An afternoon on the Great Western Trail in central Arizona

Discussion in 'Day Trippin'' started by Purcell69, Jun 30, 2010.

  1. Purcell69

    Purcell69 Mors ex Tenebris

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    Two weeks ago I made a somewhat unscheduled trip back to Cave Creek, Arizona from here in the Heart of Oklahoma. My daughter was going to be traveling with me, so as a precaution, I loaded the XRR into the bed of the truck in case a break down occured along the way. My wife elected to stay behind at the last minute which resulted in a change of vehicles for the trip.

    The last time we visited Arizona was in 2005. We got a little riding time in then, mostly around Crown King and Bloody Basin on our little DR350. The DR has since been sold in favor of the Honda, which I have not been able to ride in my old stomping grounds...yet.

    The purpose of this trip related to a gravely ill family member, so it was not meant to be a riding vacation. If I was to get any riding time in, it would be a spur of the moment ride. Things had pretty well settled out by June 23rd so my Mother, daughter and I went to the Phoenix Zoo the first thing that morning. After lunch we headed back to the house, Mom decided she needed a nap, Katherine wanted to go hang out by the pool, and I decided to get a quick ride in before I had to start packing the following day.

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    When I was in high school, I rode my 1985 Honda XL350R to the top of Humbolt Peak one February morning, just to play in the snow.

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    Now, more than 24 years later, I decided to make the ride again on my latest Honda, a 2002 XR650R. This time I took my little PnS digital camera along for the ride, as opposed to the little 110 film camera I carried back then.

    This would be my destination, if the road to the top was still open. The top of the mountain houses a radar facility, a few antenna stations, and an observation post for the Forest Service. The elevation is just over 5,200 feet, but the view from the top is spectacular.

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    -Joe
    #1
  2. wallache

    wallache Been here awhile

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    :thumb

    Great little ride from Metro Phoenix...one of my fav's if I only have time for a short ride.
    #2
  3. azshtr

    azshtr Long timer

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    If you rode the Humbolt Mountain road in the snow... you, sir, are an animal :eek1 For those that don't know the road, it is not long but very steep, only wide enough for one car, tight turns, and steep drop offs. I couldn't imagine riding that road with snow on it.
    #3
  4. Purcell69

    Purcell69 Mors ex Tenebris

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    I don't know about "animal". Descriptive words come to mind like "young" and "stupid" though. :lol3 There was not that much snow the day I rode up, but even the few inches that covered the road made for a challenge.

    -Joe
    #4
  5. Purcell69

    Purcell69 Mors ex Tenebris

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    It has been several years since I rode the area past the Bartlett Lake turn-off on FR-24, so I was a little concerned I might miss the road up to the peak. I remembered a concrete wash crossing near the access road, but it seems a few more have been added since I last made the climb. After one failed attempt on a neaby trail, I found the paved road to the top and made my climb, having found the road to be open.

    If you reach this little sign, you just missed the turn.

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    The view from the top:

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    I took several more shots up here to stitch together as a panorama, though I was mindful not to photograph any of the radar equipment up there, just in case. I really don't want Homeland Security coming to look me up at work some day.

    This ride was not nearly long enough yet, so I decided I'd keep going past Seven Springs toward 51 Ranch. Along the way I diverted onto the Red Rover Mine road. I'd never been out there, so it seemed like a good idea. The sign for the road was down, but the gate was open, so I made my pass.

    On my way in, I found a little place some had set-up to cool off in the shade.

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    In spite of the late winter and early spring rains, the road and wash crossings were all in good shape and recently groomed.

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    Unfortuneately about a mile or two in, there was a "No Trespassing" sign posted that had been put up in January 2010 according to the date on the sign. I never made it out to the mine and headed back out. This explains the good condition of the road I am sure.

    I continued out FR-24 past Seven Springs. The camp ground appears to have suffered much damage in the recent storms and all access the the camp sites were closed. Just past the camp grounds I spotted a sign like this:

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    In the mid-1980's, there were few, if any, marking on the trail. Occasionally there was a half rotted trail marker, but for the most part the area was not marked at all. I have solo ridden this section several times on my little XT200 and the XL350R and always knew it to be National Forest, but until today I knew nothing of the Great Western Trail.

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    I remember there was a small cattle ranch down in a valley beyond Seven Springs called the 51 Ranch. The first time I saw it from the top of FR-24 I was impressed anyone even lived way out there.

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    Beyond 51 Ranch there are some interesting rock formations. It looked like a good place to pull over and grab a bottle of water from my backpack. The temperature that afternoon was nearing 110 degrees. Being familiar with the area and riding solo, I knew I would need to bring a large amount of water with me just in case. There are only a few places along the trail that have access to any water and most of it is untreated.

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    Still not entirely satisfied, I decided to ride on. I knew there was an intersection ahead with FR-269. At the "T" where FR-24 ends, a right turn goes to the Verde River near Sheeps Bridge, A left goes back to I-17 at the Bloody Basin exit. I decided I would push on.

    The road can be dangerous in wet weather and has several crossings and runs parallel to a creek bed at times. This time of year there is little water in the creek, but I have seen incidents where the road was closed due to flood damage from the swollen creek.

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    From here, it was 38 miles back the way I came to Carefree. I was a little concerned about my fuel, since I already had 20 miles on my tank before I left, so I did not go out to Sheeps Bridge. The 27 miles back to I-17 has a few blind and off-camber corners and climbs out through the red cliffs that maje up Bloody Basin. Part way out there is a natural spring on the hill side that seeps water year-round. It can be seen for miles and is marked by a lush green growth.

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    -Joe
    #5
  6. BusyWeb

    BusyWeb Adventurer

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    :clap
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  7. Purcell69

    Purcell69 Mors ex Tenebris

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    From the spring back to I-17 was several more miles of riding. I stopped by the spring to take in some shade and some more water. I also slowed down a little on the picture taking as the camera's batteries showed about 1/2 the life left and I don't use it enough to know what that would equate to picture-wise.

    The sign with the details of the Great Western Trail mentioned a location called Turret Peak. There were two visible features that resembled turrets in the same area, one Northwest and one Southwest.

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    I still had a few landmarks ahead, as I knew of a horse ranch that lay in the valley between the site of the spring and I-17. The first time I saw the ranch was many years ago on my little XT200. The road I was on passed to the South of the ranch and crossed a wash that was running pretty well at the time. Fuel was an issue for me that day and under those conditions, my only choice was to cross the nearly seat deep stream as it rushed past. I knew I did not have nealy enough fuel to ride back the way I had come without having to push the bike part of the way to Carefree. In those days I often road in the rain just to be able to play in the mud, not taking into account any possible flood conditions.

    Today flooding was not an issue though fuel was almost questionable. The 4.3 gallon Clarke tank gives me about 140 miles before reserve, give or take. I knew by the time I reached Black Canyon City, I would have ridden 115 miles on the tank. I could have easily made it back to Carefree from the intersection of FR-24 and FR-269, but why go back?

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    After having past the horse ranch and moving still close to the interstate, I stumbled across these tracks and had to go back for a picture.

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    My first thought was it may have been a sidewinder, but after looking again, it was just a large snake that had made the tracks. Maybe a diamondback. I didn't check the bushes on either side of the road for him though. We were both better off leaving each other be.

    After seeing this sign, I realize the "wash" I had crossed on my little XT back in the '80s may very well have been the Agua Fria River. I have Forest Service maps of the area now and I usually use them to pick a course when planning a ride. Back then it was just riding by the seat of my pants. Today's ride wan't planned, but I was familiar with the route.

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    From this point it was roughly seven more miles back to I-17 at the Bloody Basin exit. From the time I left the Bartlett Lake turn off on Cave Creek Road, I only saw one one other vehicle, which belonged to the the Forest Ranger atop Humbolt. While the trail itself is not the most challenging, the conditions can be in the event of a break down or a minor spill with injuries. Factor in the weather and it could spell disaster. When I rode this trail the first time as a teenager, I was solo and I did not discuss my travel plans, because I had none. It was in the late winter or early spring and I was somewhat self-suffcient, though naive. Now, being older and wiser, I tell people my intended travel routes in the event that something does go wrong. Cell phone service in the area is questionable at best, which could make for a long crawl out for the unprepared.

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    One more stop for water...

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    And down the hill to civilization again. From this point it is about 18 miles or so to the nearest gas station, so be prepared.

    In spite of the heat and abbreviated riding time, it was a great ride. From Black Canyon City I rode I-17 down to the New River exit and took New River Road back to Carefree Highway and then home to Cave Creek. The total ride was about a 140 mile loop and with photo and water stops, I was gone about 5 hours. It was a nice escape from the matters that brought me back home in the first place.

    -Joe
    #7
  8. Purcell69

    Purcell69 Mors ex Tenebris

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    And here's a few extra pictures I took while we were at the zoo before the ride, 'cause everyone likes pictures. :D

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    -Joe
    #8
  9. Bronco3738

    Bronco3738 Mike

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    Nice report. I need to go check out that area. It's only a few hours from my house. Looks like it is a great place to ride, thanks for sharing.
    #9
  10. GB

    GB . Administrator

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    Nice ride and pics!! Thanks for sharing it :thumb
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  11. Rick Lee

    Rick Lee Long timer

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    Geeze, I live in Cave Creek and need to do this route.
    #11
  12. Purcell69

    Purcell69 Mors ex Tenebris

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    The beauty of this area is you can make adjustments to fit your time available. There are a number of other connecting forest roads in the area. Some go through and some do not. As long as you have fuel, you can make a day or a week out of the area. A Forest Service trail map for the Tonto National Forest is a good tool. There is an improved, though flood damaged, campground at Seven Springs but being National Forest land, camping is where you pitch your tent. You can also cross under I-17 at the Northwest end and continue up to Crown King and Horsethief Basin. There is improved camping up there as well. My daughter and I did that one in 2005.

    -Joe
    #12
  13. Purcell69

    Purcell69 Mors ex Tenebris

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    Here's a few more pics I took in 2005 after breaking away from FR-24 and heading West about 2 miles down the trail from Seven Springs. I'll have to look at my map for the actual trail number (41) and update this. I also have added a few pictures taken from the area between Crown King and Horsethief Basin. I have a few more, I just have to figure out were I have them stored.

    -Joe

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    The road this day was in very good shape, but the closer I got to New River the bigger the rocks got, especially in the wash crossings. There was a section ahead (not photographed :cry ) that was pretty challenging from a 'don't drop it' standpoint. I bounced around a bit on the DR350 I was riding that day but made it through unscathed.

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    Trail 41 comes out at I-17 at Table mesa, North of new River but South of Black Canyon City. I just added these pics from the previous ride to illustrate the possibilities that exist in the same area.

    From here, (the TNF), it is a simple ride to the Crown King exit and another climb up the mountain for even more spectacular views in the mountains around Crown King and Horse Thief Basis. Camp or not, the choice is yours.

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    I've got so many more pictures of this area that I need to find, but these give you an idea of what is available. Enjoy the ride. When the ride is all over, there was this...

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    -Joe
    #13
  14. GB

    GB . Administrator

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    Moved to Day Trippin'
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  15. Purcell69

    Purcell69 Mors ex Tenebris

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    Sweet, thanks for the move. Much more appropriate. :thumb

    -Joe
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  16. OKDQ

    OKDQ Been here awhile

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    Nice report, Joe. Glad you found some time to work in a ride. Hope all is well.


    DQ
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  17. East Coast Rider

    East Coast Rider Just Me...

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    Nice!! :nod Wish I lived someplace more....wild.
    #17