Those were the first words that popped into my head at the beginning of the week last week when I started to plan where I wanted to ride on the weekend. (I am terrible. When I am working, the plan for “escaping” starts right away on Monday.) When I started discussing it with Hal, he immediately agreed that dirt riding was in our future, and he said, “figure out a route, and we’ll do it!”
First I thought of the general area, the Mogollon Rim. We’d recently been on FR300 and seen many roads that lead from it to other places. That had piqued my interest. We’d already ridden from the west end and explored some of the trails in that area, so, I chose the Woods Canyon Lake end (east end) when I looked at the map.
We again trailered the bikes through the heat and up into the cool country, then parked at the Woods Canyon Lake turnoff. There is a big parking lot there where people “stage” when they are taking their OHV on the forest roads. As an added bonus, the forest service has recently re-paved the lot, and upgraded the bathrooms (sometimes it’s the simple things in life that count the most).
We arrived around 11:30 a.m., it takes two hours to drive there from Phoenix, and then we unloaded the bikes. I was thrilled to find out that I felt nice and cool. I’d brought an old jacket that I thought I’d wear while I rode, but at the last moment, I found out why I’d quit wearing it: the zipper was broken! Darn it. Fortunately, I’d thought to bring the mesh jacket anyway, just in case. This was an “in case,” and I ended up wearing the light-colored mesh jacket after all. I hoped it wouldn’t be too dusty since I’d spent most of the week following our HML weekend cleaning the dust out of my gear.
We got on the bikes, took FR300 west, and at Woods Canyon Lake, a popular place for people to camp, fish, and just hang out, the pavement ends. Or, it used to. We found that the forest service had scraped the gravel off the top, then poured a thin coat of some type of pavement over the hard-packed dirt. I suppose they did that to keep the dust down, and also as a safety measure. People used to speed through the turns sideways, sliding on the pea-size gravel.
Hal, in front as usual, pulled over a couple of miles into the ride. We were looking for FS34, and he thought we might have already passed it and not noticed it. We consulted the map and found that we hadn’t. As we were parked on the side of the road, a forest service fire truck went roaring by with its emergency lights on. “That doesn’t look good,” I remarked. The threat of wildfire is very great at this time of year, especially this year since it’s been so dry.
We continued riding FR300, and a mile or so from where we’d stopped, 34 took off from 300. We rode north on 34, and it was a nice road, big gravel on top of it, but easy. We encountered no other vehicles on this road, or any of the other roads during the day until later when we rejoined 300.
Farther north on 34, we were supposed to encounter a work site called the Chevelon USFS work center at the intersection with 225, but a couple of miles before that, we found another place with large buildings, probably another USFS site, and the work center when we got there was called the Black Mesa center. So much for the accuracy of the maps that we have. All of these places were deserted.
Abandoned ranch on FR225:
Turning onto 225, we found that road narrower than 34, but that made it more fun. About five miles in, we came to a beautiful canyon, the maps says it is called Hart Canyon, and way down at the bottom there was a tiny silver thread of water. It looks like the name of it is Willow Creek.
The surrounding rock formations towered above us, dark brown and black rocks with vertical lines and cracks. There is a one-lane bridge at the bottom in very deep shade, above us, the bright green of new growth on the otherwise deep jade pines. We watched the birds glide in and out, sunlight shafting down, shadows dancing. The only sounds were birdcalls, and the wind soughing through the trees. We stopped for a short time, and took a few photos, enjoying the quiet.
At the top of the canyon:
As we stood looking at the tiny creek far below us, we looked toward the northwest and saw the ominous billowing smoke of a wildfire. No wonder the FS truck had passed us earlier with such urgency. It was several miles away from us, but still concerning because we didn’t want to see it grow into a firestorm as the Rodeo-Chedeski fire had done 12 years ago near this area. The rest of the day, we kept an eye on the white smoke, which meant trees were burning.
A few more miles up the road and we reached the intersection with 115. According to the map, we were supposed to take 225 until it looped back to 300, but 225 ended. Since we felt like exploring, we took 115. It looked like it went east and west, and, turning around toward the east, I saw that there was a sign that said “Rim Road, 15 mi.” Neither of us was finished riding for the day, so we took 115 to the west. It soon turned north, though, and was a much smaller, rougher road.
The description of “road” started to be a misnomer as 115 narrowed to double track that was made up of silty black earth, and rutted. Alex’s wheels slipped around beneath me, and I tried to pick the best lines through the more challenging sections. Then, the sections began to have big boulders thrown in, too, and I really had to concentrate on finding the best line. There was one where I found myself going down a small rock ledge because I took the line to the right. I was reminded of our adventure last January on FR54 near Young, when the “road” had disintegrated into a goat track.
I was starting to sweat as the sun beat down, and we went through smoother sections alternating with boulders and rutted silt sections. This went on for four or five miles, and then Hal pulled up in a shady spot. “Do you want to keep going?” he asked.
“Where does this road go?” I asked. I was definitely not done for the day, but didn’t want to reach either a dead end, or a paved road. The map was not very detailed, and not very enlightening!
“I think it comes out on Hwy. 87,” he said. I wasn’t sure how, but then he said he thought we weren’t too far from it.
We took a break for a little while as we figured it out. I didn’t especially want to get to 87 because then we’d be on pavement, and we’d (maybe) have to take pavement back to where the car was parked. Riding these roads takes up more time than you’d think, and by then it was getting to be around 2 o’clock. I also thought the distance to 87 was longer than Hal thought, but he knows the area better than I do.
We opted to turn around and go back the way we’d come for some more fun riding. At least by going that way we were guaranteed to be in the dirt. 10 miles or so later, at the intersection where 225 ended and 115 forked, we planned take it the 15 miles that the sign had promised back to the Rim Road (300). After I’d had a break, the rough parts seemed really easy on the way back. As usual, going the opposite way hardly took any time at all to get to 225, and then we rode toward 300.
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” (Photo by Hal Korff)
As we went south on 115, we soon came to 225, but farther down on that road than the section we’d been on earlier in the day. We were happy to re-trace our ride there so we could enjoy the canyon and the twisting road again. We did not see anyone until the empty work camp, where we saw a pickup on the road in front of us going very slowly with some kids in the back.
We then got to 300 and took it to Woods Canyon Lake, and then a few miles beyond that, the car. It was 93 miles total in the dirt, and a really awesome workout in some places! We finished up our day with dinner at Macky’s Grill in Payson on the way home. Riding days go way too quickly!
A moment of calm at the end of another wonderful riding day (Photo by Hal Korff):
The fire, which I read about later, was called the Jack fire and was 13 miles north east of Happy Jack, AZ. It originated about 11:45 a.m., right after we had arrived at our staging point. Fortunately, the fire is fully contained and now crews are just “mopping up.”
Full fire update here: http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/3897/