No doubt you’ve heard the old saying when life hands you lemons you make lemonade. The weather provided us with a big bag of lemons on our trip to the desert southwest in Moab, Utah and Sedona, Arizona, during the winter storm they named Quiana. We drove out of Minnesota to Denver, taking a more northerly route, to avoid the ice and snow that was blanketing Nebraska and sending semis and cars into the ditch and into each other creating massive pile-ups. Once in Moab, just ahead of a record snowfall, we rode one of the higher trails in the area that was still open, called Hymasa. As our first ride of the year it had plenty of fun rock features to play-on, but we got chased off the slick rock by an afternoon snow shower; still plenty of fun. Later that night and into the next day it snowed, heavy and wet, leaving hiking as our best option. Luckily, there’s plenty to see hiking around the Arches area, from Petroglyphs to amazing rock formations and the desert beautifully coated with snow.
Once the roads had opened to the south we headed towards Sedona, driving past the monolithic rock formations of Monument Valley, which were visible on the horizon from a great distance; wondrously gigantic sky scrappers that grew in size as we drove closer. Needing to beat the next forecasted snows, we couldn’t afford a close-up look, so we drove on to Flagstaff where we stocked-up on groceries before Snowmagedon hit northern Arizona in full force, which it did. Flagstaff had a 40 inch snowfall day and a total of over 5 feet after it was done. Once in Sedona, we settled in, ready to hunker down for a predicted 18 - 20 inches of snow, unheard of in Sedona. After two days of off and on wet, heavy snow there was about 14 inches on the ground, enough to break branches and shut down businesses for a day; but great for making snowmen. So we rolled up the snow off our driveway into a giant Calvin and Hobbs snowman in the front yard, carrot and all.
As novel as this was for Sedona, we headed out for a trail hike as the post storm weather turned bright and sunny. We hiked the Mescal Trail, one we’d ridden several times before, post holing through 1 foot of snow in 30 degree weather quickly became to warm, so we shed layers and marvelled at the melt water waterfalls cascading off the red sandstone walls of the Mescal Mountain.
With the Sedona trails needing several days to dry out and become rideable, Tara contacted Phoenix guide and coach, Scott Givens. Scott was available the next day to show us around his local trails. It turns out there are many, many trail systems in Phoenix, suited for all levels of riders. The snow in northern Arizona fell mostly as rain in the Phoenix area, so the desert was green and blooming. The trails challenged our technical climbing and descending skills and it was great to see how a strong rider, like Scott, made them look easy. After our ride we sat down and Scott mapped out other rides and trails in the Phoenix area that we could ride over the next few days, as trails dried in the Sedona.
The next day our ambitions were to head back down to Phoenix, a bit of a drive; but we were also curious about the Black Canyon Trail, located between Sedona and Phoenix. This option would avoid Phoenix traffic and the longer drive, and turned out to be a stellar idea, allowing us to ride in a remote, beautiful, desert setting; conveniently located a mile off the highway. The trail rolled past Saguaro cacti so close you could touch them. The wild flowers were blooming and everything was green. We rode a section named Bumblebee, rated blue and kept your attention with rocky step-ups, climbs, and descents that required constant vigilance. The canyon was a unique riding experience and made us think of bike packing or shuttling longer sections to experience this IMBA epic trail; deserving of its status.
On our third day after snowmagedon we met friends from Minnesota who joined us for another ride on the Black Canyon Trail, this time on a more northerly section closer to Sedona named Hidden Treasure. This section was less rocky and rolled over packed, decomposed granite; kind of like kitty litter without the smell. The trail was in great shape, a day or two after the snow had melted - hero dirt. Hidden Treasure was very different from our previous day’s ride on Bumblebee, rolling up and down dry sandy stream washes, past prickly pear cacti, brushing up next to granite outcrops, and was littered with patches of white Quartz rocks. Sections of the trail opened up for some faster riding with good sight lines, which allowed for good flow over rock features. One of our friends was brand new to riding single track; but was in good hands with Casey and Tara coaching her through some of the more technical features. By the end of ride she was finding her lines and riding through the sandy washes that looked way too scary at the beginning.
After three days of riding we chose to hike the Little Horse Trail up to Chicken Point in Sedona. There was still some snow on the trail and portions of the trail were muddy; but the power of the desert sun at elevation had melted almost all the snow off the trails. Amazeballs! The trail had spectacular views of the red sandstone formations covered with snow and a very calming ambiance, as experienced by the yoga class being held atop the slick rock at Chicken Point.
Our hiking day gave the trails another day to dry out in the Sedona area, a number of which opened up for riding. Tara and I rode out from our place to ride some trails south and west of town, some we’d ridden before, and a few new ones. New trails included: Ridge, Ramshead and a big slab of rock, called Secret Slick Rock with short little steeps and rock ledges to roll or hop. Surprisingly, only short sections of these trails were muddy; but the creeks and streams in this area were flowing; uncommon for Sedona. The day was gorgeous, sunny and low 60’s.
Riding back to our place we sat outside and let our shoes and pads dry out. After eating some lunch we headed out on the trails Teacup and Andante. Teacup was a surprise at how pretty the views were, so close to town and nearby homes. It had a number of black technical rock features that were fun and challenging. Andante was buff in comparison and probably one of the only green trails we’ve ridden in Sedona. As the sun started to set we rolled down into town to Over The Edge) got info on the Festival and open trails, then went out for food Oak Creek Brewing.
On Friday, Tara was coaching at the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival and took her group out onto the Jordan trail, I went solo on trails we had ridden the day before, that had dried out even more in just one day. It was fun to re-ride sections of trail, knowing what was coming up, to help me clean some of the features that made me walk or dab the previous day. The next day, rain was forecast; so with a two-day drive back to Minnesota I chose to take a day off, pack-up and keep my bike clean. We think Cuyuna can get our bikes red with dirt; but Sedona’s red dirt and mud gets on everything. Normally cleaning my bike is not a fun or relaxing chore; but sitting outside on a warm sunny day in Sedona felt pretty good knowing what was back home.
In life and in mountain biking you may get handed a bag of lemons, in this case the weather provided a temporary setback in our riding plans, due to heavy snow in the desert; a rare and beautiful site. Making the lemons into lemonade requires a sense of adventure and the ability to change our plans of what we expect to happen. As Edward Abbey states in his book “Desert Solitaire” and I’ll paraphrase; we’ve become slaves to time, everything we do is predicated on time and we allow ourselves little freedom to adventure outside of our comfort zones and schedules. I would like to thank Scott for taking us on a ride on his local Phoenix trails and Casey and Angie for joining us for meals, hiking, photos and a day of riding in the desert.
Cheers and we hope to see you on the trails soon,