April 14, 2023

A Sheepish Loop

 Ever since Mike & I rode the Fool's Loop a couple years ago, I've been wanting to do a big day ride loop out to Sheep's Bridge. It overlaps the Fool's Loop for the first 44 miles, going in a CCW direction, then returns towards the town of Carefree via Seven Springs Rd. for a total of 74 miles and about 8000' of gain.

I had gone up to Carefree a couple of weeks ago to do this ride but didn't really dig into the day's weather. The temps were ideal, but when I hopped out of my car the wind was howling!! Nope. Not today. I hoped I'd get another chance before the heat kicked in and sure enough, I did.

I also really wanted to see the water release at Horshoe Reservoir. If you click the Fool's Loop link above, you'll see how low Horseshoe Reservoir was only two years ago. Now, it was overflowing!! The best part is, in order to cross Horshoe Dam, you have to cross 'under' the water!!

I almost slept in the morning of the ride, but I got going and made it up to the start about 45 minutes later than I originally planned.

The first few miles are paved, a fast downhill, then a 5 mile grind.

The road turns to dirt, then begins a long, washboarded descent to the valley below. This hill seems like it would suck to climb, especially with traffic. No thanks.

The hillsides were painted yellow by Brittlebush and poppies.

The golf ball sits atop Humbolt Mtn, which I'll be riding around today.

The Verde River running high this spring.

I missed my turn to Horseshoe Dam, but ended up with a fantastic view of the reservoir. Bonus mile FTW!!

Whoa!! That's a massive release. From afar, you couldn't see the flow.

Here's the best part, you get to cross underneath it!! It was deafening.

Feel the power!!

It was so loud I never heard my bike fall over!! Haha.

Quite impressive from the opposite side.

Brittlebush were out in force.

On top of the dam.

It's so great to see our rivers not only flowing, but flowing full!!

One last overview before moving on.
I passed by a sign indicating Sheep's Bridge was 12 miles away. The dirt road was under a nice canopy of trees and as I rounded a corner I heard something next to me in the brush. It was a large Javelina!! Cool!! It scrambled a bit then shot across the road and disappeared. Way too quick for a photo, but neat to see.
I'm guessing this was impassable a few weeks ago. The Lupines were feasting on the moisture.

It's been amazing to see the wildflower coverage this year and how long the flower season has lasted.

Reservoir coming back into view.

Pretty sure this was dry last time I was here.

Horseshoe Dam on the left side of the Saguaro.

Found this fella sunning himself across the road. He wasn't too keen on the photo, but he looks much better than lying in a straight line!!

Deadman Creek.

Approaching Sheep's Bridge. The water damage was evident.
The Verde River was running high, but clearly had receded from it's max flow level. I initially started to make my way to the bridge by staying high and right near the rock wall, but soon found that wasn't going to work. I navigated through a bit of mud to reach a dry spot which then connected over to the bridge, it wasn't visible at first. A short scramble brought me up to access level.
I'd be riding along Chalk Creek Rd. after crossing the bridge.

Anchored in!!

Some history of the bridge before entering.

Must've been a sight to see a massive herd of sheep funneling across the bridge.

It's an impressive sight no matter if you're below, above or on it.

Nice place to make camp for a weekend.

I entered from the left side of the photo.

The hot spring was hot & clear. This photo looks like a drone took it.

Classic shot.
I had taken note, it was 31 miles to get here and about 2400' of gain. That meant the final 43 miles had a boat load of climbing, let's go!!
Up, up and away.

The elevation was stacking up quickly, but it was rideable and no traffic except for the occasional moto or SXS, all were super cool.

There's gold in them thar hills.

There were enough undulations to give the legs a break and cover ground quickly.

This is what typically happens to abandoned vehicles in the AZ backcountry. #pewpew

Tangle Creek made a perfect place for a snack & water top-off.

Runoff from Frog Spring.

If the poppies are going to be this amazing, I'm going to keep taking their picture.

Cue the Great Western Trail joke here: It's Western.
This was the turn off the Fool's Loop portion of the ride onto FS24, Seven Springs Rd. I was now 44 miles into the day and feeling pretty good, but I knew the next 11 miles or so were generally uphill. From here to the Seven Springs CG was all new-to-me terrain which is always welcome, but I had no idea how long it would take. It was 30 miles back to the car.

I started up Roundtree Canyon to the sound of running water next to the road. There was one steeper grade that I walked for a bit, but otherwise the riding was good.
It's a mini Bell Rock, aka CP Butte, from Sedona over the top of an early climb.

Beginning the climb to Lockwood Mesa.

Looking back over 51 Ranch and the route I rode in on.

It wasn't as steep as it looks.

I just love the rugged beauty of Arizona.

For the most part the road surface was good. Still minimal traffic.
I caught up to a SXS rider I had seen down at Sheep's Bridge, one of his belts broke and he was sitting roadside waiting for his wife to return with their truck & trailer. He laughed it off and said I was going to beat him to the finish. He was right!!
Mile 55 and cresting the final major climb near Blackjack Point.

Abandoned vehicle #2. Must be recent since it isn't riddled with bullet holes!!
It was a long, fast downhill off Magazine Mesa and the miles zipped by. I wasn't exactly sure when I'd reach Seven Springs CG, but it arrived soon enough.
Back to familiar surroundings!!

Cave Creek doing its thing.

Leaving the campground area and kinda rejoining civilization as the dirt road was clearly more manicured and traffic increased in spite of the setting sun.

Fade to dirt.
During this portion of the ride it became obvious the drivers I encountered were from the big city. Not one of the dozen or so vehicles even hinted at slowing down as they zoomed past me. One fella in particular practically drifted around a corner. Knowing this, I stayed far to the right and put my light on early for visibility, not for me, for them. It was the worst part of the entire ride, but at least I wasn't climbing, the riding was fairly fast.

Fading light over Four Peaks as the final miles turn back to pavement.

The last couple of miles went by quick, finishing on fast pavement was nice.
I rolled up to the car a few minutes before needing my lights, what a day!! I'm so glad I made it out for this loop in these conditions. The water release at Horseshoe Reservoir was a real highlight of the ride. The wildflowers continued to amaze and it's always great to experience Sheep's Bridge. This route would make a real nice overnight loop, camping at Sheep's Bridge. Something to consider going forward.

Strava link.