I had done this route last year as a 3-day outing, the days were long and there wasn’t much time to relax at camp as we had to ride 70+ mile days. This year I opted to turn it into a 4-day ride and slightly tweaked the track to up the fun factor. In the end I suppose I made the mistake of doing this concurrently with the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo race. A bunch of my bikepacking friends participated in desert laps while I was riding on the Queens Ransom route east of Phoenix. Luckily my buddy, Evan, drove over from San Diego and another fella Chris found the ride online and wanted to check out the AZ bikepacking scene. The kicker in all this? 220 miles of bikepacking bliss right from my front door!! To say I’m a bit stoked on how this route links up is a gross understatement.
As we neared the singletrack, I had a surprise for the fellas: Desert Trails Park in NE Mesa. It’s a new skills park built on a vacant lot, pump track, skills area, XC loop and 3 downhill flow trails ranging in difficulty await the rider.
We entered the singletrack at the Hawes Trail System. This is flowy desert terrain with incredible views, but watch out or a stray boulder will get ya.
After a few miles of Twisted Sister & Wild Horse trails, we made the short detour down the road to the shooting range. We were itchin’ to squeeze off a few rounds, not really, they have an ice cold water cooler & soda machine!!
All topped off on fluids, we made the sandy climb up the backside of Pass Mountain. This would be the big effort on the day. (click on photos to enlarge)
We rattled our way down Pass Mountain with no major hiccups. It’s a rather bone-jarring descent. A quick spin on some fast flat Usury Park trails led us to a county island strewn with horse trails. These trails are hit & miss, so we straight lined it over to McKellips Road for a short bit of pavement into the Goldfield Mountains.
The day was getting long and we were hoping to make it to the Jacob’s Crosscut trail before sunset as it follows the contouring foothills of the Superstitions. As luck would have it, Chris snapped a chain and while we got him all fixed up darkness was upon us.
The Jacob Crosscut trail gets progressively more technical as is travels south. We were tested quite a bit before making our exit in an Apache Junction neighborhood. *Next year the route will stay on the Jacob Crosscut trail due to a rather unpleasant resident who clearly doesn’t know where the Wilderness boundary is located.
We met up with my buddy, Phil, in Gold Canyon for some Mexican grub at De La Cruz Mexican Grille. A brief stop at the Basha’s next door and we were all resupplied for the next day. I decided to cut out a short loop in Gold Canyon so we could make camp a bit earlier.
Dawn broke on day 2 and we were treated to an absolutely wonderful morning light show.
I concocted a fun route through the Gold Canyon trails, hitting all the highlights of the area. It was a great way to start the day as we had a 20 mile connection on jeep roads & pavement before reaching the famed Arizona Trail (AZT).
It was getting warm as we made our way towards the AZT and the oasis of Queen Valley came at the perfect time. Burritos & Cokes were had and water topped off at the Fitz Stop before leaving town.
By the time we reached the AZT turnoff it was mid-afternoon. My original plans had us camping down by the river (not in a van though). That’s the fun of touring, making changes on the fly. Our new camping goal would be a high saddle on the south end of Martinez Canyon.
Darkness fell as we neared Martinez Canyon and I felt a bit bad for Chris. This was his first time through here and he couldn’t see the beauty of the high contouring trail. I also knew he was in for a treat the next morning as you can see the snaking trail stuck to the canyon’s walls. We were also poised for an über fun 7 mile descent to the Gila River.
We woke on day 3 to a couple of section hikers passing through our trail hogging camp. We chatted with them for a bit and learned they had started near the Rincon Mtns east of Tucson with a goal of reaching Roosevelt Lake in a few more days. That’s almost a 1/3 of the AZT!! We packed up our gear and made our way into the moonscape around us.
Down at the Gila we found another bikepacking couple from Durango enjoying the warm desert trails. We filtered some water for the 16 miles along the river. This section of the AZT is sneaky tough and always wears you down
We took the short detour in Kelvin to the Wilson Trailer Court where there is a hose available for AZT users and a shaded park bench. Lunch was devoured, trash dropped off and we re-joined the AZT for what is known as the ‘stupid section’. It’s a two mile singletrack between the Kelvin auto bridge and the official trailhead up the hill. The trail has insanely tight off-camber switchbacks, climbs up, and then drops down into a sandy wash only to burst your lungs on the next climb. The surface is akin to riding on ball bearings. For some reason, this was my day. I cleaned all but 2 of the switchbacks and made both grunt climbs!! I’ll credit the fresh rear tire and extra weight, but I actually enjoyed the stupid section for once. Evan did too!!
Our next campsite would be near Area52. This is an isolated freeride area that was new to me since we had to bypass it last year due to time. We marched around a couple of sandy washes looking for a good camp spot. The stars were out in force once again, it wasn’t hard to get a good night’s sleep.
We arose on day 4 to all our stuff soaking wet. The dew had risen, so we hung our stuff to dry while we ate and packed up the gear. Our next challenge was to figure out how to get up on the giant rock formation known as Area52.
What happened next can only be described as dumb. 100% avoidable and 100% my fault. I came to the end of a rock spine, stopped, unclipped and looked down the measly dropoff. Unloaded I probably would have easily rode off the end. Instead, I decided to not fully dismount and I rolled over the edge while straddling my top tube. Rut-roh. Naturally, the bike wanted to tip and I became hung up in the front end. I stumble forward a bit before finally succumbing to gravity. Right hand went down hard, left hand straight into a hedgehog type cactus, then the bike landed on me. Oof.
My right hand/wrist hurt, but was nothing compared to the 20+ cactus spines in my left hand. I managed to shed my glove and pull most of the daggers out. I had to adjust my grip and be mindful of how I rode, but I could ride. We still had 60 miles to go!
We exited Area52 onto a long series of jeep roads. Some rocky sections, then some sandy downhill ones, but all rideable. We began making really good time as we neared Florence and our lunch break.
A quick calorie bomb at McD’s refueled us for the final fast, mostly flat 40 miles back to my house. Stay on the south side of the canal when leaving Florence to avoid loose dogs!! We cruised through the open desert as I hoped we would arrive at San Tan Regional Park before sunset.
One small route snafu delayed us a bit as there was now a private property sign blocking our way. A GPS consult ensued and I worked out a paved detour over to San Tan. We started up the Rock Peak Wash HAB just as the sun fell below the horizon. My buddy, Arturo, came out to the park to tag along for a few miles too.
All that remained was a super fun descent on the Dynamite trail & 7 miles of pavement. 30 minutes later we were done, high five’s all around!!
This is one of my favorite rides since it incorporates most of my local riding areas all in one shot, plus some of the best trail you will ride anywhere along the AZT. I still can’t believe I can access all this goodness from my front door…in the ‘city.’ Until next year, cheers!!
Thanks to Evan & Chris for making the long drive over. It was a blast riding with you fellas.
For a more detailed account and more pics from this ride, visit my blog: http://schillingsworth.blogspot.com/2015/02/queens-ransom.html
Route overview and profile. 220 miles & 17,500’ of gain.