Realty Executives of Flagstaff

Wayne McCormick

Wayne McCormick


Realty Executives of Flagstaff



(Published on - 11/11/2015 7:58:07 PM)

New Hart Prairie trail already a classic

The 2-mile traverse from Snowbowl Road to Bismarck Lake is level and scenic

By Randy Wilson

Most bike rides at 9,000 feet will literally take your breath away -- there's not much extended level terrain at that elevation.

But on the newest section of the Arizona Trail that traverses upper Hart Prairie, the only breathtaking experience is the scenery -- the ride is flat and smooth. This two-mile segment between Snowbowl Road and Bismarck Lake opened only last month. But as I've seen the last two weekends, it has already been discovered by cyclists and hikers of all ages.

My guess is that when the next editions of local guidebooks and trail maps come out, this route will rise to the top of the list of must-do family outings, especially in fall.

Scores of volunteers worked with the Forest Service over the course of four weekends stretching back to May to get this trail section into shape. They've dug out the lava-field rocks that make bushwhacking across the prairie a real ankle-twister and put in retaining walls where the trail crosses washes. They've also snaked the trail gently through several aspen groves rather than clear-cut a straight path from one end to the other.

Most importantly for novice cyclists and hikers who want to enjoy the views without risking a cardiovascular event, the trail-builders have held pretty much to the 9,000-foot contour line. My guess is that the new section gains and loses no more than 100 feet along its entire two miles.

Start at Aspen Corner

The starting point for a level ride is the pulloff parking area at what is known as Aspen Corner on Snowbowl Road -- that's the wide curve with split rail fencing about a mile below the Snowbowl parking lots. The Forest Service posts the pullout as No Parking starting around Dec. 1 or whenever heavy snowfall occurs, so readers who want to use this access point have just one month left until next spring.

From the parking area, follow an old dirt road downhill for a quarter-mile before it crosses the Arizona Trail -- there are tree markers on each side of the road. If you keep descending and come out onto the prairie above Alfa Fia Tank, you've gone too far.

Take the Arizona Trail to the right through the trees until it breaks out onto the prairie in about 200 yards (The left trail is unfinished and ends in about a half-mile in a tangle of blow-downs.). From here, the trail heads north on a gentle uphill grade with views extending well beyond Kendrick Peak nearly to the Grand Canyon.

The first sign you'll encounter says Loop Trail, and it refers to the new Aspen Loop trail that swings down from the Humphreys Traihead parking lot about a half-mile above. That parking lot and the Aspen Loop will be the winter access points to this trail section for snowmobilers and cross-country skiers once Snowbowl Road is closed to parking.

Continue on the main trail as it winds through several washes until coming to the first grove of mixed aspen and conifers in about a mile. The trail winds down through the grove before continuing north across the prairie.

In another half-mile of easy climbing, you'll come to another, larger grove of aspen that fell prey to the fierce winds that rocked the peaks several weeks ago. The blowdowns were extensive, but Forest Service crews and volunteers have cleared a path.

Aspen grove a high point

This grove turns out to be the highest elevation on this trail segment and it is a great spot for a picnic. The trail continues north for about another half-mile before reaching the junction with the unfinished trail segment coming up from Bismarck Lake -- a sign provides direction. The trail to the lake is rockier but perfectly passable for cyclists and hikers of all abilities.

The lake is a magnet for wildlife of all kinds and is a favorite with elk hunters in fall. It is nearly dry this time of year, but on Saturday I could hear the honking of migratory geese circling in the distance.

The lake is a good turnaround point for what becomes a 4-mile round trip. On Saturday, I dropped down off the trail onto Hart Prairie Road, then rode south until I came to an old ranch road that heads up the prairie to Alfa Fia Tank and my parked vehicle.

Eventually, this segment and other sections of the Arizona Trail will be part of a Loop Trail that circumnavigates the San Francisco Peaks. Look for volunteer trail construction opportunities in the Daily Sun's Outdoors calendar starting next spring.

If you go ...
Arizona Trail on upper Hart Prairie
2 miles one-way
Elevation: 9,000 feet
Nearly level, outstanding views
Parking at Aspen Corner on Snowbowl Road and the Bismarck Lake trailhead.

Alternate access from Humphrey Trail/Snowbowl parking lot via the new Aspen Loop trail.

New bike trail connections include Country Club tunnel

By Jack Welch

I really didn't learn to swim until the age of 45. I wanted to participate in the Lake St. Louis Triathlon and since the water component of that activity was too far to allow for a dog-paddle effort, I took swimming lessons at the YMCA. I did improve, but only marginally, and on the day of the event I arrived at the race site poorly prepared for a lake swim. Without pool lines to guide me I quickly realized swimming straight was going to be a problem. A major problem.

By downgrading the value of visual cues, I was able to turn a half-mile swim into an hour-and-a-half tour of every boat dock along the eastern shore of the lake. Making the situation worse was the ever-increasing sound of barking dogs as I floundered in the water just beyond their reach. Because of the continuing uproar, everybody knew where I had been, but nobody -- including myself -- seemed to know where I was going. Soon small children were tossing flotation devices in my direction and, much to my chagrin, a mother duck, followed closely by a bevy of ugly ducklings, quacked their way past me and my unique version of the Australian crawl. Because of this woeful experience, I was able to add swimming to my list of competitive shortcomings.

So, without much encouragement from me -- but with lots of deserved support from the Flagstaff community -- the new Aquaplex has opened its doors and has quickly established itself as a prime swimming and recreation center. Less apparent has been its emergence as a hub for bicycle activities. Located just south of the new railroad overpass on the corner of Fourth Street and Huntington Drive, many high-value bicycle routes, trails and forest access points are within easy reach of its front entrance.

Consider this. By riding only four miles (one way) to the Campbell Mesa Trailhead -- south on Fourth, east on Soliere, south on County Club Drive, east on Old Walnut Canyon Road -- you can be mountain biking on any of the five loops that now exist on that mesa.

Using the same route, but turning north instead of south once you reach County Club Drive, you can ride the new concrete barrier-protected FUTS over Highway 40 and the railroad tracks to the Highway 89/County Club Drive intersection. Return to the Aquaplex from that location by using the new tunnel under Route 66 and the paved FUTS that runs west toward downtown Flagstaff.

Or, for a larger adventure, use the new tunnel under Highway 89 at Country Club Drive to access the Mount Elden interface trails. Of future value will be the completion of the paved FUTS on the north side of Highway 89 that is currently under construction and will soon allow trail access from the Flagstaff Mall to the city limits near Townsend-Winona Road.

Another interesting route from the Aquaplex will be available when the road construction on West Huntington is finished. Once completed you'll be able to ride to Enterprise, where the paved FUTS/Arizona Trail is located on the west side of that road. By riding south on that pathway (toward Sam's, you'll be able to access the Rio de Flag FUTS near the Waste Water Treatment Plant. And once the road and trail connection is made from Enterprise across Route 66 up to the Ponderosa Parkway, a rider will be able to access the McMillan Mesa trail system to reach the Kelly Crossing bridge over Cedar that leads into Buffalo Park. Currently, you can also access the Enterprise north/south trail by using the paved FUTS that runs west along Route 66 from Fourth Street.

But, you can plot your own ride routes from the Aquaplex by using the old FUTS map -- Flagstaff High Country Trails -- which is still useful if you remember many of its "proposed" routes are now finished. A new, updated map showing the FUTS and bicycle lanes is due to be published next spring. And before I finish this column, I must acknowledge the excellent work done by ADOT and the city on the nearly finished paved urban trail system around the Flagstaff Mall. What once was a nightmare area to ride a bike has been transformed into a useful and very enjoyable bicycle route. On behalf of the Flagstaff bicycle community, I wish to thank all those responsible for a job well done.

By road or by trail?

By Randy Wilson, Daily Sun Editor

Why ride the roads when you can take the trail?

That’s been my cycling mantra in Flagstaff ever since I discovered the fabulous FUTS trail leading north from City Hall through Coconino Estates and connecting to Lynette Drive in Cheshire.

It meant not having to travel on dangerous Fort Valley Road and was more scenic, too.

Now, the tables are turned: The trail link between Coconino Estates and Cheshire has been severed for several years pending the resolution of an easement dispute, while Fort Valley Road is now served by an excellent bike path separated from the roadway.

Over the years, I’ve branched out from the FUTS system as my mountain biking prowess has progressed from nil to novice. Here are a few of my favorite parallel tracks.

Schultz Creek Trail vs. Schultz Pass Road: This may be everybody’s favorite parallel trail, especially if you’ve ever ridden the washboard roadbed and eaten dust behind several pickups. Motorbikes were banned several years ago, and most of the eroded creek banks and side ruts have filled back in. The trail surface has also been smoothed out by rock-removal crews, and that has meant an even larger volume of weekend riders. But the experience of riding the Schultz Creek Trail for four miles on a cool summer morning, both up and back, is unsurpassed, especially compared to the dusty ride on the nearby rode. Find the trailhead at the intersection of Elden Lookout Road and Schultz Pass Road.

Little Elden Springs Trail vs. Forest Road 556: For those cyclists who have come up the Schultz Creek Trail and want to continue eastward to Doney Park and Highway 89, this is the trail that avoids dusty and sometimes congested FR556 for several miles. It starts at Schultz Tank and descends gently for three miles until intersecting the road near Elden Springs Horse Camp.

Rocky Ridge Trail vs. Elden Lookout Trail: Until this trail was “improved” (read: smoothed out) several years ago, I didn’t even think of trying it on my mountain bike. And besides, Elden Lookout Road is paved for the first two miles and not that crowded with vehicles. But since the improvement, I’ve given it several tries, each time having to dismount more times than I’d like to admit. But because the views from the ridge are so stunning, even walking my bike over the rough spots is hardly a bother. The trail runs for four miles from the intersection of Elden Lookout and Schultz Pass roads before crossing the former and becoming the Upper Oldham Trail, which is a more difficult track that climbs up to the Sunset Trail.

Hart Prairie Road vs. Highway 180: This substitutes one road for another, but if you have time and don’t mind several serious hills, this 11-mile route beats dodging Grand Canyon-bound camper vans any day. For a change of scenery on the way back, cross the highway and come back on Forest Road 171 to the west. You can get to it by taking Forest Road 193 near Crowley Pit.

Old Munds Highway vs. Interstate 17: This is the ultimate no-brainer in parallel tracks for those wanting to bike between Flagstaff and Kachina Village. The old road branches off Highway 89A just south of Fort Tuthill, crosses beneath the interstate via tunnel, then offers a rolling, paved track all the way to Mountainaire and Kachina. A fun family day trip.

Slow down and explore the tank

By Randy Wilson, Daily Sun Editor

The story in the Daily Sun said the city of Flagstaff was about to purchase a 16.6-acre parcel called “Hoffman Tank” for $1 million to preserve as a wildlife corridor.

The name rang a bell, and sure enough, there on the Emmitt Barks Flagstaff Trails Map was a “Hoffman Tank” right alongside one of my favorite bike routes to Fisher Point.

So on Memorial Day, after standing stiffly for an hour at graveside services at Citizens Cemetery, I was ready for a bike ride to check out the newest city property.

What piqued my interest was that, although I had ridden through this sector on the map many times, I don’t recall ever having seen the tank. Usually such features are heavily trampled and surrounded by elk and cattle tracks. Had I been going to fast to notice? Or was there a different Hoffman Tank?

From the cemetery, I intercepted the FUTS trail along the Rio de Flag starting at Lone Tree Road. This is a scenic, one-mile ride in a limestone canyon that seems in a different world, considering how close it is to homes and businesses just above the rim.

But soon enough, the trail collided with the real world in the form of the bridge at Interstate 40, then the Rio de Flag sewage treatment plant and its holding ponds.

But on this Memorial Day, the wind was brisk and the odor was minimal. I was soon heading south in the Broad, lush Rio de Flag valley south of I-40. The trail to Fisher Point hugs the western bank, flanking a fenced grazing allotment and with great views of the Peaks for cyclists with rear view mirrors.

In about a mile from the treatment plant, the trail arrives at a fork and, on the map, Hoffman Tank. I dismounted and began searching for clues of a watering hole. Sure enough, elk tracks coming down a slope led to a small mound that, on closer inspection, was ringed by a downed barbed-wire fence. Just beyond the fence, the tracks plunged down an embankment and into the dry mud of … Hoffman Tank.

During early spring and monsoon, I am sure the tank is a magnet for thirsty wildlife – assuming they prefer fresh water to the treated effluent of the nearby Rio de Flag. It also provides more cover than the Rio de Flag – the tank is ringed on three sides by trees.

As a cyclist for whom the destination usually takes precedence over the journey. I now know to slow down at the trail fork near Hoffman Tank in hopes of seeing elk and deer. I can also appreciate the wisdom of the city’s purchase – were the Hoffman Tank parcel to be taken out of public hands, it would close off easy access from the west to the lower Rio de Flag to both cyclists and wildlife.

Granted, cyclists could zig-zag down the steep limestone cliffs. As for elk, they would need to find a new tank – and they don’t have a handy map to help them.


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