Desert mountain biking in southwest Utah

Longer days and warmer weather combined to send us off to southwest Utah for a couple days of mountain biking. We made our first mountain biking trip to this area last fall and had a blast riding the trails—so it was time for a return trip.

View of Zion National Park from the trailhead on Gooseberry Mesa.
View of Zion National Park from the trailhead on Gooseberry Mesa.

We left Flagstaff on a Monday morning and arrived at Gooseberry Mesa by early afternoon. After a quick lunch at the trailhead we started off on Windmill Trail. A short distance brings you to the north edge of the mesa with amazing views to the north—and down.

View from the edge of Windmill Trail.
View from the edge of Windmill Trail.

It doesn’t take long before the trail veers away from the edge and takes you through ramps, chutes, small hills, and steps on a high-traction surface. (The geologic name for this rock is Shinarump Conglomerate.) There are no long uphills here—but many short and quick ascents and descents.

Descending one of the numerous "rollers."
Descending one of the numerous “rollers.”
Rolling into a sandstone bowl.
Rolling into a sandstone bowl.

Finding the route through here is as easy as following the painted dots on the rock.

Follow those dots!
Follow those dots!
More bowls.
More bowls.

The trail ends on the west end of the mesa at The Point which provides a magnificent view of the Virgin River valley as well as the Hurricane Cliffs trail system.

View from Gooseberry Mesa Point.
View from Gooseberry Mesa Point.

On Tuesday we headed for the Hurricane Cliffs Trail System. These trails are at a lower elevation than Gooseberry Mesa and it was a bit warmer—although still comfortable. We headed up Jem Trail, connected to Crytobiotic, and then on the newer Dead Ringer. This would take us to the top of the mesa where we could connect with the More Cowbells trails.

Hurricane Cliffs trail system: Jem Trail.
Hurricane Cliffs trail system: Jem Trail.

Although Dead Ringer never gets very steep, it is perched on the side of a hill with moderate slope.

Dead Ringer Trail as seen from the mesa top and More Cowbells Trail.
Dead Ringer Trail as seen from the mesa top and More Cowbells Trail.

More Cowbells is rated Easy and is a great trail for beginner riders. It is most easily accessed from the Upper Gem Trailhead on the mesa top rather than riding up from the bottom. We returned down Dead Ringer and connected to the Goosebumps—a trail with lots of quick ups-and-downs—and then back to Jem for the fast downhill run back to the car.

The next day we returned to Gooseberry Mesa to try the non-system trail known as Gander. This is an intermediate trail with big mileage if done out and back. It’s best done as a shuttle. Or, in our case,  we did a shorter version of the out and back as we were running out of time.

Riding the rim of Gooseberry Mesa on Gander Trail.
Riding the rim of Gooseberry Mesa on Gander Trail.

It was getting late and time to go. From Gooseberry Mesa, we drove north towards Rockville. The road was pretty good—until it suddenly wasn’t. For a brief stretch, it was steep, narrow, and rocky and I wondered if I was getting into something I might regret. It was over in about a mile and smoother roads returned. We took the scenic route home through Zion National Park and were back in Flagstaff late Wednesday evening.

Mountain Biking through the Aspen

The aspen have been at their peak color for about a week now. In just a few more days the leaves will fall or be blown away and another fall leaf season will come to an end. We didn’t want to miss the show so we rode our mountain bikes up the Inner Basin Trail to the Waterline Road to enjoy the fabulous colors.

A few years ago the upper portions of the Inner Basin trail underwent some re-routing and the trail now twists and turns through a near surreal stand of aspen as it ascends from Lockett Meadow to the Waterline Road. The landscape has been described as a Monet-like scene when the leaves turn colors in the fall.

Here are a few photos from that day. It just doesn’t get any better than this: beautiful fall colors, mild temperatures, clear skies, and light winds.

Inner Basin Trail.
Inner Basin Trail.
Inner Basin Trail.
Inner Basin Trail.
Inner Basin Trail.
Inner Basin Trail.
Waterline Road near Bear Jaw Canyon.
Waterline Road near Bear Jaw Canyon.

 

An afternoon mountain biking on the Black Canyon Trail

Warm temperatures and bluebird skies beckoned us to ride on the Black Canyon Trail near Rock Springs, Arizona, late last week. We arrived to a nearly empty parking lot at the trail head. In fact, we only saw a few other mountain bikers and a couple of hikers during our five hours of riding. It’s probably more crowded on weekends and holidays.

Looking down on the Aqua Fria River from the Black Canyon Trail.
Looking down on the Aqua Fria River from the Black Canyon Trail.

The trail starts with a moderate climb before descending down and across the Aqua Fria River. As long as there has been no significant rain (or mountain snow) the river is shallow and easily crossed on a bike. If the water is high, it’s time to turn around.

 

Crossing the Aqua Fria River. It's not deep.
Crossing the Aqua Fria River. It’s not deep.

The trail climbs steeply after the crossing but after a bit the grade relaxes. But only a bit — there is still a lot of climbing.

Black Canyon Trail.
Black Canyon Trail.

The trail can be done as an out-and-back or, if a shuttle is arranged, as a point-to-point. We did the former and ended up riding about 18 miles for the day.

Late afternoon on the Black Canyon Trail and we're almost finished.
Late afternoon on the Black Canyon Trail and we’re almost finished.

By late afternoon, we were approaching the end of the ride. We stopped for a few minutes on this convenient bench and let the warm afternoon sun slowly sink behind the hills to our west. With the ride complete, it was time to drive back to Flagstaff where there is still snow on the ground.

Fall mountain biking in Sedona

Because the weather has been generally mild and dry this fall, we have been able to continue mountain biking through October and much of November in Flagstaff. That all changed last week when we had a multi-day storm that brought plenty of rain and a bit of snow. Most of the trails in the Flagstaff area have at least patches of snow and the rest are probably a bit muddy.

 

Riding the Aerie Trail.
Riding the Aerie Trail.
Taking the turn on a sandstone bench on Aerie Trail in Sedona.
Taking the turn on a sandstone bench on Aerie Trail in Sedona.

 

Descending the backside of Highline Trail in Sedona.
Descending the backside of Highline Trail in Sedona.

 

The trails in Sedona, on the other hand, are in great shape. The 2+ inches of rain was absorbed by the dry soils and there was only minimal runoff. Area streams and washes only briefly showed a rise in water levels. Now, several days after the rain, the trails are damp but not muddy. This makes for excellent mountain biking conditions because the moist soil provides better traction. We’ve spent three of the past four days in Sedona riding some of our favorite trails — and will probably to get in a few more days before the really cold weather arrives next week.

Fall colors and mountain biking in Northern Arizona

Fall is arguably the best season in Flagstaff — although it is often too brief. Winds tend to be light, daytime temperatures are warm, it rarely rains or snows, and the sky is almost always a deep, rich blue. Add to that the changing colors of the leaves of the aspen trees and a mountain bike trip and it becomes a great day.

Mountain biking through the fallen aspen leaves on the Arizona Trail.
Mountain biking through the fallen aspen leaves on the Arizona Trail.
Hillside of color found along Forest Road 418.
Hillside of color found along Forest Road 418.

 

A few days ago, we biked our favorite section of the Arizona Trail between Forest Road 418 and Snowbowl Road. This is a gradual uphill climb between 8000 and 9000 feet and moves through ponderosa pine, aspen forests, and open meadows. There are even a few bristlecone pines to be found here. Many aspen leaves had already fallen leaving a carpet of color on the forest floor and the trail.

Mountain biking along the Waterline Road.
Mountain biking along the Waterline Road.

 

Having left the bikes behind it's time to walk through the forest.
Having left the bikes behind it’s time to walk through the forest.
The pumphouse located in the Inner Basin of the San Francisco Peaks.
The pump house located in the Inner Basin of the San Francisco Peaks.
Descending the switchbacks through the aspens on the Inner Basin Trail.
Descending the switchbacks through the aspens on the Inner Basin Trail.

 

A week earlier we found ourselves biking the Inner Basin Trail that leads up from Lockett Meadows on the east side of the San Francisco Peaks. The aspen along the Waterline Road were already in full color at this elevation. This section of Waterline Road was spared in the Schultz Fire that burned much of the eastern slopes of the San Francisco Peaks in June 2010. Once in the Inner Basin, we stashed the bikes and hiked up the old roads through many aspen groves.