October 6, 2023

AZT: Blue Ridge Bypass

 October was here, the start of the AZTR was only a couple weeks away and once again, I was on the move. This time heading north to rim country to assess a prescribed burn re-route around the Blue Ridge Passage of the AZT. A lightning strike over a month earlier ignited a wildfire, the Still Fire. It was now under control, but the forest service used this opportunity to turn it into a prescribed burn for the area. What that meant was, the AZT was officially closed at the south end where the AZT split off the Fred Haught trail of the Cabin Loop trail system. It was closed all the way to the crossing of AZ87, some 13 or so miles to the north.

The Still Fire bypass would actually cut through the burn area on an open corridor along FS95. I asked around to see if anyone wanted to join me so we could set up a shuttle and do a point-to-point ride. Beverly, aka: Bevinator or Bev, wanted to come along. We drove north to the Mogollon Rim Ranger Station where FS95 joins AZ87 near the AZT. As we approached, the smoke became apparent. In the parking lot it was fairly thick and for a moment we had second thoughts about the ride. We both had face coverings and figured we'd only encounter smoke over the final miles of the ride on relatively fast dirt roads. We loaded up Bev's truck and backtracked to FS300, Rim Rd.

We started out on FS218A & FS218, much better than a punchy climb on FS300 out of the gate.

FS300 was relatively quiet for a Friday.

Bev enjoying one of the fantastic overlooks.

The General Crook trail has been getting some work done recently. Could be the next destination trail in Rim Country.

Most of the road activity was from logging trucks.

FS300 is such a great ride on a clear, not-so-busy day.
We reached the junction with the Arizona Trail and Cabin Loop trail system around mile 13. Perfect time for a snack break before taking on a few miles of moderately difficult singletrack.
General Springs Cabin, built in 1918.

AZT was riding good.

We found water a little ways down the trail, first crossing or two were dry.

So good to be riding in the pines. Lots of great trail up here.

Long arm selfie.

Bev cruising the AZT.

AZT goes left into the shadows, Fred Haught trail continues straight.
This was where the official AZT trail closure began, but not a single sign. Had we not known ahead of time, we would've assumed the AZT was open and everything was normal. No smoke to be seen or smelled. I was expecting to see police tape across the trail or some indication the AZT was closed. 

We found out after the ride the fire crews were actively igniting burn operations along the AZT corridor on this day. Makes the lack of signage all the more strange...and unsafe.

We continued along the Fred Haught trail now officially beginning our bypass route. I've ridden the Cabin Loop trails many times over the years, so this section was nothing new. We crested a rubbly hike-a-bike section then enjoyed a long gradual descent before another short climb.

Long cruising downhill here.

There are four main trails in the Cabin Loop Trail System: Fred Haught, Houston Brothers, Ubar and Barbershop. There's also a short spur to Buck Springs Cabin on the east side of the system. Each trail has some wonderful sections and some hike-a-bike.

The run-out on a long steep descent to FS95.

The FS95 blowout. There are no plans to rebuild the road. It's astounding the amount of earth that was displaced here. That crushed metal tube used to tunnel under the roadbed high above. For now, it's a short down/up hike-a-bike, but easy enough to get through.

Clear, cool water was flowing from Aspen Spring near Pinchot Cabin. Time to top off.

Pinchot Cabin as we begin Ubar trail.

There wasn't much deadfall, but it seemed to all be right here!! Obstacle course!!

Then more buffed out singletrack.

The singletrack of Ubar led us here, FS139 where we'd turn north. This was now new-to-me terrain.

We merged with FS95 and began a long, fast descent towards East Clear Creek.

At the bottom of Babershop Canyon.

East Clear Creek, not so clear today, but beautiful nontheless.

Steady, but very rideable climbing grade on the north side. Still no sign of smoke and we were now 28 miles into our ride, barely 5 miles remaining.

Back up on the ridge, we finally came across some smoldering areas.

The air was still mostly clear. Bonus!!

More hotspots ahead.

It seemed a bit surreal to see some campfire sized fires as we rode by.

The riding was fast through here and the air stayed almost entirely clear. There was one section, maybe a quarter mile long that we had to cover our faces, but that was it.

We popped out on AZ87 just north of the ranger station. Mission complete.

Water is available at the ranger station if you're ever passing through the area.
This route ended up being really good. Fun, yet challenging singletrack along the Cabin Loops as expected, followed by well maintained dirt roads that passed through some magnificent areas. This would be a fine option to make a loop using the AZT. Loop could be ridden in either direction. For the loop, I'm referring to the final 17 miles of this ride from when we split off the AZT at the Fred Haught trail. You could add a short out-n-back along the AZT to General Springs Cabin / FS300 along the rim too.

*Three weeks later, when the AZTR riders began arriving to the area, the AZT had reopened and this bypass wasn't needed, but I'm glad we rode it.


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