Riding the new Pemberton trail

Uncharacteristically, we chose to ride mountain bikes (instead of motorbikes) on Sunday, at an old familiar trail, Pemberton Trail, at McDowell Mountain Park near Fountain Hills, Arizona, USA. Little did we know how much it had changed since the last time we rode here in the beginning of December.

We had decided to ride Pemberton counter-clockwise, or anti-clockwise, as we had last time we were here. I’ve ridden it the other way for 16 years, and find it to be much more fun if I start on the north side. Maybe I am just tired of the clockwise way (no surprise)! We got on the trail in the staging area at the entrance marked “Scenic Trail,” which is another trail that can be accessed by going this way. Pemberton trail starts out turning and rolling gently through the desert, and soon we were at the road crossing. That is the unofficial start of the gradual climb that takes us up to the highest point in the trail. This part is fun, but farther up, it goes into a wash, and from there the trail is just a long slog through sand that may or may not be hard-packed.

We kept going up. Hal got far behind me, but that’s because I was riding a rocket (the S-Works). I met several other mountain bikers on the way down, as well as a couple of horses. I began to notice how bumpy the trail was, and soon I was thinking to myself, hey, aren’t we supposed to be in sand by now?

As I rode, I noticed how the wildflowers made everything look lush and green.

Wildflowers make the desert look so alive in the spring:

Soon all the greenery will be replaced by burned, brown vegetation, but for now I was enjoying the beauty. Eventually, Hal caught up to me, and I put away the camera.


Interesting saguaro cactus:

More wildflowers:

After I passed the spur that leads to the 168th St. gate, I was sure that this trail was different! I felt like I was much farther south than we normally are, and then, the trail started to look freshly cut. I also felt it, the surface seemed to have that “not ridden in yet” feel. Then the trail began to swoop and turn, and I got really excited because it was a lovely, fun trail! My smile grew because I was elated that they had finally changed Pemberton, and in my opinion, made a good trail even better.

New singletrack:

Through the rocks:

I was trying to visualize the map of the trail in my head, and thought I was going more southwest than usual. I thought that the new section was probably going to cut off that far northwest corner, which was always basically just a glorified jeep road anyway. I was just thrilled with the new trail, though, and that was what I was mainly thinking about. Finally, we came to the tank, and when I came to a split in the trail, it was as I thought. The old trail was now a maintenance road, and closed to trail users. It’s okay with me!!

Split in the trail. Until recently (February), the “service road” was the old Pemberton Trail:

Then I was back on the familiar part of the trail, a section of singletrack that had already been updated over the past few years. I also saw trails marked that hadn’t been in the past. Another mountain biker that I was talking to told me that one little trail had been a “secret” trail of singletrack for years. Dummy me, I stayed off all the places that weren’t officially marked, thinking that I was protecting desert that we were not supposed to ride on. Now that that trail, and others, are officially marked and on the map, I’ll ride them and enjoy them.

At this point, we went up the short steep little climb that leads to the “roller coaster” section of Pemberton. The weird thing is, though, after that, my bike seemed to really take off like a rocket. I was mostly in the big chain ring the whole rest of the way, at times topped out in the biggest gear on the cassette. I saw 19+ mph on the computer a couple of times as I glanced down at the handlebars, but the bike was swooping and diving through the turns and elevation changes. I am not sure how the bike was so jet propelled, but it hardly seemed like any time had passed at all until I was at the last section of the trail, the rocky downhill part on the south section.

Last leg –

Almost at the last rocky downhill stretch:

Up on top, ready to make the final descent to the wash:

Ocotillo plant:

View of Four Peaks:

I waited for Hal, and then we went. He stuck behind me for most of it, and we went down fast. It didn’t take long to get down to the bottom and go around the banked turn that marks the end of the descent. We met some riders going up, and I thought, that banked turn is the last fun they’ll have for some time!

After that, it’s only a couple more miles back to the staging area, but there is a deep sandy wash that lies between. My bike flew through it. I had to move to the right to let some riders by, but I just sailed off the ledge and into the sand. The bike kept flying beneath me. I hardly even knew I was going through sand, and then I was climbing up out of it. I went on through to the parking lot because I wanted to see what my total mileage was, and how different it was from the “old” Pemberton. When I came through the gate to the parking lot, the computer turned over exactly 16 miles. It used to always be 15.6, and I was glad it was actually longer! Then I went back down the trail about a half a mile to find Hal. He wasn’t that far behind, and he was riding a bike that is much heavier than mine.

We loaded the bikes onto the car, and changed out of our dirty gear, well, most of it, in my case. Then we drove to the Visitor’s Center to get an updated map. I talked briefly with the guy there, praising the “new” Pemberton. He showed me all the new trails, and now there are about 30-40 miles of trails from which to choose. They all seem to loop into each other, and back to Pemberton main, so there isn’t much chance of getting lost. There are lots of opportunities to explore and ride, and I am so looking forward to doing just that.

We got back in the car and Hal drove out of the park and back to Fountain Hills. We stopped at Denny’s for a well-earned lunch. I wolfed down a big sandwich, some veggies, and some fries. I thought that would do for the day, but later I ate a big dinner as well! I must have needed some more rocket fuel!

Now, all I want to do is go back and ride the many trails on McDowell Mtn. Park. It’s too bad summer is rapidly approaching because it will mean the end of nice weather – and riding after 9 a.m. Well, I guess those trails will still be there next November when it finally cools down.


2 thoughts on “Riding the new Pemberton trail

  1. That was a wise move, hitting the nearby riding trails before the heat gets too stinkin’ hot. Well, you’re already on the edge of that.

    Sounds like a nice trail, and it is good that the state is taking good care of the area and even switching trails around periodically.

    It also sounds like you need to get Mr. Partner to upgrade his bike. He doesn’t sound very rockety (you can make that an adverb, right?).

    • I have a bike for Hal to ride, I just have to get it in to the bike shop to get it reconditioned. It is much lighter, and I think he will like it better than what he’s riding! πŸ™‚

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