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Winter riding in Snowflake

Snow, beautiful pristine

sparkling snow! Can’t wait to get out in it and play.

First plan…snowshoes. Don’t get me wrong, snowshoes are great, but in this deep, powdery snow with virtually no crust, my magical walk turned into a max-effort slog to get home after a just a few miles. Every step was sinking into the snow and every sunken step immediately filling with 6” and a pound of fresh powder. Whew… Snowshoes need to wait a few days till the temps rise, melting the this powder a bit and then fall to freeze a crust to hold me up.

Next day, next plan…fat bike! Surely the fat bike can be used in this snow… I’m not sure why I thought snow, which could not hold up my weight on 24” snowshoes could hold my weight plus a bike on 5” tires, but hope springs eternal. Not a chance, not enough power in these legs to push through this snow, so new idea! Maybe we can ride in the tracks of vehicles driving down the road first, so off the Vernon McNary Road. Someone must have driven this road! Well, they tried…so fun cruising down the road with studded tires zinging across the compacted snow in the tracks of a truck who went before. Wahoo!…until the truck who had ventured ahead quickly got stuck, took a 57-point turn to get out of there and abandoned ship. No going any further for us, but I did get a cool show pic near one of the wind-blown snowbanks by the road! Now what? Knees can’t ski and I’m getting restless stomping around in the paths I have dug around the house. Got it! Let’s go where there is no snow right now, where the ground is sandy and the trees are sparce so we can absorb some sunshine. Where to go locally, to find no snow? Why, Snowflake/Taylor of course! If you don’t want to drive for hours and want to ride some great trails, Snowflake/Taylor is the place to get away from winter for a bit of a tropical vacation of sorts.

“It’s the only game in town right now”-Janice Rubin

So off we go, bikes loaded up and hopes high! Temps in the low 40’s at home, we drive north and watch the thermometer fall… it’s a not uncommon temperature inversion as we drop into Taylor, and when we arrive its now in the low 30’s. A couple of layers including a windbreaker and good gloves cut the chill and we are perfectly warm to completely enjoy our ride, pretty much forgetting that we are in the middle of winter.

The Snowflake/Taylor trails impress me for many reasons. Disregarding the creativity and complexity of the system for a minute, I would like to thank and congratulate the people who have the foresight and conviction to bring these trails to life. Starting with a network of “wildcat” trails, the two main co-conspirators on this project, Brandon Hatch and Rick Brimhall, with an assortment of dedicated volunteers, began developing amazingly professional and stimulating mountain bike trails at an unbelievably rapid rate, by hand, miles at a time. Through cooperation with the landowners and the town of Snowflake and Taylor AZ, a $400,000 match grant was secured and a long-term lease of the area was agreed upon. There is constant ongoing work and new improvements to be added as the park grows, including nature paths for walking, a half-pipe for BMX, scooters and boards, restrooms and a cross-country MTB racecourse. This is just an excellent example of how towns and citizens can work together to improve the quality of life for all. When we visited, there were dozens of kids from toddlers on Striders to teens on BMX bikes and dirt jumpers enjoying the bike park end in Snowflake and multiple groups of MTB riders shredding the singletrack extending from Snowflake to Taylor and enjoying life in the White Mountains. This area is where the Arizona Cycling Association has held one of their interscholastic races the past two years and it has quickly grown to be a favorite destination for locals and visitors alike. These sandy trails dry quickly and are perfect any time of year, although the openness prefers evening and morning rides in summer. In fact, this is the automatic answer in our shop when folks ask where to ride this time of year: “Go North and ride Snowflake/Taylor! Have a great time!” These sandy trails dry quickly and are ridable very shortly after a storm system moves off.

We began our ride from the Taylor side, off Papermill Road, parking at the Northeast Arizona Training Center. This side is more beginner-friendly and is a great warm-up before for heading towards the Snowflake side, which presents a little more challenging ride. The singletrack leads out from the west side of the NATC parking lot, goes down to a dirt road, where you take a right for a few hundred yards. You need to pay attention to the bike tracks ahead of you and be alert for a singletrack leading East off of the dirt road. Once you hit that trail, just keep riding, making decisions to take a left or right turn at each intersection to build a unique trail experience every time you ride. We found a newly flagged section and followed the new raw trail in sweeping curves across the open grasslands, feeling the ease and speed these trails would develop once thoroughly ridden in. The advantage of having rider-built trails is that the trails are built with exactly the right amount of curvature to build up and maintain speed as you ride. Gradually we were led up into the cobblestone knoll there, climbing higher and passing by fantastic sandstone formations and eventually to a panoramic view of the area all the way from the Petrified Forest and painted Desert to the North and the White Mountains proper to the south. These trails keep you on your toes as a corner can lead you to unexpected adrenalin inducing downhills or punchy climbs so keep your wits about you and practice your bike handling skills. Stay alert also, for fun trail objects placed strategically, from interesting signs to old bikes in unique spots, demonstrating the local passion and love for these trails. I have noticed that there is never any trash or graffiti on these trails, again showing the respect and love riders and hikers have for this area. Eventually, the trail will lead you to the Snowflake/Taylor boundary fence and you will pass through a gate which connects the two trail systems. Please be sure to keep gates closed or as you find them. Landowner buy-in depends on respectful treatment of their lands.

The entrance to MTB trails on the Snowflake side is a bit hidden, but begin from the Eastern corner of the bike park and curve quickly down the west side of the Jake Flake drainage, the main land feature dividing the two sections of trail. Heading up Pinhead Knoll, there is a thumbprint of trails that curl up and around the knoll, cleverly designed so that although riders can pass within a dozen feet of another rider curving down the trail, there are very few intersections. This trail definitely exercises the brain as well as the body. Short punchy climbs demand attention to peddling and gearing and the weather-worn sandstone formations provide fully navigable but thought-provoking climbs and drops. This section of the trail is lined with fun rock art lines and balancing piles of cobbles. Many of the sandstone formations have jutting edges which require attention as you pass by. The trail often passes directly through forks in old gnarled junipers and immerses you into the ancient landscape you are passing through. As you climb to the top of the knoll and look across the eroded bowl these trails are in, you can imagine the prehistoric inland sea landscape this area is a remnant of. Imagine water filling most of what you can see from the top of the knoll, and the sandstone you are standing on, being a sandy beach, during the Triassic period 200 million years ago. Phytosaur fossils can be found to the East in Saint Johns Az and petrified palms and fossils of prehistoric aquatic crocodilian reptiles are found in the Petrified Forest to the north, a place well worth a visit.

Work in progress: The connection for the MTB trails between the Snowflake and Taylor sides is currently under construction and you will just have to head South across the wash and through the dozer disruption and down a two track road leading South to reach the Taylor side. This area is currently being worked on as part of a paved walking nature trail system that will follow along the wash and be a part of the Snowflake parks and rec system. There are grand-scale plans for the prominence to the Southwest of the bike park and ramadas and new trails are in the works. Please support these trails by being respectful of both trails and landowner’s fences. Contact Snowflake and Taylor governments to show your appreciation and support, and ride, ride, ride! The more people ride and appreciate these trails and the more business these trails bring to these small towns, the more their governments will realize that the project is worthwhile and self-sustaining. MTB trail systems have been literally life-saving to small town across the United States and the trails in Snowflake/Tayor have the definite potential to become SW ride-destinations that will help rejuvenate these towns through tourist dollar infusions.

Have a great winter everyone! See you on the High country trails once the snow melts and the trails dry.

Here is a short video of the bike part portion of the area.


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