn't hang around too long.

A bit to our surprise, we popped right back out to Bloody Basin Rd. *This is another area the route has been updated*

As the mileage shrunk on our approach to Cordes Lakes, the road began to undulate more.

We rode alongside I-17 for a short bit.

We saw this hill from afar and hoped we didn't have to climb it. Wrong!! Start pushing.

Mike crests the top of the steep hill.

Cordes Lakes spreads out below us. Resupply is at hand!!

Cordes Lakes is a bit of a throwback town.

We loaded up at the Pilot truck stop and had the standard bikepackers fare: Subway. One footlong for now, one to go.
It was about 6p when we left the Pilot truck stop. We still had a bit of daylight remaining and were only a few flat miles from the BCT. The route had a small loop going a bit up Old Sycamore Rd. to join the BCT there, this would then take you under SR69 to the Big Bug trailhead. As we approached the trailhead we were both in agreement that we didn't need to do the short loop and crossed over to the trailhead.

Looking north as we cross over I-17 at Cordes Lakes.

Made it to the BCT in daylight!! Now to get down the trail and away from the traffic on SR69.

The BCT singletrack starts off with a few hillside contours.

Mike rides into the waning light.
We noticed a few orange trail marker flags along the way. Aravaipa running. There must be a foot race tomorrow!! We found a place to camp about 4 miles south of SR69 under the cover of trees on soft dirt. Mike looked up the foot race and informed me that a 100k event was slated to start at 7a the following morning from the Big Bug trailhead we just rode through. I guess we'll be seeing a lot of foot traffic tomorrow!! We'll do our best to keep pace.

Rise & shine!! I wasn't posting to IG at 6:30a, rather, checking the weather: 38º. Photo by Mike.

I may have been getting ready to snap a sunrise pic as well.
We packed up and got ready to hit the trail as the first wave of runners came through. The elite men were flying!! We both noted how that didn't look like endurance pace!! A few minutes later the elite women came through. It was quite impressive to see the pace these athletes were putting down. There was something like 22 waves of runners and we learned later in the day that 575 runners had signed to run 100k. What's wrong with these people?? (Says the guy who strapped his bike to his back to portage the Grand Canyon during the 2016 AZTR750) 

There was a small gap in the runners so we made the most of it and got going. It was sometime before 8a. Our campsite was strategically placed, I wanted a short climb to start in the morning to help warm us up. That worked, but it also meant the next wave of runners would catch & pass us. They were all very polite and we didn't mind letting them get settled into their day's worth of punishment. One fella in particular, wearing a red shirt, passed me near the top of the climb. I figured I'd catch him easily on the ensuing singletrack since it was mostly level or downhill. Nope. This dude was cruising. I was only marginally gaining on him and by the time I had come close, we were all but done with the singletrack section. Surely, I'll blow right by him on the jeep road bit.
I paused at the windmill for Mike, then began pursuing red shirt guy.
It took much longer to catch & pass him that I thought. He was pushing the pace, I glanced down at my GPS....12+ mph give or take. I gave him some encouragement as I passed by, knowing I'd be seeing this guy again down the trail.
The start of the Antelope Creek section. A few runners dot the landscape ahead.
I got snared in a rare traffic stop while crossing Antelope Creek Rd. There was a race marshal there to halt traffic while the runners passed through. It's not a heavily traveled dirt road, but on this morning took a few minutes to get across. Again, there was a gap in the runners, so I dropped in. Mike had already moved on. I knew this section of trail was short, maybe I could pass a few runners on the next jeep road connection before the really fun twisty singletrack descent.

I was able to just that and caught up to Mike at the next singletrack junction. Runners were headed our way, let's go!!

I had just enough time to snap a riding pic when red shirt guy came up behind me. Gotta go!!
Mike and I had a good pace going through all the twists and turns, but it seemed each time I was able to look back, red shirt guy was right there. How is that possible?? Is he sprinting through here? It's a very narrow trail with a dropoff to one side and a rock face on the other. Not to mention the kitty litter surface. At any rate a mile or so into the downhill I stopped for another quick riding pic and he was right on my tail. I relented: 'You win!!' He chuckled as he jogged by. We didn't see him for a while after we gave that group of runners some space.

Red shirt guy in full glide mode.

We had the trail mostly to ourselves after the next road crossing. Photo by Mike.

A little bit of up before the long downhill to Bumble Bee.

Mike climbing out of another drainage turn.

Snack break and water top-off down at Bumble Bee creek. 

Classic shot over Bumble Bee creek with the mighty Bradshaws. We opted to bypass Bumble Bee Ranch, sticking to the BCT proper through here.

Huge mountain views, but pay attention to the trail!! It'll bite ya if you're not careful.

One of the many hillside contouring sections along this stretch of trail. Photo by Mike.

When people talk about the BCT, it's views like this that come to mind.

This may not look like much, but Arrastre Creek doesn't run dry very often.

Giving this tight right-hand switchback my best shot to no avail. Photo by Mike.

The BCT zips along some dirt road sections here & there.

While low, the Agua Fria River crossing north of Rock Springs was easy to cross.

Mike crossing one of the many rollover gates. A much welcomed addition over the years.

This is part of an 8 switchback climb from the river crossing. We opted to not detour to Rock Springs for resupply since we had plenty and were gunning for burritos in Anthem.

We'd be dropping right back down to the river.

Good place for a snack break. Since the river was flowing, we decided to top off water at the next crossing, about 10 miles south. No need to carry the extra weight up the Skyline climb.

Part way up the lower Skyline climb, look close, you can see the big rock from the previous picture.

The Skyline climb flattens out for a bit near the halfway point. Photo by Mike.

The upper portion of the climb twists & turns over itself it seems.

Mike beginning the runout on the Cheapshot segment.

This area is also attractive to the 4x4 crowd.

This was supposed to be the fourth & final major water crossing. First time I've ever seen it completely dry. There's usually at least a bit of water to hop over.

Luckily, the water was flowing underground and resurfaced only a few feet downstream from the photo above. The Agua Fria River is a reliable water source on the BCT. We topped off for the final push to Anthem, where we'd be spending the night.

It's sad to see these felled giants. That's a huge one!!

Climbing out of the Agua Fria basin.

Chalky singletrack.

The late afternoon light was fantastic.

Making our way up the Table Mesa climb, the last real hurdle of the entire route.

Saguaro alley.

This one is so big it looks like 2 or 3 morphed together.

Mike topping out on the Doe Valley climb, now it's practically all downhill to Anthem.

The big city is in the distant valley. Could we make Emery Henderson trailhead before needing lights??

Riding into a beautiful sunset.

Bikes rock!!
We almost made it to Emery Henderson, but had to flip on the lights with a mile or so to go. There was one runner nearby, no headlamp, and we couldn't believe he wasn't stumbling over the loose rock in the trail. This particular section has lots of softball sized rock.

What the?? I thought it was dead.
I rode beyond the snake and stopped. I walked back to it to take a closer look, it still hadn't moved. Then I saw the head slowly turn to the left, nope, not dead!! It was barely 60º now, in February, I couldn't believe this fella was out. It slowly made its way off the trail, so sluggish. Haha.

All coiled, but barely a hint of a rattle. Normally, these guys rattle like crazy giving plenty of warning.

What do we win?? The 100k event wrapped up at Emery Henderson TH.

Find your post-run bag here!! Lots of runners still out on course.

Stuff was everywhere, it was rather impressive.

We still had about 10 miles before our destination.

Biscuit Flat portion of the BCT isn't too noteworthy.
Mike decided to liven things up when he smacked a rock inadvertently, it knocked him to the right directly into a large Buckhorn Cholla. OUCH!! He spent a few minutes pulling spines out of his hand.

We pulled up our burrito destination on Google maps: Closes soon - 8p. We had 25 minutes to get there. A light rain began to fall as we crossed under I-17 along the Maricopa Trail. We hopped off route and rode up to the burrito joint at 7:50p. Whew! Made it. Ahhh, but the door is locked: CLOSED. The manager came over, poked his head out and I asked if they could make two more burritos for the evening. He apologized, but noted they just put disinfectant on the grill. Drat. Plan B wasn't too bad: cheesesteaks from next door. Boom!

If you follow the Tour Divide, then you know about the Brush Mountain Lodge in northern Colorado. Kirsten owns the place and is highly regarded as the best host along the entire route, I can concur after visiting during my 2019 attempt. She now has a place in the desert, directly on route along the Maricopa Trail!! I had reached out prior to our ride to see if we could camp in her yard if the timing worked out. She was all in and we set her place as our third night's destination. My buddy, Nate, was also there. We made the short ride from the shopping center over to her place under a blowing light rain.

Cold beers were in our hands almost immediately, then a bit later the hot tub was fired up. Talk about a great ending to the day's ride. Perfecto. We all hung out sharing stories of past rides and future plans.

Sometime around 2a the rain intensified on the metal overhang. Glad we were here since I didn't bring a tent or bivy!!

Bikeglamping?? I dunno, but it sure was nice waking up here.

Kirsten downing some morning coffee, she kept ours topped off all morning.
We weren't in any rush to get going. This was our last day and it was all easy riding and only 35 miles or so back to Mike's place.

Feeling the zen at Kirsten's. I can't wait until she can host riders like she did pre-pandemic. The no hug thing is killing her...and everyone who stops by!!

I told you her place was on-route!!

We jumped back on the Maricopa trail heading east.

Some neighborhood zigzagging on pavement pointed us south.

Our next batch of singletrack. The Phoenix Sonoran Preserve is split into a north & south unit. We'd ride a bit of both.

We made this on-the-fly change dropping down here instead of doing a loose, steep climb that we would've mostly hiked.

It paid off as we rode more of the flowy Ocotillo trail.

The route exits Ocotillo trail to this paved multi-use path. *This was another submitted change, stay on Ocotillo trail until the trailhead, they both lead to the same place.

Making the connection to the south unit of the preserve.

Route stays straight, dirt road goes right, no gate. Time for an upper body workout!!

Could this be the start of another crested Saguaro?

Leaving the south unit, the McDowell Mtns. way off in the distance is our destination.

Mike digging the descent off the saddle.
We dropped into a wash for a bit and I noticed a small partially obstructed no trespassing sign. Didn't really think much of it as there were no gates or fencelines. The area then spit out through a maze of dirt roads that seemed to be enjoyed by the OHV crowd. We were cruising the generally flat terrain.

Cave Creek Dam.

Cave Buttes Recreation Area.

While riding along this old pavement we watched a remote controlled airplane do a series of loops.
We could see Cave Creek Rd. up ahead, our turn and return to civilization, while the airplane came in for a smooth landing. A few minutes later we came to a locked gate. Hmmm. Mike climbed over since it was our only way out, but as I was getting ready to do the same, the RC plane operator pulled up and opened the gate. Perfect timing!! I took the easy way through.

We pedaled down the road a bit to a second locked gate. Climbed over that and then saw all the posted signs.

*NOTE: This entire portion has now been re-routed around the south unit and remote control airplane facility.*

I guess we really shouldn't have been in there. Definitely hard to tell coming in from the other side.

Fast pedaling along Cave Creek Rd.

Our next trail system: Reach 11. It's a series of wide dirt paths connecting sports facilities, playgrounds and drainage basins.

Hard to believe there's a major freeway on the other side of the berm.

See? There it is.

Back into the urban jungle.
A bit later we had one of the oddest trail encounters either of us could recall. There was an equestrian rider up ahead trotting in the same direction we were riding. We were still a ways behind her and I saw her turn around to acknowledge our presence. We slowed down to walking speed as we were nearing and she moved to the side of the trail to let us pass. I said hello and asked if we needed to dismount our bikes. No, that won't be necessary, she said. I thanked her as I slowly rode by, then as Mike rode by she raised her voice and began lecturing us about how 'we were goin' to be some of those bikers who ride up behind her too fast, causing her horse to buck her off and get hurt!!' Huh?? 

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I asked her what else did she want us to do? Mike even reiterated to her what we did: make eye contact, slow down, ask if we should dismount, pass slowly, keep talking, be polite. And yet, there we were, getting berated for something we 'could' have done. Uh, ok. Have a nice day.
Reach 11 ends and the urban bikepath takes over.

I'm sure the Scottsdale Fairmont wouldn't mind a couple of bikepackers.

Back at the McDowell Mtns. time to exit the main loop back to Mike's.

Paralleling the CAP, Central Arizona Project Canal, which brings Colorado River water to the Valley of the Sun.

Mike's seal of approval and my car is still parked in the street!!

Some post-ride refreshments while checking in at home.
Our route from Strava, going counter clockwise.

Full photo album here

Cool flyover in 3D from Ayvri.com (Zoom +/-, pan, and increase/decrease playback speed - fast forward through the camp stops)

First off, I'd like to thank Miles at Bikepacking.com for opening a dialogue about the issues we encountered during our ride. The fixes were relatively straightforward. The updated route now includes an optional loop to the northernmost section of the BCT including the Copper Mtn. Loop. Check it out.

Overall, the route exceeded our expectations since we had ridden almost 2/3 of it in segments over the years. Sheep's Bridge area is worthy of its own day trip. I'm so glad we were able to finally knock this one out, I may have to do it again sometime soon.

I really like the way our ride plan executed too. It was really 3 full days of riding for us, but breaking one of those days in half on days 1 & 4 really made the entire ride feel more relaxed.

I will say this, being a local desert dweller, I would be very careful if daytime temps got above 80º. Many areas feel 10 degrees hotter than the actual temperature, the BCT in particular. Water & shade can be scarce, be prepared.


  1. Great write up and photos. What time of year was this done? I see the official GPS was made in Feb. Possible to ride with any hope of dryness last week of January?

    1. We rode this in mid-February. Last week of January would be fine too. Expect cold nights and water availability is always in question no matter when you ride. There are reliable sources along the way: Sheep's Bridge, Cordes Lakes, Rock Springs and any of the southern area as it passes through Phoenix/Scottsdale. The big question is the Agua Fria along the Black Canyon Trail portion. There's usually water, but it's been very dry this fall/winter. I believe you can get water at the Bumble Bee Ranch, but you either have to pay or be a guest there?? It would make a good camp location, so that may be a good option.

  2. Cool write up. I think I rode a partial loop from Browns to Bumblebee right before that foot race as they were still setting up.