For years, I’d simply assumed that we lived quite near the center of the mountain biking universe. And then, in November worlds collided on a family trip to Sedona. The moment our knobby wheels touched the smooth, red trails of Sedona, we were hooked. The other trails had been a tease, a simple taste of heaven. These were the real deal.
Sedona is, without a doubt, gorgeous. But so are lots of other places. What makes Sedona special is not the vortex culture, the new age commercialism, or the residents and citizens who sincerely believe in a legacy of past lives (overheard in a restaurant, “It all made sense. I’ve always liked Japanese culture and then she told me that I once was Japanese!”). Those things are fine, if you are into them, which we are not. What we are into is spending time together in beautiful places on our bikes and skis. Given the lack of skiing in Coconino County, Arizona, biking must prevail.
A Pile of Spaghetti: Bell Rock
Our introduction to Sedona’s trails came from a 74 year-old Italian who rides every day. Sometimes, he told us, he is so excited to mountain bike the next day, that he doesn’t sleep at night. He lives and loves to bike. As we looked at a trail map together, planning our route, he laughed “See all these trails! They all come back to this place. They look like a pile of spaghetti, but you can’t get lost!” We were standing in the Bell Rock parking area in Oak Creek, a town just a few miles south of Sedona. The towns are separated from one another by National Forest land, which provides an aesthetic buffer from overdevelopment and a close-in venue for outdoor fun.
The sandstone buttes and mesas in this area are named for the objects they loosely resemble: Bell Rock, The Courthouse, Chicken Point, Submarine Rock. The primary trails are well-marked with trash can size cairns, but side trails take off and wind through the forest, and are often confusing. Our Italian friend suggested we keep our eyes on the landmarks and take off. No worries. The trails are mostly or rolling and unlike riding in Western Colorado, the exposure is minimal as is the risk of cliffing out. This doesn’t mean they are easy. There are slickrock portions, steep climbs and descents, plenty of large rocks to avoid or roll over. A great trail with a bit of everything? Follow the Llama. Looking for something technical, search out the Highline.
Just North about 4 miles from Bell Rock is the Broken Arrow trail head. There is a double track road that leads from the parking lot to Chicken Point which is popular with jeeps, but is also a great place to practice mountain biking skills with little pressure. Having sprained my ankle on day 1, I was a bit nervous about riding singletrack on day 3, when I got back on my bike. I didn’t want to be in any situations that would require bailing off the bike. This hardpack road bed was perfect. I wasn’t the only biker and with the exception of a burst of jeep activity around 1:30 p.m., it was peaceful and beautiful. While the trail is wide, it wasn’t boring, with slickrock and some fun descents. I kept thinking that it would be a perfect trail for new riders who want an introduction to slickrock and the desert. The incredible views at Chicken Point provided the payoff. I had to share them with the many jeep passengers, so it wasn’t peaceful. But it was fun.
From this point, I returned to the car. My family carried on down the Lost Horse trail and once again found themselves in singletrack heaven. More piles of spaghetti, endless opportunities and butter smooth, hardpacked trail. They wandered and explored for another hour, finally calling me to pick them up at Bell Rock.
Much of the trail around Sedona winds around and dead ends (at least for bikes) at the edge of National Forest Wilderness. Parking at a trail head, we rode an easy doubletrack trail to Deadman’s Pass. Deadman’s Pass is rockier and hillier, but still nothing scary. Winding up at the Boynton Canyon parking area, I wished I’d brought a lock for my bike so that I could hike up Boynton Canyon into the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness. Having no lock, I rode back to our condo and my son and husband carried on along the Aerie Trail to Western Civilization. It’s not like I could’ve hiked very far anyway with my bad ankle, but next time I’m bringing a lock and heading up the canyon on two feet.
The report on Aerie and Western Civilization was positive and the next day we went back and rode Aerie as a family. The trail starts with a series of tight turns and then gains elevation at a steady pace as it climbs Doe Mountain. Due to the exposure, it is rated a Moderate trail. The drops aren’t big, but the cacti adjacent to the trail are. You definitely don’t want to fall. The trail eventually ends up at the Aerie Parking Area, where you can take Cockscomb (recommended by my family) back around or join up with Western Civilization. My son and husband liked Western Civ a lot until the end when they ended up in a difficult, rocky river bed.
A Word About Road Biking
When you enter Sedona, one of the first signs you see proclaims the city a Bike Friendly Community. It is. Highway 89 has sidewalk, while 179 has dedicated bike lanes. These are the busiest roads and once you leave them, the pavement is smooth, with few cars and many vistas. Because of my hurt ankle, I ended up riding much more on the roads than I had planned. Amazingly, I saw very few road bikers. Actually we saw very few mountain bikers. On a busy day, having passed maybe 5 other riders in the span of two hours, we were talking with a local who was complaining about the crowds.
A Sense of Well-Being
As for us, we found nothing to complain about in Sedona. Truly, nothing. The late fall weather was perfect, with clear blue skies and golden cottonwoods. The trails were endless, varied and super fun, leading us up and down, in and around striking sandstone buttes and monoliths. The local cuisine was outstanding and memorable and we rented a condo that was absolutely perfect for our needs. Our week in Sedona was sublime.
At one point, I overheard a local guide explaining to his group why people come to Sedona to visit a vortex. “Being in a vortex gives you a strong sense of well-being,” he said. That may be true. But for our family, I’m pretty sure it was the endless trails, those piles of spaghetti, that created our joy.
When You Go….
Sedona has a mild climate. We were there in late November and it was in the high 60s most days. Nights are cool, but barely, if at all, below freezing.
A tourist hot spot, there are tons of lodging options. We lucked into (or was it karma?) a Groupon which got us a great deal on a condo.
As for dining, we arrived at 5:30 one evening to put our name on the list for Elote, only to find that the wait was already 1 hour. “C’mon, we thought. Can it be that good?” As we were leaving, my husband’s phone rang. It was a friend from Colorado. When my husband told him we were in Sedona he began rhapsodizing about Elote. “You can’t miss it,” he told us. So we waited and had one of the best meals ever. Karma? Vortex? Or just coincidence? Who cares? Don’t miss Elote.
Finally, for biking information, Over the Edge Sports (sister to the Fruita, Colorado shop) has maps and friendly folk to steer you where you want to go. The maps are black and white and a highlighter (or several) would be helpful for marking them up.
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