Friday, September 02, 2011

Coconino 250, Stage 1, Part A

During a conversation with WPG the other day, he expressed his interest in flying out to the southwest for the Coconino 250, a 250-mile grassroots mountain bike stage race here in northern Arizona.  I've taken it upon myself to help him out by doing some reconnaissance by riding the route myself in smaller stages over the course of the next 8 months.  So, here's the first in a series of posts regarding the route:

Stage 1, Part A: New Frontiers to Marshall Lake

I began at New Frontiers (a local health food store here in Flag) and headed out for the first 10.4 miles of the ride from the start, near Lonetree and Butler Ave., to Marshall Lake.  Once off the pavement of Lonetree Road, the route follows about a mile of the Flagstaff Urban Trail before it veers off on the Arizona Trail (AZT).  It immediately brought back some fond memories for me.  I did my first group ride since moving to Arizona on this trail, and I also had my first Arizona OTB wipeout here.  Since I generally stick to the trails near Mt. Elden and Fort Valley, it's been years since I've ridden this section of the AZT, and I forgot how absolutely beautiful it is this time of year - lush and green.  The single track winds through the forest on an old double track and drops into singletrack that rolls through some open meadows below Fisher Point.  At about mile 4.9, the trail splits for a route to Fisher Point or a route towards Marshall Lake.  At this point, and although I'm familiar with the area, I realized how important it will be to carry the cue sheets, especially in areas that I am unfamiliar with.  The mileage seems very accurate and will be a necessary and handy thing to guide you/me through the course.
AZT Shortly Before the Junction to Fisher Point and Marshall Lake
Heading along the AZT towards Marshall Lake, the trail crosses a drainage before it heads up to the top of the Mesa.  Here begins the first of several hilly challenges.  A series of switchbacks lead you up the mesa and eventually to a loose, rocky straight up climb.  It's a challenging climb by itself.  I would imagine that with the required bikepacking gear, it's certainly a hike-a-bike.  I walked several portions of it carrying only my CamelBak. Once on top of the mesa, the singletrack trail undulates across a series of valleys through ponderosa pine forest.  I had two bull elk cross the trail in front of me, as I dropped down into one of the valleys.  A beautiful sight. The wildlife only got better.  As I cruised along, I approached a full tank on the right.  To my surprise, I saw what, at first I thought was a large black dog running away from the tank, but it turned out to be the first black bear I've ever seen in the wild in Arizona.  So cool!!!  And after some further map reading, I'm pretty sure that the tank is called Bear Tank...  kind of fitting.
AZT Singletrack Before It Heads Up to the Top of the Mesa Towards Marshall Lake
The trail emerges from the forest into an open meadow.  The nearly level singletrack is fairly smooth going, but with an occasional cluster of rocks, just often enough to keep you honest and on top of your game.  Around mile 9.8, the trail starts to descend towards Marshall Lake.  Now, as you'll see in the picture below, keep in mind that Marshall Lake is a seasonal lake.  Generally a small marshy body of water during the spring and wet times of the year.  Right now, it's dried up to almost a nonexistent body of water.  And at this point, the end of the first leg of my reconnaissance. Time to turn around and head home (please see this post about the return trip).
Marshall Lake, Almost Completely Dried Up
Next - Stage 1, Part B:  Marshall Lake to Mormon Lake Road, approx. 20.6 miles.


WPG said...

Thanks for your help Sarge, I'm really excited about heading out to AZ next fall for a little riding.

SARGE said...

If you take on the Coconino 250, it'll be more than "a little riding". I'm looking forward to it too.

WPG said...

Oh it's gonna hurt for sure, but at the same time it will be a really cool vacation.