Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Phoenix, Arizona - Mountain Biking and Hiking

After visiting with family in Massachusetts for the Christmas holiday, I headed down to Arizona to celebrate the New Year with Roger.  We had hoped for a long weekend of sunshine to camp at White Tank Mountain Regional Park, but the forecast was calling for a cold, wet storm to move through.  We decided to cancel our camping plans and try mountain biking instead, hoping for some decent weather to ride.  I flew down on Thursday night and we picked up my rental bike from Arizona Outback Adventures on Friday morning.  Our first ride of the day was at McDowell Sonoran Preserve, starting from the Granite Mountain Trailhead.  The weather was better than we had expected, with plentiful sunshine and mild temperatures.

Biking from the Granite Mountain trailhead in McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Bootlegger Trail
Bootlegger Trail

The trail network at McDowell Sonoran Preserve was very rideable, with plenty of smooth, flowy single track to make me very happy.  There were no technical sections that required walking, and the desert scenery was fantastic.  We made a loop of several trails, passing by landmarks such as Cathedral Rock and Balanced Rock.  After a few hours on riding, we decided to hit up the pool to enjoy the unanticipated sunshine before heading back out on the bikes.

Cathedral Rock
Cathedral Rock
Balanced Rock
Large saguaro at McDowell Sonoran Preserve

We finished the day at Phoenix Sonoran Desert Preserve, riding several trails from the Apache Wash Trailhead, including the steep Ridgeback Trail and overlook. The first few sprinkles of the impending storm began to fall as we finished our ride.  Considering the stormy forecast, we were thankful to have had a full day of riding.

Last glimpses of sunlight for the day
Roger enjoying the views at Ridgeback Overlook

New Year's Eve day was a rainy one in Phoenix.  We had planned to ride our bikes again, but the conditions were unfavorable all day with showers and low clouds.  Since the weather wasn't ideal for riding, we decided to hike for a few hours during the afternoon.  We headed over to Tom's Thumb Trailhead in McDowell Sonoran Preserve and began a 4 mile round trip hike to the famous landmark.  The trail was steep, and it wasn't long before the were hiking in the clouds.  A few breaks of sun, along with patches of fog, made for some dramatic views as we made our way to Tom's Thumb.

Along the trail to Tom's Thumb
Tom's Thumb in the fog

Tom's Thumb
Last sunset of 2016

Roger decided that we should welcome the New Year on North Top peak in North Mountain Park.  It was the last hike of 2016, and it was perfect.  We started the steep climb to the summit around 11:40pm, quickly ascending the poorly paved road in darkness as views of the surrounding city became more spectacular.  Just before midnight, we found a viewpoint with panoramic views of the entire valley.  At midnight, we were treated to dozens of firework displays as the city celebrated the arrival of 2017.

Waiting for the New Year on North Top Peak
Welcome 2017

We decided to hike at White Tank Mountain Regional Park on New Year's Day since the weather continued to be too wet and stormy for mountain biking.  A few breaks of sun and a brilliant rainbow encouraged us, but the storm clouds returned by the time we reached the White Tanks.

New Year's Day rainbow

We had planned to camp at White Tank Mountain Regional Park for the New Year holiday, so it was great to explore the park despite our cancelled plans.  Our first hike was to Waterfall Canyon, a short and relatively easy trail that passed several petroglyph panels along the way.  Thanks to recent rainfall, the waterfall was flowing, and it was a popular destination for many families out on their first hikes of the year.

Petroglyphs along the trail to Waterfall Canyon

Waterfall Canyon

Leafy ocotillo

Despite the cool, cloudy weather, we decided to hike a portion of the Mesquite Canyon trail before heading back to Phoenix.  The trail took us up over a saddle, and then along a rocky wash containing numerous, water-filled potholes.  The White Tank Mountains are named after these pockets of water, a critical resource for animals during the warmer months.  As we finished our hike, the sky began to clear, and the surrounding mountains became illuminated with a warm glow.

Water in Mesquite Canyon
White Tank Mountains

With the sun finally shining, we spent Monday morning and early afternoon biking at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.  Starting from Tom's Thumb Trailhead, we rode a majority of the Pemberton Loop, along with some additional side trails.  Again, the trails were fast, flowy, and smooth, making for a fun day of riding.  I headed back to the airport later that evening, marking the end of a great Christmas and New Year holiday with family and friends.

Biking at McDowell Mountain Regional Park
McDowell Mountain Regional Park
Riding at McDowell Mountain Regional Park