In April 2007 I moved from North Carolina, where I had been living for a few months doing carpentry, back to California. It gave me the opportunity to spend some more time on The Road.
I left Franklin early in the morning. Spring had come early that year, but we were still on the tail end of a cold snap and it had been getting down to freezing at night. What little leaves had grown already got killed off by the frosts. I followed highway 64, through the same Smoky Mountains I had been living in, to the Tanasi Trails in Tennessee. Right by the trails is the Thunder Rock Campground, I got a spot for the night there.
Thunder Rock Campground
A little over 7 miles west of Ducktown, Tennessee on highway 64 turn into the Ocoee #3 Powerplant. Follow the signs to the campground around back.
Many of the sites are a little too close together but it is a pretty campground with lots of trees sandwiched between the river and a cliff. The river is flooded for river goers Saturday and Sunday, so I suspect camp sites are hard to come by Friday and Saturday night. The sites are $12/night. They have flush toilets, water, and showers. There are 42 sites at the campground.
A little under 6 miles west of Ducktown, Tennessee on highway 64 turn into the Ocoee Whitewater Center, site of the 1996 summer Olympics. There is a parking lot with a $3 fee.
I started from the Thunder Rock Campground, taking the Rhododendron Trail. Then the south part of the Bear Paw Loop. Next I got on the Chestnut Mountain Loop. From there I did the Thunder Rock Express which drops you back at the campground (this is the preferred direction for this trail). The circuit was 8.5 miles.
I wasn't too impressed with the trails until I dropped into the Thunder Rock Express. The Bear Paw stuff was real amateurish. The Chestnut stuff was fire road stuff for grandmas. The Thunder Rock Express, rightfully regarded as the creme de la creme of Tanasi, was awesome though. It wasn't technical but had awesome flow lending to some serious speed, very well designed. But one good leg, especially a short one, isn't enough to keep me coming back.
I had intended to drive to Memphis and camp on a campground on the outskirts of town. But I decided to push on through to my next destination, the Syllamo Trails near Mountain View, Arkansas. The cold snap was definitely breaking up, and with the warmth were some hard rains. As I headed toward Nashville on interstate 24 the Smoky Mountains became foot hills with big green pastures. The terrain got even flatter as I approached Memphis on interstate 40. Across the Mississippi River on the highway in Arkansas the land was dead flat farmland, it looked like the Midwest with lots of black people. The land remained flat until a few miles before Mountain View, I was now in the Ozark Mountains. 13 hours later I arrived at the Blanchard Springs Campground, I hate doing those long drives.
Blanchard Springs Campground
From Mountain View, take highway 5/9/14 north for 5.5 miles. Take a left on highway 14 and follow it for 6.6 miles. At the sign take a right and follow the campground signs for another 3 miles.
The campground is awesome, very beautiful. It is in a deep rocky valley with a little river running through it. The sites are $10/night. I saw about 30 of them. There is water, flush toilets, and hot showers.
The weather was cool in the morning but clear skies, and it took quite a while to warm up. I went into town and got a map of the trails from the Forest Service office (bankers hours of Monday to Friday 7:30 to 4:00) on highway 14 on the east side of town. The I went and did some biking.
Syllamo Mountain Bike Trails (Scrappy Mountain Loop)
There are 50 miles of trails here. I did the Scrappy Mountain Loop because it was described as being the most difficult. There are two trail heads for the loop. The easiest one to get to is on highway 5. Take highway 5 from Mountain View for 10.3 miles. Make a right into the parking lot at the sign that says "Syllamo Mnt Bike Trail". There is a $3 fee to park.
I did the Scrappy Mountain Loop clockwise starting at the parking lot on highway 5. The loop is 12.5 miles.
The Scrappy Mountain Loop is the best mountain biking east of the Rocky Mountains. And you can quote me on that! Actually what do I know? I have done about 10 rides in the east, all of which are IMBA rides. And they just point you to places with long trails, not necessarily quality rides. But Syllamo is everything I knew riding in the east could be like but had just not found until now. Rather than just being a trail that goes randomly through the woods that you can ride a mountain bike on, it was constructed to use the terrain to make a interesting, challenging, and fun ride. The trail has difficult obstacles and awesome flow, you can get cooking in some sections. And it is not just a short little section of good stuff then a mediocre ride after that, it is pretty much awesome start to finish. It goes through some beautiful terrain. Hell, it is even the best marked trail I have ever been on. It would be hard to improve upon it. The only thing I can think of is putting a few switchbacks on the northern section, you would have to walk a bit there if you did the ride counterclockwise. I will definitely try to make it back here some day.
I started out the day with a hike around the park. There is a little hike that goes by a little lake and a spring that is great.
After this the plan was to do the Womble trail near Mount Ida, Arkansas. There are some primitive campgrounds in the area, but none with that much needed post ride shower. My plan was to camp at the Lake Catherine State Park near Hot Springs, about an hour away. Hot Springs was a big tourist destination in the early part of the last century with it bath houses. Now there is a national park and one of the old bath houses has been renovated as a museum. There are still a few in town that are in operation. And one of the old original bath houses is still operational ($20 for a soak, $20 for a massage). If I am in the area again I will probably make a detour to check it out. But I just took a brief look around the museum. I stopped by Parkside Cycles, 501-623-6188, and got the scoop on the Womble. Then I took off. It had been raining off and on all day and a big storm was coming. So I scrapped the plan to camp and drove on to Mount Ida and got a hotel room at the Royal Oak. It cost $40. It was clean and it had wireless Internet access.
From Mount Ida, take 270 west. Make a right onto 298. 200-300 yards later make a right at the sign that says "Fulton Branch Rec Area". Make and immediate left into the parking lot.
The Womble is an out and back, 37 miles one way. From what I could gather the section west of the parking lot was the best section to ride. I rode west for a little over 4 1/2 miles, 9 1/4 total.
When I got to the trail it was cold, 45 degrees, and wet and cloudy. The terrain had been flattening out quite a bit since Mountain View and I could tell this wasn't going to be my type of ride. My ass was sore, I hadn't ridden all winter and I hadn't got used to riding yet. But I was determined to at least check out a little bit of it. Once I got there and got warmed things started looking up. I was right, it was a pretty flat and uneventful trail. But it flowed pretty good. Spending some time in the spring woods was nice too, all the trees had their leaves and there were also flowers. So while I wouldn't be motivated to come back and ride the Womble again I had a really good ride.
The next destination was Big Bend National Park, 16 hours of driving. But I would be passing through Dallas and there was place I had been wanting to visit there on the outskirts. I had been thinking about getting as Casitas camper trailer, they make low cost "egg shell" campers. They don't distribute their campers to lower the costs, to see them you have to go to the factory or get someone who owns one to show you theirs. Unfortunately they wouldn't be open until Monday so I would have to kill a day in Dallas.
One interesting view of America is checking out old cities that have seen better days. Duluth, Minnesota is a good example of what I am talking about. It is interesting to check out the architecture in downtown, there is usually some things that are quite impressive. I love to think what it must have been like when these towns where in there prime. They always seem to have some revitalization going on. There will be a nice pub with a micro brew or an Internet cafe to stop by and take a break from driving. So I stopped into Texarkana to check it out. Well apparently Texarkana is the exception to this rule, a total shit pit. I didn't see any cool looking places downtown, just shifty looking characters.
The hills kept fading away as I drove on. Texas was very flat. I made it to the outskirts of Dallas soon after dark and I got a room.
It was a warm sunny day. I had found a campground on the Internet that sort of on the way to Casitas. It was in Malakoff, Texas on Cedar Creek Lake. I got a spot there and took it easy for the day.
I stopped by Casitas in the morning and checked out the campers. The campers were nice. It was exciting to think about future road trips in one of the campers.
I continued on toward Big Bend National Park, the green trees fading away to the drabness of the desert. At Fort Stockton, the last town on the road to Big Bend , I stopped and got a room. I didn't push on for many reasons, the chief of those was the wind. Camping in the desert wind should be avoided if possible.
Being the last town on the way to Big Bend National Park hotels in Fort Stockton were expensive. I am cheap bastard and I hate paying for hotels. You get so little for so much. I checked a few places and finally went with a little place called Budget Inn. It was run down but clean and had wireless Internet for $40. Beats paying $80 for a Super 8.
In the morning I went to Big Bend National Park. The desert got prettier and wilder looking as you approach the park. The cacti and ocotillo were flowering. I got a spot, no problem, in Rio Grande Village Campground. I was a little worried about getting a spot with out a reservation. As I understand this was the tail end of the busy season. The weather was nice, shorts and T-shirt. There was wind, but nothing crazy like Monday.
Rio Grande Village Campground
Rio Grande Village is a nice little campground. There are 100 sites that are $14/night. They have very peculiar reservation rules that I won't bother getting into here. They have flush toilets and water. And a short walk down the road is the Rio Grande Village store that has some basic supplies but also provides showers and laundry.
There is a short little hike that starts in the campground and goes down to the river and takes in some nice views. I did that after getting a spot.
More of the same great weather, a little hotter though. I hiked up Emory Peak, the highest point in the park. It was 2400' up in 4.something miles. All the trees had their leaves, the cacti were flowering, and many other flowers were blooming. The ranger said that the peak season came later in the year, I can only imagine how beautiful it must get.
There are the remains of an old hot spring resort a couple miles from the campground. I went there later in the day. I shit you not, it was filled with about 25 college girls in bikinis. Usually your company at hot springs is some guy in his 60s, if you are lucky wearing some shorts. They were a group of ecology students from McGill University in Montreal. There were only two guys in the class. These guys are fucking brilliant, eh? I fully expect those two to graduate summa cum laude. Unfortunately everyone left not long after I arrived. Wonder what I said? I continued to lounge for a while and took a brief swim in the Rio Grande.
I packed up in the morning, driving to the south end of the park. The river there runs through a canyon called Santa Elena that is really pretty. There is a short hike down the canyon.
My next destination was some biking outside of Patagonia Arizona, too far to drive in a day. I continued on through the desert. I made it to Rockhound State Park in New Mexico, a little over an hour west of El Paso.
Rockhound State Park
From Deming New Mexico take highway 11 south. Make left on highway 141. Veer right at the t-road.
The beauty of this country is very subtle, wide open desert with islands of mountains. It is not the type of place that draws people from far and wide, but it's all right. This campground is set at the foot of one of those mountains. They have about 30 sites and the all important shower. It runs $10/night.
Every trip has a day or two that is a bust. This one sort of turned out to be one.
I started off the morning with a nice hike around the parks little trails. Then I was off to Arizona, and the Kentucky Camp Trails near Patagoina.
First off I couldn't get any information on the ride. I had directions to the trail and turn by turn instructions. But this was really no good to me. The ride as described was 38 miles long, too long for me. And turn by turn instructions are terrible for biking, its impractical to keep stopping to look at the directions. These direction were laughably 4 pages long too. What I needed was some advice on the good spots and a map of that location. I spent hours trying to get info with little luck. I got of the interstate at Benson, no dice. I went to Sierra Vista, the only big town in the area unless you want to go to all the way to Tuscon. There I went to 2 bike shops and a book store, no dice. I finally got a map in Patagonia but it didn't have enough detail to be very useful.
Then when I saw were the ride was going to be at it was disappointing It was kind of an interesting area. The desert terrain had been similar since I left Big Bend National Park, but it changed quite a bit there. The altitude was upwards of 5000'. And rather than jagged mountains it was for the most part rolling hills sparsely populated with trees rather than the desert plants. The problems was that the terrain didn't look like it would support a much interesting mountain biking.
Interestingly the trees were just starting to get their leaves there. The trees at the higher elevations in Big Bend National Park had all their leaves, even at higher elevations. And Dallas which was farther north had all its leaves. It is interesting to see how the combination of altitude and latitude effect the leaves.
Then I was disappointed with the campground. I went to Patagoina Lake State Park and got a campsite but soon decided to leave. It was nice country side. But they packed you in really tight and there was just a ton of people there. I had been to far worse campgrounds and been just fine but I wasn't in the mood to camp there that night. I decided to go to Tuscon to get a room.
With all the hassle getting info, the prospect of a lack luster ride, and the disappointment with the campground I was feeling pretty discouraged. I started driving toward Tuscon and I drove right past the ride. There was still a little light left so I decided to ride. I figured just ride a little there to see what it was like then move on. A little exercise would feel good. And it did, it turned the day around.
Kentucky Camp Trails
Off highway 83 go west at the sign saying Kentucky Camp. Follow the forest service signs to the parking lot. Its about six miles.
From the parking lot I followed the road down to Kentucky Camp. At the far side there is a single track trail. That continues for about 2 miles. It dead ends into a fire road on a ridge. I rode the ridge for about another half mile and camp back. It was five miles total.
The little section I rode wasn't too bad. Rolling hills don't lend themselves to dramatic rides. But the part I was on flowed pretty good. There were a lot of stones to make the ride interesting. One negative would be the soil was a little to loose. But like I said I had a good time. Will I come back? I don't know, maybe if I am passing through.
It had gotten a lot cooler. After I got packed up I headed to the east section of Saguaro National Park and did some hiking. I wasn't even sure I was going to stop by. How good could a National Park be that has urban sprawl on the other side of the road? It was awesome. I did a short hike through the desert (not all of the park is desert), the Loma Verde Trail to the Pink Hill Trail to the Squeeze Pen Trail. It was 3.6 miles of photogenic desert in full bloom. The cacti were just starting to bloom, but tons of plants a flowers were blooming. The section near the Loma Verde and Pink Hill intersection was particularly great. I can't wait to come back. The Saguaro National Park has some great backpacking opportunities. You start in the desert and hike up the mountains to pine forests.
After that I headed off to Sedona. I didn't think there was any chance of getting a camp spot coming in late on a Saturday night but I was wrong. I pulled into Cave Springs Campground and got a spot with no problems. It was still early enough in the season to do so.
Cave Springs Campground
Cave Springs Campground is about 11 miles north of town on 89, west side.
Cave Springs Campground is only campground in the area with showers so I gravitate there. There are 82 spots, 11 reservable, for a whopping $20/night. They have pit toilets and water. It is a pretty campground. You would have a hard time trying to find an area in Sedona that wasn't beautiful and I still think you would come up short.
It was pretty cold that night, upper 30's. But it was the moist air that really made it seem cold.
In the morning I went and poked around Slide Rock State Park. All but a few trees had their leaves. Then I went into town and bummed around. I stopped by Sedona Coffee Roasters, a place I know with wireless Internet, on the west side of town by the movie theater.
Later I went for a bike ride. I met a couple there from Ontario, Lucien and Glenda, and did the ride with them. They were both really good riders.
Broken Arrow Trail/Llama Trail
Take 179 south out of town. Make a left on Morgan Road, the 7th left from 89A. Morgan Road ends in a Parking Lot. You must have a pass to park there.
I started off on Broken Arrow Trail, doing the side trail to the Submarine Rock. I turned on to the Llama Trail. From there I got on Bell Rock Pathway. There are some signs that lead you through a neighborhood to the Mystic Trail. The Mystic Trail ends at Morgan Road and back to the trail head. It was 14.2 miles total.
The ride was awesome, 9 out of 10. The trail was just full of awesome obstacles, occasionally punctuated with fast flowing sections. I don't think you could ever get bored of that trail. The only reason I wouldn't say it was perfect was it has the same problem many trails suffer, it wasn't designed for bikes. There were about a half a dozen spots that required portaging and that is with the amazing soil and slick rock that makes it seem you can peddle up anything. The Bell Rock Pathway is a trail for strolling, use it if you want to get back fast (you won't miss anything on the Mystic Trail(. Otherwise just double back and do the Llama and Broken Arrow the other directions.
It was cool and cloudy in the morning. I went into town to take care of a few things. Then I headed on to Valley Of Fire State Park in Nevada.
It is a steady climb from Sedona to Flagstaff, which is around 7000'. Not much higher than the campsite it started snowing. As I drove the elevation slowly decreased and with it the pine forests that were in the higher elevation faded away into desert.
I had to pass over Hoover Dam. I got out for a while and took some dam pictures. I also stopped in Boulder City and Bike Stuff bike shop, 1647 Nevada Highway. The Bootleg Canyon Trails are in Boulder City and I was going to do them in a few days, so I stopped and got a map.
Valley Of Fire State Park
Take 15 north from Las Vegas. Then take highway 169 to the park.
There are 2 campground that are about a mile apart, Arch Rock with 29 sites and Atlatl with 22 sites. Atlatl has the showers, Arch Rock is probably a little prettier. But both are very pretty set in these valleys created by big red sandstone. There is water, toilets, and showers. All for $14/night.
Perfectly clear skies and warm that day. The park doesn't have long hiking trails. Instead it has parking lots at scenic sites with short trails through the area. You can just scramble up a rock and keep going if you like make it longer though, and that is what I often did. I got in my car and went around the majority of sites and checked them out. And they were all great, it is lots of red and white sandstone in the Nevada desert. There were lots petroglyphs too. It would have been nice to have a crusing bike to bike to the sites.
In the morning I drove over to Bootleg Canyon for a ride. I drove by Vegas in the morning and the smog was amazingly thick. I go to the ride by about 9:00 and it was feeling a little hot, I would say upper 80s, low 90s. I just wasn't used to it yet.
Bootleg Canyon Trails
From highway 93 in Boulder City, go north on Canyon Road (near where 93 turns at the light). Canyon Road ends in a dirt road, keep following it north and you will wind up at the parking lot. Parking is free.
I rode the Girl Scout Trail to the Caldera Trail. I didn't finish the Caldera loop. I got off on a new trail, that wasn't on the old map that bike shop gave out, which lead back to the start of the Caldera Trail. Then I did the Boy Scout Trail. From there I went to the top to check out the downhill trails (I knew I wasn't going to be up to riding them but I wanted to check them out when the park was empty). I rode/hiked the Snakeback trail back to the parking lot. It was about 7 miles. Then I rode a few of the little north shore obstacles by the parking lot.
I have a lot of opinions about this place, some good some bad. First the good. For the most part the trails are great. The have fun challenging obstacles and lots of fast section too. The soil leaves a little bit to be desired, a lot of scree and sand. But for the most part it doesn't hinder climbing the hills. It just makes fast descents a little sketchy. Now the bad. The exception to this positive review is the new trail off the Caldera. It was pretty bad. It kept going is these step ravines that was hard to get enough speed to get out of so you had to walk out the other side. It also kept going laterally across hills and going over these exposed rock faces that were often kind of lame. That trail needed some work and maybe they are getting to it. The place is small, to get in a 10 or 15 mile ride you are going to have to loop around and do most the trails. There are signs here and there, but really the place is poorly marked. Overall it pretty good, I think the next time I am there I will have a better ride.
The downhill trail I rode on was amazing to see, the top section was especially impressive. There were these huge sketchy obstacles, and to top it off there was deep scree all over the place making it even sketchier. It just awesome that people conquer there fear to ride stuff like that.
After that I headed off to southern California to do the Noble Canyon ride near Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. One of lifes great pleasures is the Vegas buffet, so I stopped by Vegas for a while on my way. The desert slowly turned into coastal California. I wasn't going to be pretty late by the time I made it to Cuyamaca Rancho so I stopped in Temecula a got a room for the night.
It was warm and sunny in the morning. I drove over to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and got a spot.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is on highway 79 south of Julian.
There are quite a few campgrounds in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The two developed campgrounds are Paso Picacho and Green Valley, with 85 and 81 sites respectively. I got a spot at Paso Picacho. The sites are $15/ night. They have all the good stuff, flush toilets, water, showers. The park and campground are quite nice. A fire has done a lot of damage to the park, but that is not the end of the world.
I wasted a quite a bit of time looking for a ranger to see if they could tell me what spots if any would be available Friday night should I choose to stay. I didn't want to move my tent if I decided to stick around. The problem is that you have to call the reservation system and reserve at least 2 days in advance. Now that fact means that the sites that were going to free is known. But when I talked to the ranger, she said she wouldn't tell me. I was told that if she told me that then she would have to tell everybody and that she had too much work to do for that. Maybe it is a California state park policy. If so it makes it difficult for spontaneous travelers to use the state park campgrounds.
After that I drove over to do the Noble Canyon ride.
From interstate 8 take the Pine Valley Road exit and go north. Go left on Old Highway 80. Make a right on Pine Creek Road. Turn right at the sign that says "Cleveland National Forest Noble Canyon" and park.
I rode up Pine Creek Road, about 3.8 miles from the parking lot. Then I got on Laguna Meadows Road, another 2.2 miles. Then I got on Noble Canyon Trail. I made a wrong turn and added another mile+ near the bottom. The whole ride was 15.75 miles long.
The ride was very excellent. Pine Creek Road and Laguna Meadows are paved, but that is kind of nice because you efficiently gain a ton of elevation for long awesome descent. The Noble Canyon Trail really lends itself to speed. The soil is perfect and it is costal California so the trees are not too dense, which is nice. But it is not all fast descent, there are quite a few obstacles too. They are not as extreme as I saw on the Sedona trails, I didn't spend much time with my bike on my shoulder, but they were challenging. The trail gets real tame for a mile or so near the end (the part where the soil is sandy). But then for the last half mile there is a section of some pretty intense technical riding.
I debated going to Malibu, there is some good riding there. But I would have to get a hotel room. Money was getting tight. And after being gone so long I was eager to get back home. So in the morning I drove back home, through L. A., the central valley, and back to Fairfield.