March 25, 2022

BCT: Ash Creek - Russian Well Looping

 I recently stumbled upon an article online talking about a new trail extension along the Black Canyon Trail, BCT, north of Orme Rd. Say whaaa?? In the article a hiker went out from a small trailhead south of SR169, taking the General Crook trail east until it met with the new BCT. Their total round-trip hike was 7 miles. I didn't see a date on the publication, but figured it was fairly recent.

I asked Kelly if she wanted to check it out, knowing we'd probably ride to the current end-of-trail, then have to backtrack. We were both on board and our Plan B ride would be the Copper Mtn. Lollipop down the road.

It was a bit warm in the Valley, but we were heading a few thousand feet higher and much cooler temps greeted us. We found the small trailhead off S. Old Cherry Rd. The General Crook trail cuts right through the lot. 

General Crook trailhead.

We hopped on the trail going east as the hiker did and were immediately greeted with deep sand. Ugh. Twenty or so feet later, we could pedal, let's see if this gets better. It did, but it was obvious, this trail didn't get much usage. We generally stayed straight following the cairns.

I was also trying out my new Garmin Edge530 for the first time and didn't know how to get the mileage to display!! Kelly had a Garmin watch, so I kept asking her how far we had gone so we had a sense of where the hiker turned around.

The General Crook trail had a little bit of hike-a-bike, some rubble and vague trail, but mostly easy to follow. The BCT was already signed when we reached it a little over a mile into our ride.

New northern terminus of the BCT...for now.
Eventually, the BCT will extend all the way to Camp Verde!! I've also heard rumors of a spur trail linking to the Prescott area trails. That would be rad AF.

Soft, lumpy, fresh tread, but it rode fine.

Climbing through some cool rock formations.
I didn't bother taking a bunch of pics since we both figured we could grab more on the way back...

Nicely contoured trail through the foothills.

You almost didn't notice you were climbing.
We had gone well past where the hiker had turned around and sections of the trail tread were fairly packed in. How much farther would the new trail go??

This is most definitely the high desert.

Another wonderful climb.
We were now closing in on 6 miles and I thought I could see Orme Rd. on a near ridgeline. I checked Trailforks and sure enough we were about a mile north of it. We both decided if the trail were to end abruptly, we'd go cross-country to reach the dirt road and make a loop out of it.

The trail tractor, must be nearing the end.

One of four new rollover gates, we only had to open one gate on the BCT & one on General Crook.
We could now see the old northern terminus trailhead off Orme Rd. below us, the trail is gonna connect!! We were both surprised and stoked!!

New BCT dumping out onto Orme Rd.
A couple years ago I scouted a portion of the AZ1000 route through this area, so I knew we had an all dirt connection back to SR169, then around the north side of the highway until reaching Cherry Rd.

There was another new 4 1/2 miles of singletrack south of Orme Rd. that has replaced some bumpy jeep roads, but it was getting warm so we opted to save that for another ride. Speaking of which, it got my brain going about how to link all the new stuff together. One week later, I did exactly that. See the continuation of this post.

Orme Rd. brings you back to SR169, where you can get on this: Old Cherry Rd.

There are a few false summits, but some fun downhill sections.
We arrived at Cherry Rd. where we'd cruise downhill on pavement for about a half mile to SR169 again. Crossing the highway was the dirt road we drove in on to reach the General Crook trailhead. It ended up being a really nice loop. Get up there and put more tires on the new tread!!


As mentioned above, I put together a route combining my old northern terminus loop with the new one for a 56 mile figure 8 starting from the Big Bug trailhead off SR69. I put a couple feelers out to see if anyone wanted to join in the fun. Jeff, Nancy, Ben & Ian were all game. The day before, I rode the 30 mile Ripsey Loop and was curious to see how my legs would respond.

Aside from the bigger mileage by adding the lower loop, the other difference in this ride over the one a week earlier was we'd be riding all the dirt road sections first and finishing on the BCT.

The first 10 miles are fast as we follow Old Sycamore Rd. north.

The buffed grading on Orme Rd.
Like the previous ride we hopped over SR169 along Old Cherry Rd. to Cherry Rd. and onto the General Crook trail. I noticed how in one week's time it was already riding better!! There was a small group of hikers exiting the trail as we arrived. I guess the word is out.

A clear section of General Crook.

Nancy riding through the vague section right before it links up with the BCT.

Fantastic routing and trail building through here. The Prickly Pears even grow right out of the rocks!!

Ian a little higher up the grade.

Over the top I go. Photo by Ben.

Ian glides across smooth trail in a sea of lava rock.

Heck yeah!! Photo by Ben.

Find the riders on the ribbon of singletrack.

You really feel 'out there' on this entire section.
We reached Orme Rd. and I noticed the tractor from the pic way above wasn't there. Hopefully, more trail is coming soon!! We now began the new 4 1/2 miles of trail south of Orme Rd. This section was built sometime in 2021 I believe.

Big sweeping turns up this open grade.

Descending towards Osborne Spring Wash.

Up we go, again on perfect climbing grade. The BCT gets it.

Cresting out with a view. There were a series of fast fun switchbacks on the other side.
We linked up with a short rugged jeep road section that dropped us into Russian Well.

Remnants of a structure at Russian Well.

The tank was almost full, but we couldn't see how to access the water.

Jeff leads the charge!!

Agua Fria River was flowing well and rideable.

Ben making a valiant effort to clean this steep sandy climb. So close!!
I was starting to feel the accumulation from the prior day's ride. I asked Jeff if he wanted to bypass the Copper Mtn. Loop and save a few miles. I think he thought about it, but then mentioned how he and Nancy have never ridden it. What?!? That settled it, we were doing it, even if I had to crawl around it. Ben had also never ridden it. Off we went.

It's a steady climb to here, but the views are ok. :)

Jeffro approved!! Photo by Ben.

More well executed contouring. This BCT option has gotten a lot of love over the years. It used to be a tangle of catclaw and Manzanita, no more!! Nary a scratch.

Jeff loved the first half of the loop, I didn't want to tell him it got better, so I let him find out for himself.

There's a good mix of tech riding thrown in before this long descent. I still recommend riding the Copper Mtn. Loop in the CCW direction.
We rejoined the BCT with only a couple miles to go. My legs were done, yet I found a way to drag my bike over the final pitch without walking.


Strava link.
Route flyover via

Put this one on your list and go ride it!! It's higher elevation so the ride season lasts a bit longer compared to the Valley.

March 18, 2022

North Rita Loop

 I know when I send Scott a blank check I could be diving down the rabbit hole: Do you have any ride plans tomorrow? The only real caveat on this question was I needed to be home 'around' dinner. The first idea involved the Elephant Head trail and scrambling to the summit...if possible. Sounded like I should camp out for that endeavor!! Scott followed that up by emailing me a gpx track from a portion of a bikepacking route Andrew & Katie Strempke rode recently. I was out scouting a new trail at the time and was very intrigued by what I would find.

As soon as I opened the track I knew it was a GO. It was a 38 mile loop around the north end of the Santa Rita Mountains just south of Tucson. It's an amazing area and I had only really rode the Arizona Trail through there and some dirt roads a bit farther south. At first glance though, it was showing over 8,000' of gain!! Whoa!! Then I noticed some elevation data was missing. A quick correction and it adjusted down near half of that. I sent Scott the go ahead and readied myself for an early morning departure.

I made the 2+ hour drive south arriving pretty much on schedule. In all my years living in AZ, I had never driven down I-19 and forgot all the distance markers were in kilometers. I found Scott & Eszter's camp location, sweet view I might add and we rolled out shortly before 9a. There was a fair amount of this route that was new to all three of us, which is getting harder to do!!

A short zigzag on forest roads brought us here: Box Canyon Rd. where a bunch of baby cows were roaming about.

I'll give you one guess where this road is heading.

Scott & I split by Baboquivari Peak in the distance. Photo by Ez.

The main climb up Box Canyon was superb. Santa Cruz Valley behind. Photo by Ez.

Scott thought he spotted a cave...nope, a small arch!!

We all agreed, we'd love to see this as a raging waterfall!! Photo by Ez.

Me capturing Ez, capturing Scott.

Cruising along. Photo by Ez.
We eventually topped out and began a gentle descent on the east side of the pass. The track Scott sent my veered left at a road crossing, but hold on...we're going to stay straight and deviate from the brochure route. Have I been duped? Did I bring enough food & water? Lights? Then Scott informed me we'd simply be catching 5 great miles of AZT in the proper direction, only adding a few miles from the track I had. Whew!! I had visions of getting epic'd dancing in my head!!

Seemed only a few minutes later we arrived at the AZT crossing on Box Canyon Rd. and for some reason I had it in my head we'd be linking to the AZT at some other location. Not sure why I thought that since we were on Box Canyon Rd., one I've ridden many times from the opposite direction. Coming over the pass from the west really messed with my orientation of the area at first, but once on the AZT all was reset.

There were a few hikers hanging out at the trail crossing checking out a ginormous trail magic cache. It was incredibly well stocked for through hikers, even had toothpaste & toothbrushes at some point!! We were good on our hygiene and hydration so we moved along.

Ahh, AZT singletrack and the towering Mt. Wrightson. Photo by Ez.

Photo by Ez.

Trust me, there IS a trail!! Photo by Ez.

Nice to see a bit of snow up high too. Photo by Ez.

See? There's the trail.

Interesting colors this time of year.

My well vented sun sleeves!! Photo by Ez.

The Santa Rita grasslands are something to behold.

Scott gliding some singletrack.

Ez already scheming the next prime photo op.

Our guess was an equestrian event of some sort as we passed a few route markers.

Dwarfed in the grasslands. Photo by Ez.

A rare singletrack photo while riding.

Ez drops down the final pitch on the AZT before our turn up Helvetia Rd. Photo by Scott.

Somewhere along Helvetia Rd. beyond Rosemont Junction, a fine water source.

Gunsight Pass is closed, we headed towards Sycamore Canyon & Lopez Pass.

A short climb to a saddle, not Lopez Pass as that was higher up a probable hike-a-bike route.

Scott dropping down Sycamore Canyon.

 Slightly different angle. Photo by Ez.

Ez's turn with all the mountains of Tucson. PeakFinder app.

It took a few hours, but we finally had a short bit of hike-a-bike!! Photo by Scott.

One Tree Hill. I like this version better than the TV series.

I believe it was along this part of the route where we all declared gravel bikes would not enjoy this route!!

More proof as the chunk-o-meter rises. Photo by Ez.

Sure was a cool canyon.

It didn't take long before we were back contouring the hillsides.

Found a few short steep pitches along here.

Glimpses of Tucson can be seen in the far valley.

Solid rock climb. Photo by Scott.

Traction was easy to come by on this hill. Photo by Ez.

Ez making quick work of the grade.

The reward? A steep-ish, loose rock littered descent!! I almost put the bike down on a couple of occasions.

Cave? Lava tube?
We passed by the deserted Johnson Ranch and began to wonder if we couldn't cut a bit of the route via powerline road.

We started down this one, but immediately realized we turned too soon. Next left.

Bluejay Mine.
We found our turn and proceeded with cautious optimism. Down, up, down, up, etc. First gate: good, second gate: good, then an obvious no trespassing sign killed our hopes. Back we went, but Scott recalled seeing some tire tracks heading down a wash we crossed. It would save some hike-a-bike on the utility corridor we just rode, so why not check it out.

It was rocky at first, then quite sandy. But it was slightly downhill and rideable. Win!!

Can't be all bad. Exiting the wash and about to rejoin our original gps line. Course found!! Photo by Scott.

Our successful wash gamble put us here. A long steady uphill pedal.
We were cruising along as a cattle guard approached, Ez was slightly ahead when Scott yelled out: Snake!!! Gah!! Thankfully Ez was on the left side of the cattle guard while a Diamondback Rattler was coming out of the right side. Never saw one in a cattle guard before.

Ez grabbing some shots from a safe distance.

Zoom lenses are nice...and safe!! Photo by Ez.

It went back down in the cattle guard after our photoshoot. Photo by Ez.

My pic isn't nearly as impressive.

We cut a small corner of the route near Huerfano Butte to check on a water source, it was full.

The notable Elephant Head.
The long steady climb finally relented as the road veered west. The miles ticked off quicker over the undulating terrain.

One final climb before finishing on a short downhill back to camp.
Take note: No lights needed!! We wrapped up the ride around 4:30p, that's almost unheard of. This was such a fun route. The climbing was very rideable, great views, some fun downhills and 5 sublime miles of AZT. It's definitely a mountain bike route.

Always a good time sharing bike time with Scott & Eszter, who knows where the next ride will be?

Snapped this on the way north on I-19, seems so odd.
Route flyover via