Beautiful Desert Mountain Biking
Length: 7.23 miles
I found the Red Mountain Recreation Area, near Phoenix, Arizona, to be perfect for my ability… and a whole lot of fun to ride! The trails were often fast, with “climbable” hills. There were some challenging sections, with granite jutting up 1 to 2 feet, but nothing I couldn’t roll over as long as I kept my momentum.
Beauty…? As I have said before… I love riding through desert rock, brush, and cactus.
I don’t like “trails” which require me to frequently drop 2 to 3 feet off boulders (I walk down those). The Hawes- Saddleback- Miner Loop had none of these sections. Not once did I have to walk down a hill.
I also don’t like riding up or down steep hills with loose material, when I feel I have little control over my destination. This loop had just a few of those. The only real rough trail I encountered was due to my error reading my trail guide (Cosmic Ray’s Fat Tire Tails and Trails)… more on that later.
The day had started out great. We got to sleep-in (no grandkids)… ate a good continental breakfast provided by the hotel… and loaded up the car. We took a slight detour on the route to Red Mountain to see if the mobile-home park, to which my grandparents lived each winter in the 70’s, still existed. It did.
The grounds were as I remembered except the place had not been well maintained, and the all-dirt golf course we had enjoyed so much had been made into another trailer park.
After taking a few photos of the trailer park we drove to the trailhead for the Red Mountain Recreation Area. Cindy dropped me in the parking area where the Bush Highway crossed the Arizona Canal (marked with a “P” on the map below). We both immediately noticed Red Mountain off to the north. The trails I would be riding were not “on” Red Mountain. We figured someone named this area because it overlooks Red Mountain, or vice-versa.
To help visualize the Red Mountain ride or to aid in your own ride there, please enjoy this interactive, trail map. Click on Red Mountain for Directions to this ride. Click the icons for info on landmarks, both general and personal to this ride.
Have you ridden the Red Mountain before? What did you think of it? Share your story with us and others at: Visitor Stories.
Anyway… it was already warm… probably 85 degrees at 11:00. I knew it was going to be in the low 90’s, but I had 3 bottles of drink and the ride was only going to be about 7 miles.
The trailhead was down the road 50 yards, between the hill and the guard rail. Another 50 yards and I was on the “Pig Trail”, a twisty rolling single track through brush and small cacti that primarily heads south. After about 1 mile of bliss I came to the Hawes-Saguaro junction, and took the right branch (Hawes).
Expensive custom development houses came into view to the south. The Hawes trail ran parallel to these houses. I stopped to take some pictures of an incredible swimming pool/patio off the back of one house. I have done a lot of southwestern rockwork around my pool but this place… WOW!
About 2-miles from the start the Hawes runs up on a shoulder with a scenic view of Red Mountain and the Salt River to the northwest. I took pictures with my still camera. When I went to turn on my video camera I realized I had lost my remote control somewhere along the trail.
I set back down the trail to look for it. Almost immediately I came upon a man and women pumping up the hill. I asked them about the remote… they had not seen it.
I continued back toward the parking area asking 4 different riders if they had seen it… “nope, sorry.” One of the riders might have been the largest human being I had ever met mountain biking. I am not saying fat… I’m saying he was big… football big. He hadn’t seen my remote either.
I rode slowly, looking carefully, all the way back to the start of the Pig Trail, but with no luck. So I turned around and rode back toward the Hawes Trail. I found the remote control… 20 feet down the trail from where I had discovered I’d lost it … off to the side of the trail… it was upside down and just looked like a thin rock. Four miles of slow riding… staring down under every bush and at every black shadow… I had wasted a whole hour by not being more careful!
Back at the shoulder I took a picture of two guys whom I had seen earlier. They were from Santa Barbara and D.C. They said they had already ridden almost every trail in the Red Mountain that morning… they liked Red Mountain as did I. I was heading east and they were going west, so we said our goodbyes.
I continued east on the Hawes to the Saddleback Trail junction sign. I looked at my GPS then looked at Cosmic Ray’s distances. According to Ray I needed to travel on the Hawes Trail for another 1.5 miles. I continued on the Hawes to see if there was anything to see up there.
I found a couple of interesting things up there; a “Blazing Saddles” gate and a shrine dedicated to Richard Glasby, a power company lineman who had been electrocuted fixing a power pole hit by lightning.
I rode/dragged my bike all the way to the top of the mountain, adjacent to the microwave tower… what a view!
I lowered my seat some and made my way back down to the Saddleback junction. It seemed a lot hotter back down there, maybe 95 degrees. I called Cindy and asked her to meet me in 1/2 hour where she dropped me (she had done some shopping and was in an air conditioned Starbucks researching the hikes she would take the next 6 days). She liked to hike… but not so much in 95 degree weather.
The Saddleback Trail was just as much fun as the previous trails. I never did see the junction for the Story Trail and when the Saddleback ended I think I might have found out why. The sign for the Twisted Sister/Mine Trail junction had been removed. Maybe the Story Trail sign had been missing too… I didn’t see the trail veering off to the left. I hadn’t planned on taking the Story anyway.
I selected the Mine Trail (I never miss a chance to search-out and check old mines). The trail immediately took me up to the top of the peaks to the east… then wrapped around, following the ridgeline back to the northwest.
The Mine Trail was the best part of the loop. The way the single track wound through the red rock and trees reminded me of one of my favorite Disney rides… Thunder Mountain, “The wildest ride in the wilderness!” Rounding one sharp curve brought me to an open mine entrance. I quickly dismounted and checked out the man-made cave.
It only went back 50 feet or so… which I guess was a good thing as Cindy was down below waiting in the car in 95-degree weather.
The Mine Trail makes a sharp descent on the northwest side of the peaks. I made a hard right turn onto a side trail that took me directly to the pull-out where Cindy (and water) were waiting. I immediately downed 2 Gatorades and loaded my bike. I then began to think about jumping into that river… the Salt River. How great would a dip feel with the air temperature near 100 degrees? I would soon find out!
The video below will give you an idea of what this trail was like. To watch the video on a full screen click the icon in the lower right corner just to the right of the YouTube emblem.
We drove to the Granite Reef Recreation Area where I waded into the Salt River. I was shocked as the water could not have been above 60 degrees!!
How could this water… sitting in the middle of this desert… be so cold!!? Cindy asked me if I was going to swim out into the river but I declined. I didn’t stay in long. After getting out I changed in the pit-toilet, and then drove off toward Cottonwood… our next adventure.
To view the next ride on this road trip… click Thumper Loop.