Thank you, Tim, for recommending the Backcountry Navigator app. The map isn’t 100% accurate but it is a lot better than guessing with Google. Last Monday I went for a long-ish ride to put the app (and my skills) to the test.
First, I must admit that I have had to rewrite parts of this multiple times due to my computer unexpectedly freezing, so hopefully everything still comes out coherently.
Above is a cut n pasted collage from the app (free demo version). I use the USFS “Newer” topo map, which covers Flagstaff pretty well. I wanted to see three tanks on this trip- Hoffman, Limestone and Two Ace. This would also include riding through Skunk and Walnut Canyons. Having already been to Fisher Point several times, I was eager to see some other country. I started on the NE of this map.
Heading down a slightly easterly route atop the bluff, I decided to take the Flagstaff Loop trail down the hill. The Loop trail is a nearly complete 40-something mile loop around the city. Some stretches are provisional, but I learned (just today) that a complete .kml track is available for import into BN.
So I headed down the singletrack, marking my own trail on Backcountry Navigator with the built-in “track” feature and cell location. It was rather rocky, making me glad I didn’t take my mom the week before.
But the fatbike soaked it up with moderate tire pressure- about 20 pumps more than I’d use for outright overlanding (wrinkle pressure to road pressure is ~70 pumps). I made my way to FR 9112C and headed SW. There is a little T intersection and gate at the turnoff for Fisher Point, but for this time I kept going westward. ИO CAЯS ALLOWED!!!1
Ahead was a beautiful opening with flowing prairie grass and a fast trail begging for me to spin up. And with 152mm cranks, 150rpm is a pleasure.
The chicane through a triangle intersection unexpectedly brought me to a decrepit barbed wire fence and gate I’d stumbled across while completely lost a while back. Thankfully, the BN app told me exactly where to go. It’s a real time-saver!
Heading right, I soon came upon familiar old Hoffman Tank. The concept of a tank was new to transplanted me, but they are basically water reservoirs for livestock. Hoffman Tank is fed by a seasonal creek on the west side. Bike included for scale and because I love taking pictures of my bike.
From there I continued SW toward the Arizona Trail, and turned southbound. The AZ Trail eventually meets the Mexico border.
The AZT made a zigzag through an old fence and led me up a rocky ravine surrounded by a singed forest of ponderosa pine. It’s hard to explain, but I was overcome with the vivid feeling that some Civil War era soldiers were waiting at the top to surround and shoot me. Utterly alone and at a strategic disadvantage, I disregarded the bad vibes and kept going. The soldiers were fortunately not present in the 3rd dimension so I was able to get a drink (and calm my nerves) at another Loop Trail intersection.
From there the AZT immediately began a quick, rocky descent toward the trail to Skunk Canyon. It was fun with 4" tires at the right pressure. I turned at the bottom of the canyon to parallel the limestone bluffs, becoming acutely aware of my pedal positions as the trail rose around me.
Ahead loomed Skunk Canyon’s sentinel cliffs. Abundant foliage lounged below sleepy afternoon shadows. I almost expected to see some ferns behind a thick mist. David Bowie’s spirit could have popped out at any moment, his ethereal voice harmonizing off the canyon walls with a host of elfin backup singers.
The trail through the canyon was tight, rocky and technical. More than once I was confronted with an uphill turn over large rocks next to a downed tree. Worse, I felt like a mountain lion was watching me the for the duration.
You can see just how unexpectedly deep this little canyon is in the [HEAVY BREATHING] video below:
Sneaking out the west end, I kept climbing up to Limestone Tank, which is much larger than the Hoff. Bike for scale.
But bone dry, regardless. Everything was bone dry.
I kept rolling and came upon another tank much sooner than expected! Unnamed on the map, this landmark said hello so soon I have dubbed it “Ya’a Tank”, a play on the Navajo greeting, “ya’at’eeh.” Does the USFS allow normal people to name things? Hahaha.
Turning around 180°, more trails and more scenery.
The main trail opened up again so I got a little speed going. But just as I was settling into the rhythm, I got a beautiful message- a single large black feather sitting in the middle of the trail. My threshold braking practice proved its worth as I yanked on the brake lever.
Looking it up at home, the black feather is said to indicate spiritual protection and a repelling of bad energy. Maybe the soldiers and mountain lion weren’t so imaginary after all- much weirder stuff has happened in the past year.
I gave thanks and continued on my way to Two Ace Tank.
Careful viewers will note that my bike has gone through a couple changes lately. The big change is that I bought some rivnuts and mounted a bottle cage under the downtube. This necessitated a new fender, also mounted with rivnuts, which turns out to be better in every way anyhow. The open frame triangle will eventually house a custom frame bag.
I also reworked the rack stays and fender mounting to eliminate four P-clamps and reduce about 0.38 lbs from the bike without detriment. The front fender has been shortened significantly so that it now shingles with the front rack. This eliminated the need for a ~5 gram bolt and still works just as well. Every little bit helps.
Last, I was getting tired of the militaristic camo paint job and painted it a less ostentatious OD green instead. It blends in well, just how I like it.
I also mounted a bottle cage under the downtube of my mountain bike, but that’ll see the blog once the bike shop mechanic [GASP] figures out its Alfine 8's shifting issue.
I couldn’t pass up this great gate.
At that point I located FR 720 and headed eastward again. The trail was pretty good, all considered, but I wouldn’t want to navigate its ruts on four wheels.
I took the north fork of the trail, hoping to find some unmarked trail and make my way back to the valley.
The trail never materialized so I stared at wildflowers for a bit, contemplating my options.
I quickly realized there was no easy way out- the quickest “legal” route was all the way back on FR 720 to the intersection near Two Ace Tank. Heck that. I found the shallowest slope on the ridge and worked my way down.
Topo maps make it look easy. I may or may not have made a couple ‘emergency dismounts’ due to the excessively steep slope. The slick pine mat offered no favors.
I painstakingly reached the bottom in one piece and worked my way along a faint path down the valley and back to the AZT.
Rolling SE toward Fisher Point my eyes feasted on its beautiful cliff from below.
Wait, I have to ride UP that now?! Better air down to wrinkle pressure. I swear my front tire had about 2 or 3 psi to keep some semblance of control- the less weight on the front end, the lower the pressure needs to be. The ascent was long and heart pounding. Backcountry Navigator suggests a max grade of 21% though I’m wary of that figure. It was rocky as hell though, and no app needs to tell me it was way too steep to enjoy climbing.
Pick a line! Any line!
I finally made my way back toward FR 9112C and home, exhausted.
What a ride 9/10 would do again. BN says:
Total time: 2:56:49
Avg moving speed: 8.1 mph
Max speed: 23.5 mph
Max altitude: 7,001 ft
Whew! Now if you don’t have it yet, go download Backcountry Navigator. It’s not GPS, but it is free and very useful. Until next time... keep rollin!