The road to the Black Canyon Trail

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By now, we’re off on the Black Canyon Trail, a recently refurbished, reimagined, 79 mile multi-use trail through central Arizona, running along the foothills of the Bradshaw Mountains, through a corridor from the northern Arizona grasslands down to the prickly Sonoran desert.  

Leaving Flagstaff for the last time, we shoot for the northern terminus of the trail, near a little town called Mayer.  Between here and there is a whole big slice of northern Arizona.  From Sedonan spirituality, to public service signage in Mayer that reads, “There’s life after meth.”, this chunk of rural country has it all.  While we’re here for the AZT and the BCT, amongst other routes and trails, sometimes it is the roads between that capture our attention most.

Above: The last bit of the Lime Kiln Trail, connecting Sedona to Cottonwood, AZ.  Mingus Mountain looms in the background, under stirring skies.

Below: Riding from Flagstaff back to Sedona– this, our second time– we descend Schnebly Hill.  I could make this ride a hundred more times without losing interest.

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By the time we near town, we stop for some of Arizona’s best.

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For another few days, we make loops around town.  From our preferred grocery in town, it’s a quick five minute ride back onto trails, connecting with the Ridge Trail down to the gravelly beach along Oak Creek.  

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Across the Chavez Ranch, to Oak Creek.  We wade across the creek at sunset on this night.

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To ride the Templeton Trail– again, a third or fifth time– in the dark. 

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To a camp spot scouted on a previous ride, on a hilltop near the intersection of Slim Shadey and Templeton.

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Awake, to this.

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Towards the Village of Oak Creek, the blue-collar town south of Sedona, home to the IGA, $49 motel rooms, and a scattering of outlet shops.

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A second broken Salsa Anything Cage in one summer means it is time for another solution.  I’ll miss the 64 oz. bottle.

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New shoes for Lael.  Which look better?  She has nearly worn holes through the packable Merrels that she has been using all summer.  Rocky trails hurt her feet through thin soles.  Let’s go shopping for discount kicks at the Famous Footwear!  Historically, Alaskans would always go shopping when “going outside”, to pick up brands unavailable up north.  Alaskans love Arizona.  

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Then, meet and ride with another Alaskan— a transplant like the rest of them– on a loop including Templeton and Llama, two of my favorite trails in Sedona.  

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By evening, time to navigate out of Sedona.

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Onto the Lime Kiln Trail, which is included as part of the Coconino Loop route.  It is a bit prickly out of Sedona, crossing Highway 89, but the trail quality picks up steam towards Cottonwood.  

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A rainy night in Arizona.  Part of the reason we’ve chosen to squeeze the BCT into these few days is to avoid some weather coming through.  Back to the AZT after the BCT.

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Morning ride into Cottonwood.

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Into a diverse blue-collar town at the junction of the Verde Valley, and the mountains above.

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A fat sack of Mexican pastries for the climb.  Good tortillas and a panaderia are perks of visiting working communities in the southwest.

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Up Mingus Mountain.  

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From the Coconino Loop route info, we choose the bypass route around Mingus Mountain, avoiding a hike-a-bike over the top.  On a blustery rainy day, the top of the mountain looks uninviting.  The sun suggests we have made the right choice.

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Since leaving Sedona, I haven’t slept a night without the sound of gunshots nearby.  Arizonans love their guns.

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Thankfully, the roads are not not too tacky, with the help of pine needles and gravel.

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Descending the backside of Mingus, towards the pavement.

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The paved pass over the mountains, an alternate route from Cottonwood through Jerome, is seen in the distance.

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Down to the Prescott Valley, where the sun is shining.  Freshly constructed Bible churches are bursting at the seams on this beautiful Sunday morning in the valley.  Prescott Valley is a rapidly growing community, largely due to cheap land.  Houses are seemingly glued together; many are currently for sale, yet the area is growing.  The next Phoenix?

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Gas station coffee.  Lots of big pick-up trucks.    

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Some agriculture is left in the area.  Cattle graze the remnants of the Halloween harvest.

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A new bottle and cage under the down tube, and a once daily ‘clean and lube’.

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Almost ghost town, AZ.

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A bit after noon, it’s beer :30, en route to the BCT trailhead.  For this stretch, we stick to the pavement. One of the routes we had planned was signed as a private road, with a locked gate.  Thus, the detour into the city of Prescott Valley, and down through Dewey-Humboldt.  There are better ways to connect Mingus Mountain with Mayer, off-pavement.

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Into the town of Mayer.

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Which hosts a failing local grocery, a Family Dollar, and a Circle K gas station.  Between these stores, you can buy canned foods and chips at three places.  We found a fine assortment of food for a day on the trail, including a few apples.

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Just off the side of paved Highway 69, between the halves of Mayer (several miles apart), we spot a sign for the BCT.

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I know it goes under the road, but the trail is hard to spot.  A gravel parking area, to serve as a future trailhead, is nearby, but gated and locked.  

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A newer cattle gate is a good sign.

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And a pile of rocks suggests some well-meaning trail volunteers.

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It leads to a beautiful ribbon of trail over the hill, and off into an Arizonan dreamscape.

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Should be a great ride!  Back in a few days, when we’ll shoot back north to connect with the AZT near Mormom Lake.

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Flagstaff-Sedona-Flagstaff (-Sedona)

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Daily, we focus on moving forward.  Not that we are working hard toward an end destination, nor are we riding particularly fast or far in a single day, but we are always going somewhere, eventually.  On this occasion, with the opportunity to ride for a few days with our friend Jeremy, from Santa Fe, NM, we opt for something a little less directionally purposeful.  Rather, we set out to enjoy riding and camping for a few days, even if we return to same place from which we are to begin.  As is often said, “it’s the journey”.  

He head out of Flagstaff with a loose sense of tracks and trails in the area.  The AZT immediately shuttles us south of town.

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Alternating soft and rocky conditions are no match for Jeremy’s well-used Surly Pugsley.  I chase his tracks– a pair of Surly Nate treads, one of which I passed on to him last spring.  He’s thinking about a more trail specific 29er, or 29+; most likely rigid, ideally with a truss-style fork; definitely steel.  He’s nearly got all the details of his dream bike dialed, now how to get his hands on it, exactly?  A custom frame, a stock Jones frame with truss fork, a Surly?  Inevitably, many of our conversations lead back to ‘the frame”. 

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The ten miles of AZT south of Flagstaff is dreamy.  Sculpted from the land, the riding is easy, and surefooted– and fun.

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The trail rises onto a rocky mesa for the next few miles, before descending down to Lake Mary Road.  

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Beautiful views from up here.  Aside from some crumbly volcanic rock, the trail is also well-travelled by cattle in the summer.  The riding is not bad, but a bit bumpy.

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The San Francisco Peaks slowly disappear behind us.  Including the tallest peaks in the state, they remain visible from a long way off.

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Crossing Lake Mary Road, we return to forested singletrack, similar to the trail south of town.  Pine needles soften the ride.  

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We find camp for the night in an open meadow, and set up our tents in anticipation of a cold night, and the morning sun.  Jeremy procures a large piece of deadfall to burn.

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We enjoy a dinner of root vegetables, including beets, turnips, and potatoes– Jeremy’s usual trail food.

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By morning, the tent is glazed with frost from the inside– frozen exhalations of two people from a long fall night.  Nights are getting even longer.  By the time we arrive in Alaska, the days will be gaining light, nearly.

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The fire restarts with some stirring of last night’s coals.  We misjudged the sun by a few degrees, so are thankful for a fire in the morning.  

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Packed up by 9:30 or 10AM, typical of this time of year.  

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The AZT follows an old section of railroad (c.1923), tasked with hauling timber from the area.  

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We encounter a long-distance hiker, out to enjoy a few weeks of the trail.  We offer a couple of fresh apples.  We know what it is like to be on the other side of someone’s questions.  If you ever catch yourself grilling a hiker or cyclist about their travels, offer some food or hospitality in trade.  We all wear a look that says, “Will trade stories for food”.

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Digressing from the AZT, we connect a series of forest service roads towards Sedona.  I plug the Coconino Loop into the GPS to navigate this section of our route.  Mostly, we’re following routes and tracks from Bikepacking.net.  Thanks to Scott Morris for the tracks, and for making the resource available to all of us.

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Under I-17.

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On our way to Sedona.  Schnebly Hill Road is a rough route near town, on;y 12 miles from here.  For less capable vehicles, some alternates are suggested– good news for us.

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It begins rather innocuously.

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Changing, as we near Sedona, and a 2000ft descent.

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In lieu of the rough descent down Schnebly Hill Road, we drop into the Munds Wagon Trail for an even more challenging singletrack descent towards town. 

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The trail parallels the road, and offers a few chances to get on or off the trail, and to lose Jeremy along the way.

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In town, we shoot for the healthy foods store.  There are more than a few choices in Sedona.

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We head for the trails, and for the hills, for a place to lay our heads for the night.  Technically, there is no camping anywhere in or near town.  However, there is lots of open space about town, amidst the city’s hundreds of miles of multi-use trails.  

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By morning, we decide on an approximate plan for the next few days.  We’ll make some loops around Sedona, then will head back towards Flagstaff.  Without a map, we begin by connecting back to the Coconino Loop Route, beginning the day with a hike-a-bike on a section of the Lime Kiln Trail.

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Eventually, the trail mellows, and we cross through Red Rock State Park.

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Connecting trail down to Oak Creek for a refreshing dip in its clear waters.  Cool clear surface water is unusual in Arizona.

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With our sights set on some trails south of town, we ride back into the afternoon sun.

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On a cliff next to Cathedral Rock is one of several locations where energetic, spiritual vortexes are claimed near Sedona.  Some weird people hang in around this town.  Spend a few hours at the healthy food store to see what I mean.  

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The only vortices we encounter are the snaking and circling singletrack trails.  Sedona’s system of trails is one of the best anywhere.

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The trails are incredibly well built, making rideable terrain out of the undulating, rocky desert.  Features such as armored gullies ensure a durable surface under the tires of thousands of riders to come.

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Slickrock trails are reminiscent of Moab’s famed routes.  

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WIth two days of local exploration under our belts, we turn back up Schnebly Hill Road, to retrace our steps back to Flagstaff.  On pavement, the two towns are less than thirty miles apart.  This route is more like 40-45mi.

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Atop Schnebly, we catch our final glimpse of Sedona.  Memories of red rocks are caked around our hubs and rims.  

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Now told as stories around the campfire.  Sedona has left a strong impression.

One last camp, and one final campfire with Jeremy before the short ride back to Flagstaff.

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Jeremy will surely be back to Sedona, and the AZT.  We’ll be back in Sedona sooner than later.

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Back within close range of the San Francisco Peaks, nearing Flagstaff.

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Sandstone canyons, just south of town.

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And the beautiful wastewater effluent pond, under the interstate, that marks the connection of the city’s Urban Trail System to the AZT.  Flagstaff is a great place to spend another day.  We’re glad to be back.

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Flagstaff notes:

Cheap gear repair is available on San Francisco St., including basic stitching and zipper repair.  Look for the sign below.

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Amtrak runs from Los Angeles to Chicago, and many places in between.  Tickets aren’t as cheap, as they used to be, but it is still an easy way to travel with a bike.  Jeremy took the train from ABQ to Flagstaff for about $60, and a few extra dollars for the bike.  Tickets increased for his return trip home, so after a few hours on the roadside, he caught a ride home.

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I’ve been using these Velo Orange Grand Cru Sabot pedals for about a year, on a variety of bikes.  The platform is huge, with a slight concavity that improves grip and comfort.  On the Raleigh, with a high bottom bracket, pedal strike is rarely an issue, as I’ve experienced on other bikes.  However, I managed to bash the pedals in Sedona more than a few times, and the pedal body has held up well  The bearings still spin smooth, with very little play.  I dripped some lightweight lube into the bearings of one pedal several months ago to silence a slight creak.  After a reluctant start a year ago, I’ve grown quite fond of them.

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We’re headed back to Sedona for another few days of riding.  Incidentally, a certain Alaskan framebag maker will also be there for a few days, so I hope to catch up with him for a ride.    

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