November 11, 2023

Mt. Graham: S'Mores Lite Shuttle

 Mt. Graham, one of southern Arizona's Sky Islands, has been getting a major facelift as far as trail access goes. The fine folks at Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists, SDMB, have been putting in some huge volunteer hours to bring these trails back to life. They were even mentioned in a recent year-end article on I had been following some of the projects, but hadn't been down that way as it's a 4 hour drive each way.

Team Loco decided it was overdue for a board meeting. Shannon, Beto and I worked out a date and met at the bottom of the mountain. Our plan was to ride the S'mores Shuttle route, not the more popular Graham Cracker route. The only difference I could see was the S'mores route went to the top of Mt. Graham, a bit over 10,000' in elevation, that was a good enough incentive for me. The catch? I'd be riding my Voodoo singlespeed since my geared bike was currently out of action. It's mostly downhill anyway, how hard could it be?? Famous last words, right? Which reminds me of our first time riding Mt. Graham on Ash Creek.

We staged one car at the bottom of our route, at the Noon Creek picnic area. We'd begin our ride near the top at the Shannon Campground. No, that is not a misprint. See photo:

Shannon doing her thing.

I started mashing the 32x20 gear. Photo by Shannon.

Oof. The road was a bit too much for my legs / lungs as we neared 10,000'. Hike-a-bike mode activated.

Mt. Graham summit peeks out from the charred remains from the 2017 Frye Fire.
I eventually caught up with Beto & Shannon while they were snacking, having already been to the high point and back. They didn't have to walk any of the climb!! We were now ready to begin our downhill portion of the ride beginning with the steep, rugged Heliograph Trail. It drops almost 600' in 3/4 mile.

Shannon gets rolling.

Beto making quick work of the upper section.

This was a nice change of pace over the early, giant bouldery bits. Starting to feel some flow.

Lots of rocks to navigate on the Heliograph trail, but the lower portion actually had some good lines.

Biker in the mist. Looks like a cool painting to me. Photo by Shannon.

We join the Arcadia trail. Don't be fooled by the buttery smooth dirt on the right, Heliograph trail, it's a doozy. What would Arcadia bring?

How about a big mountain descent kind of feel?

Yes, please. The grins were beginning to stick.

Beto dodges some outcroppings.

The tread work was apparent and riding was phenomenal.

The Voodoo was enjoying the action too.

The chunk on Arcadia was mild compared to Heliograph. Photo by Shannon.
We could hear some voices up ahead and it took a few minutes to catch up to them. Turns out it was a large group of riders from the Valley and I heard my name mentioned a few times. It was a couple of friends I've ridden with at Hawes & Gold Canyon over the years. They had a rather large group and were getting ready for some drone footage.
The only other riders we saw all day, plus one other guy later.

The grade eases momentarily. Photo by Shannon.

We've been descending for a while and still feel miles above the valley floor.

Shannon cruising through a field of season ending ferns.

Imagine this fern covered slope in August. Go ahead.

Unburnt trees!! I felt like we transported to the Six Shooter trail on Pinal Mtn. near Globe.

Beto is all smiles as the fun continues.

Still towering over the Gila Valley below.

So many nooks and crannies tucked into this mountain.

The trail tread was in remarkable condition the entire way down Arcadia. Photo by Shannon.

Who left their bike in the middle of the trail?? Me, that's who. I had to eject when my front wheel washed out on a tight switchback. Photo by Shannon.

Fall colors littering the hillside. Photo by Shannon.

Nearing the Arcadia Campground after more than 3,000' of descending.
We rejoined the pavement for our next leg of the ride. We'd be climbing up the main road, AZ366, for about 2 1/2 miles. My legs were already feeling a bit taxed and I wasn't exactly looking forward to trying to mash the singlespeed up the road. Beto offered to swap bikes for the paved climb and I gladly accepted. Then he took off...zoom!!

Traffic was low and scenery high. Win.

The Turkey Flat trail generally climbed, some sections were rideable, but there was also a fair amount of hike-a-bike before we reached the Ladybug trail.

Hard to believe we started up near Heliograph Peak a few hours earlier.

Awkward down tree that I slid the Voodoo under. Photo by Shannon.

Arriving at the Ladybug trail. Photo by Shannon.

This ridge was a bit more lush with vegetation.

Bombs away!!

The forested sections were often silky smooth.

Some cool trail routing too.

There was a short punchy climb to get up here, then the downhill resumed. Photo by Shannon.

We were about to drop down to the saddle pictured, it was steep, a bit loose and some extremely tight switchbacks. I think we all walked this section. At least it was short.

Looking east toward New Mexico.

The trail felt like it was carved into the mountainside. Photo by Shannon.

Heavy dose of rock work here.

AZ366 snakes its way up the mountain.

I came around a corner to find Beto pulling his bike back onto the trail. He clipped a rock, taking a tumble.

The rear derailleur didn't fare so well. Singlespeed time. At least we were nearing the bottom of Ladybug.
The car wasn't parked too far away and we all agreed to end the ride instead of tacking on the final short loop. Beto's bike wasn't fully functional and my legs were about done.

Trail crew was out earlier in the day working the lower turns of Ladybug.

Shannon blending in with the fall colors.

Noon Creek was flowing!!

End of the line for Ladybug.

One final short dirt connection back to AZ366 where we could coast down to our car.
We were all blown away by the quality of the ride and the overall fun factor. I think next time I'll do the Graham Cracker route, skipping the climb up to Heliograph trail. I'll also be sure to add the final loop that we missed. If you ride any trail on Mt. Graham, be sure it's Arcadia trail. Ladybug was good too, but a bit more work to get there and a bit more rough of a ride, but the bottom half flowed much better than the top.

EDIT: Shannon reminded me to tell anyone who wants a decent meal after the ride to check out Trailhead Hideaway Bar & Grille. We stopped by since Safford was out of the way for Shannon & Beto on their drive home. We opted for chicken wings and fries which were fantastic!! It's located right at the junction of AZ366 and US191.