Desert mountain biking: The Black Canyon Trail

Not too far from the high altitudes and colder temperatures of Flagstaff lies the northern edge of the Sonoran Desert. A short drive of just 90 minutes will place you in the desert with Saguaro and other cacti. Here one can enjoy the winter months as the temperatures are much warmer than those found in northern Arizona and dry days vastly outnumber wet days.

 

Desert riding on the Black Canyon Trail.
Desert riding on the Black Canyon Trail.

 

We had been planning on a mountain bike ride on the Black Canyon Trail once the desert temperatures cooled. With light winds, mild temperatures, and clear skies expected this week it was time to visit the BCT. Since this trail is approximately 78 miles long we had to choose which section we would ride. We selected the Black Canyon City trailhead and rode the Horseshoe Bend segment, the Skyline segment, and portions of the Cheapshot segment before running out of time and returning the way we came.

This is desert riding and cactus will reach out and puncture your tires¬†if you aren’t careful. Apparently, I was not careful but at least I¬†didn’t notice I was losing air until the ride was over. Upon inspection¬†of the tube I found half a dozen punctures. Ouch!

 

Gazing down at the Agua Fria River from the Black Canyon Trail.
Gazing down at the Agua Fria River from the Black Canyon Trail.

The descent down to the Agua Fria River is one of the highlights of this segment and the river and canyon are quite spectacular. Luckily there was only a very light flow of water in the river. After winter storms there could be substantial water flowing through here making the crossing difficult. But not today.

 

Horseshoe Bend section of the Agua Fria River.
Horseshoe Bend section of the Agua Fria River.

 

By and large, the tread on this section of BCT is smooth and is beginner difficulty. On the other hand, there is substantial exposure where a fall could be painful resulting in an overall rating of intermediate for these sections. Riding along with the edge only a foot or two away from your wheel gives one strong motivation to ride a careful line.

 

Dry wash crossing on the Cheapshot section of the Black Canyon Trail.
Dry wash crossing on the Cheapshot section of the Black Canyon Trail.

 

I suppose we could have ridden harder and faster and covered more¬†territory in the time that we had. On the other hand, it’s more the¬†journey than the destination so we took our time to enjoy the beautiful¬†hills, pleasant weather, and very high quality mountain bike track.

Biking the Rainbow Rim Trail along the edge of the Grand Canyon

In late June we packed our bikes and camping gear and headed to the Kaibab Plateau so we could mountain bike on the Rainbow Rim Trail. We’ve done this trail before but it’s such a great ride with amazing views that it’s always worth the long drive.

It takes about four hours to get to the trail head from Flagstaff. The last hour of driving is on Forest Service gravel roads through the aspen, pine, spruce, and fir forests of the high plateau of the Kaibab. We went to the south end of the trail at Timp Point and set up camp on the edge of the rim overlooking the Grand Canyon. After a quick lunch we were on the trail heading north.

The Rainbow Rim Trail (RRT) is about 18 miles from end to end with five points along the trail. From south to north they are Timp Point, North Timp Point, Locust Point, Fence Point, and Parissawampitts Point.

Riding along the edge of the Grand Canyon on the Rainbow Rim Trail.
Riding along the edge of the Grand Canyon on the Rainbow Rim Trail.

Each point delivers you a stunning view of the Grand Canyon. Between the points the trail heads in a generally eastward direction as it contours around side canyons. And it is these side canyons that are the most interesting. Because they are oriented east-west there is substantial shade in the canyons resulting in a cooler micro-climate. The south and shady  sides of these canyons are filled with aspen groves as well as spruce and fir trees while the sunnier north sides have ponderosa pine and even juniper and pinyon trees. We even found some wild strawberry plants.

Lush forest found in the side canyons traversed by the Rainbow Rim Trail.
Lush forest found in the side canyons traversed by the Rainbow Rim Trail.

There are no large cities near the Kaibab Plateau hence there are no city lights. The nights are exceptionally dark and the stars are brilliant. Take some time to just lie back and stare up at the sky. It’s good for your soul.

The night sky as seen from the Kaibab Plateau.
The night sky as seen from the Kaibab Plateau.

The Arizona Trail (AZT)  also traverses the Kaibab Plateau. Whereas the RRT is along the west edge of the Plateau the AZT is closer to the east edge but only overlooks the edge of the canyon in one location. In that regard, the RRT trumps the AZT.

The Jacob Lake District of the Kaibab National Forest has an informational page about this trail including access points, maps, and mileage.

Springtime mountain biking at Bootleg Canyon

Although Bootleg Canyon Mountain Bike Park, located near Boulder City, Nevada, has been well-known and popular as a mountain biking area for a fairly long time I only recently learned of it. IMBA includes Bootleg Canyon as one of their Epics — rides that show what is possible for trail recreation on public lands.

Mountain biking trails in Bootleg Canyon: Inner Caldera.
Mountain biking trails in Bootleg Canyon: Inner Caldera.

 

On a couple of cool spring days with clear blue skies and breezy winds we set out on some of the beginner and intermediate trails to learn a bit about this area. The cross-country trails are great fun with ups-and-downs, some tight twisty turns as well as flowing single track lines, and some fun technical sections.

Mountain biking trails in Bootleg Canyon: I.M.B.A.
Mountain biking trails in Bootleg Canyon: I.M.B.A.

 

The DH lines are far more challenging and, well, we didn’t try those. Not this time, at least. Perhaps another visit.

Mountain biking trails in Bootleg Canyon: West Leg.
Mountain biking trails in Bootleg Canyon: West Leg.

 

It’s amazing to be riding these desert trails and then look off into the distance and be able to see the glitter of Las Vegas in one direction, Lake Mead in another, and the rugged mountains in yet another.

We’ll be back.