A Big Ol' Half-dirty Loop....

A few days ago I did something that has intimidated me for years: rode up the twisty road in Oak Creek Canyon (89A from Sedona to Flagstaff).

It's not the steepness that scares me, it's the cars.  If you've ever been on this road, you know that it's super tight, twisty, under the shade of the deep canyon walls and lots of trees, one of the most "beautiful scenic drives in the country", which inevitably means hordes of tourists who suddenly forget how to drive properly.  The switchbacks themselves are even pretty remarkable, climbing their way out of this spectacular canyon alongside the ever-flowing Oak Creek up onto the Mogollon Rim toward Flagstaff.

(Vintage postcards online :-)
(Per Wikipedia, the canyon is often described as a smaller cousin of the Grand Canyon because of its scenic beauty. The Oak Creek Canyon-Sedona area is second only to Grand Canyon as the most popular tourist destination in Arizona.)

While admiring the canyon's beauty, tourist drivers regularly swerve off the road, into the opposite lane, stop suddenly in the middle of the road to take photos, etc..  For myself and other locals who commute and/or actually have things to do in Flagstaff (like a job! appointments! etc!), it can terribly frustrating (sorry Lauren!), and we often despise driving through the canyon especially on the weekends or during tourist season.  What could take 30 minutes with normal flow, can take 90 minutes of pure frustration.  I often have to remind myself that it IS gorgeous in there and that it could be worse...WDC traffic...haha!

So, anyway, I've wanted to ride my bike up this for years, but feared being roadkill.  So, a friend recommended doing it super early on a Sunday morn to avoid the traffic.  Plus it's blazing hot this summer so the cooler temps at that hour would be nice.

I hate out-and-backs (I'm a loop girl!), so I opted to take the mountain bike with it's fatty tires and make a big day out of it...exploring dirt roads and singletrack up on the rim, then making a loop out of it and finally descending back down into Sedona via sweet singletrack (40-50 minutes of downhill depending).  I doubled up the PSI in my tires for the paved ascent, then once I hit dirt, I softened them up a bit.

So, I did a few things that I normally don't prefer to do: set my alarm for 4am and wore a logo'd bike jersey (hoping that the bright colors would reveal me to any drivers).  Downed some strong coffee and up I pedaled.

It was definitely slow-rolling as I knew I had a big day in front of me...guessed somewhere between 5-9 hours depending on the wide loop and on what new places I'd find to explore (and/or any mishaps).  Water could be an issue as there are no stores along the way, but there is a natural spring (spiggot) half way up the canyon w/the fresh water from Oak Creek where I could refill my 2 bottles, as well as a lone gas station 30-40 miles into my route.

(View from the top of the switchback (facing south).  Finally saw the sun from here and started to thaw out.)

Some tidbits and surprises:
-Saw very few cars in the canyon at that early hour.  (West Fork lot was empty...gasp!)
-It's cold and windy in the canyon in the mornings.  As in, I couldn't feel my fingers/toes til I hit the rim (roughly an hour and half later).
-Once up on the rim and on some of the old doubletrack jeep roads, actually did not see a single vehicle (2 hours?).  (Hrmm, I wonder how many mountain lions/bears saw me??!!)  
-Saw a few blonde elk.  
-No mishaps on the bike.  
-Was blistering hot by the time I descended back down the rim.
-Perfect amount of water and food for the day.  
-And yes, Mom, I reapplied sunscreen, especially as I was up at over 7000' elevation for most of the sunny day.  (Love my Kinesys travel-sized bottles!)

So, 70 miles, 4500' climbing (2500' in the first 18 miles or so; and about 1000 in a 2-3 mile section), and 7 full hours contributed to the fun log!    The photos can tell the rest of the story, and you can see it was just a fantastic day on the bike....

(Crossing an old dry lakebed.) 

(Had to hop on the interstate for about a mile to reconnect to dirt. Scariest part of the day, w/bigrigs whizzing by at 80mph, but not too bad.)

(alas, glimpses of home....this is one of the most beautiful spots on earth....where the whole world opens up below.)

 (Looking back up the overlook before dropping down...can you see the tourists? )

(Yay...alas the final Singletrack which descends back down...about a 1300 ft drop from here!)

(Yes, we have non-red dirt here too :-)

(On the final descent back into Sedona, down Schnebly Hill, via Munds Wagon trail/singletrack.)

Twas another good day on the bike!

In love.

No matter how tired I am after flying for months on end, there's nothing quite like that first glimpse out the plane window -- of a rugged mountain ridgeline or a deep dry river bed or a pristine forest carpet all so distinct to the Southwest to perk a girl up.  And no matter how many fantastic places I've gotten to see around this globe, this is home.   In love

( Click on this pic to enlarge, then scout out where YOU'D like to go! Trail or not. :)