After picking all of the Cactus Needles out of our legs from the riding in Catalina, we continued North toward some BLM land just outside of Phoenix to sleep for the night. While sitting on top of the bus watching the colorful sunset spread over the towering cactus covered landscape, listening to the sounds of of coyotes in the distance, our feeling of being right in the desert certainly set in. The next morning we kept moving through this seemingly desolate land, reaching Phoenix which in terms of population is all but desolate. Our main goal was to bike The National Trail, but we decided to take a quick detour to check out Casa Grande National Monument (you could also see it just off the road on our way to the trails so it was hard to argue against stopping). We found out that not only are people slightly crazy enough to endure the heat of Phoenix today, there were people thousands of years ago who were doing the same thing.
Feeling content with our quick educational stop and ability to avoid biking in the hottest part of the day (yes we were still worrying about this in the first week of February) we took to the trails. We have been pleasantly surprised by the extremely diverse types of riding that we have found while on this trip and The National Trail sure kept with this trend. The Trail gave us quite possibly some of the most consistent technical riding that we have experienced. From loose rock sections to huge slabs we sure tried to ride it all, and you totally may be able to if one had the time to really learn the Trail. The down was just as fun and technical as the up, and despite the large number of other bikers and hikers we saw using the area, it seemed to handle it well.
Trying to keep with our intentions to avoid the cities and Phoenix lacking anything we really wanted to see, we kept moving north to bike The Black Canyon Trail in Black Canyon City. In its entirety this Trail stretches 77 miles long and is considered one of IMBAs epic trails (for anyone that isn't into mountain biking IMBA is one of the governing bodies of the mountain biking world and provide a list of “Epic” trails). Being that we didn't have a shuttle and wanted to still have some riding legs for Sedona, we opted for the shorter Little Pan section of the trail. After having ridden the trail now we can say that there is a serious reason that this trail is on the IMBA epic list. It took some strong will and maybe a little bit of the desert heat to keep us from continuing until the end of the trail. This trail was truly meant to be ridden and even had us considering part of it as one of our favorite climbs of all time.
From Black Canyon City we again continued North to the town of Prescott. Being that there was a good amount of snow in the national forest and that we were on a time crunch to meet a friend in Sedona we made a quick stop off the highway to climb at The Granite Dells. As we continued back on the road toward Sedona with a couple more cuts on our hands from the coarse granite at the dells, we reveled in our jealousy of the recreation majors at Prescott University who got to enjoy this area right in their backyard. We kept to the scenic route passing through the windy roads of 89A and Jerome, a town literally built on the side of a mountain. Our timing coming into Sedona couldn’t have been any better as we were greeted with the expanse of red rock cliffs glowing from the last light of the sun. Our introduction into Sedona only got better too as we were greeted by a “resident camper” of the BLM land we were in by the name of Narwhal and his dog Harambe. He even skipped right to the compliments in his greeting as he was puzzled about how our bus lacked any distinct smells (Did you hear that moms? Our bus is no smell approved).
For our first full day in Sedona we met up with Josh, one of Tyler's friends, for a ride on what MTB Project recognizes as the Western Sedona Tour with a couple side trails here and there. After feeling the unexpected grip of the red dirt and riding around slick rock aprons of the expansive rock formations it became pretty obvious why there is so much hype about this area. Getting done with the loop in good time we also took a quick hike up to devil’s bridge which hosts the namesake natural bridge formation. This hike is a must do and a great spot for a fun photograph. That night we also headed into downtown Sedona to check it out and pick up some spare bike tubes which the desert riding was sure proving tough on. We also met a passionate bike shop owner who provided us with a great conversation and interesting introspection on the world of mountain biking which is also one of the more rewarding parts of traveling and meeting new people. If you're in Sedona be sure to stop by The Fat Tire Bike Shop.
With the possibility of impending bad weather coming we made sure to get out early the next day. In terms of mountain biking Sedona hosts a few classic techy trails such as Hiline and Hangover Trail which we wanted to make sure we got to ride before we left. Needing to choose between the two with a short time frame for riding we went with the Hiline Trail and certainly weren't disappointed. If you find yourself mountain biking in The Sedona area and feel decently confident in your riding skills Hiline needs to be high on your little red rock riding list. Getting done with our ride and still seeing some time before the rain we also decided to try and sneak in some climbing. We buzzed over to the other side of The Chapel Valley area to The Planetarium Crag which hosts some awesome climbs on hard red sandstone.
Leaving the Sedona area we were chased north to Flagstaff by some seriously dark rain clouds. We parked the bus near Josh’s apartment for the night and took advantage of the rainy weather to hangout and play some board games. The next morning Josh thankfully allowed us to shower and we said our farewells before heading to The Grand Canyon. We parked on a muddy forest road just outside of the park trying to get a head start on our adventure into the park the next morning. This would have been a great spot for the night until we decided to do a quick check up on Hermelda who had different plans for the night. After checking the first tire which we were proud to find was at the exact right tire pressure, we became slight fear stricken as the tire valve continued to release air even once the pressure gauge was removed. Looking around in our less than friendly for vehicle problems muddy forest road environment, we quickly found a way to pry the valve with two screwdrivers. This left us with just a hiss of air escaping so we high tailed it south again 30 miles to get the tire checked at a service station. After talk of a possible $52 dollar fix or hobbling 2.5 hours to Page, Arizona, we left and found a classic tire shop on the old Route 66 with the same retro building that boasted big business back in the heyday of the highway. The shop had exactly what we needed and had us back entering into the Grand Canyon Park entrance that same morning for a whopping $5.
Our slight detour ended up being a helpful time distraction as we found a max of about 5 feet of visibility in the park when we first arrived due to misty weather. As the weather report had predicted though, the clouds began to clear in the afternoon just as we started down the Bright Angel Trail. Due to our late start though we only made it down about 3 miles into the Canyon until we decided it was best to head back up. Our realization while hiking brought us to the puzzling conclusion of why people put the work into hiking away from the best view, which conveniently is at the upper rim of the canyon, although we will admit that the hike does put a little more scale to the canyon as a whole.
Now from The Grand Canyon our plan is to continue North to Zion National Park for some hiking and climbing followed by Las Vegas and Red Rocks. Thanks for reading!