The Arizona desert is a place in which I honestly still do not feel entirely at home. As the pleasant winter months give way to a brief spring before an oppressive summer, I reflected a bit on what I’ve learned after living in this region for just over a year. The searing summer heat often takes my breath away. Monsoon thunderstorms still make me nervous. Clay soil that turns to sticky mud when wet is surprisingly abundant. Sharp rocks constantly slash at my sidewalls. And just about every plant is covered with spines of varying shapes and lengths (those that are not apparently taste quite foul).
Despite all this, I learned something new last month: Springtime in the Sonoran desert is absolutely magical. It might not last long, but when the wildflowers and cacti bloom, this desert becomes one of the most welcoming places I can imagine. I think I’ve actually learned this several times before, but the memory fades as the summer sun intensifies.
This relearning most recently occurred on the Black Canyon Trail (BCT), a 75-mile singletrack gem that carves its way through rocky canyons below the Bradshaw Mountains, taking you from the Interior Highlands of Arizona down into the low desert just north of the Phoenix suburbs. A couple avid cyclist friends from Santa Fe were in town for a weekend, so Caroline and I showed them most of the Prescott Monstercross route on Saturday and then arranged a 65-mile point-to-point ride on the BCT for Sunday.
And boy, were we in for a treat.
As we gradually lost elevation throughout the day, the flowers transitioned from blue and purple to golden and white, to brilliant orange and red, and finally to yellow. The colors distracted me on the fantastic descents as half my brain yearned to slow down and admire the flora while the other half ordered me to let off the brakes.
We rode all day in disbelief at the desert fireworks. The amazing trail kept going, winding its way through the lower hills after we finally left the Agua Fria River behind once and for all. The sun dropped lower and lower over the flat-topped mesas to the west as the saguaros cast longer and longer shadows. We began to wonder if we were going to reach the end of the trail by dark, but the showy sunset lasted just long enough for us to finish up without having to flip on our lights.
Rides like this are about as good as they come - good friends, world-class singletrack, an entire day in the saddle, and a desert in full bloom. I truly hope to be able to repeat a ride like this every spring.
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After growing up in Minnesota, I’ve been lured away by the rugged charm of the mountainous west. I relish every opportunity I find to spend a day (or days) on the bike, linking together unknown trails and forgotten routes through deserted country, enjoying the simplicity and unpredictability. When driven to race, I am growing ever fonder of pushing the limits of endurance and sanity. www.krefs.blogspot.com