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Thinking of touring across Arizona?
9/22/2012 10:20 PM
While I like touring, the reality of bicycling in Arizona is that you might spend a majority of your time getting from one good place to the next. I like to suggest a series of day rides. The winter months can be a bit cold in the northern part of the state. Of course, it's all relative! To Wisconsonians, it could seem balmy. Much of Northern Arizona is part of the Colorado Plateau and is about 4000-6000 feet above sea level. Flagstaff is at over 6800 feet. By contrast, most of the rest of the state is Sonoran desert in the 1000-3000 foot range. This variation in altitude is what allows folks to snow ski and water ski in the same day. In April, 2012, I-40 near Flagstaff was closed for about 2 days because of 12 inches of snow.
In the Phoenix area, my favorite month for riding is April. I like it because you can ride pretty much any time of day. In the winter months, the days are short and the mornings can be chilly, making the mid-day the best time to ride. In the summer, the mid-day is too hot for most people, so riding is best done very early in the day. April has enough daylight and the temps are mild enough that you can ride early, mid-day, afternoon, or evening and it's all good. The fall season has a similar sweet spot, but I think that the desert in the spring is particularly beautiful.
That being said, starting from the northern and working south, a few suggestions...
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is hard to ignore. The West Rim Drive is closed to most motor vehicles and offers great views on a 20-mile out-and-back ride. The East Rim Drive offers more miles, but is open to motorized traffic. Unfortunately I think that winter weather conditions might be somewhat in-hospitable for cycling in that location. Similarly, nearby Sedona could be more wintery than you might think.
Leaving Sedona to the south, the newly upgraded Rt 179 to the Village of Oak Creek (VOC) features the beautiful red rock scenery that Sedona is famous for. This new road is as bike friendly as you could hope for. A round trip between these points is about 25 miles. It's NOT flat, but the grades are not extreme. This area is also becoming a mountain biking destination. I'm not much of an off-road biker but all reports are very positive. You might contact the Bike and Bean in VOC about mountain bike rentals and trails suitable for roadies like us.
Phoenix has some nice riding. The Arizona Canal cuts through the heart of the metro area and has miles of paved bike path and underpasses at almost all street crossings. Candlewood Suites has a location on I-17 which has great access to the canal paths and other paved bike trails. I've never stayed there and don't know anybody who has but I have noticed that the back gate of the property is literally right on a paved bike trail which connects to the Arizona Canal trails. A bike ride to the Desert Botanical Garden would be a great way to spend a day in Phoenix.
NOTE: In February, ABC hosts a weekend overnighter from Phoenix to Wickenburg. Wickenburg is a fun little cowboy town which is a pretty easy 40 mile ride each way. This coming ride (2013) is already scheduled on the calendar at AzBikeClub.com.
Tucson is a very bike-friendly community but a little bit out of my area of expertise. While it may be a bit more demanding than you're up for, the climb up Mt. Lemon is on my cycling to do list. I don't know how well they accommodate bicycles, but the beautiful Saguaro National Park is on the outskirts of Tucson and could be a great ride.
Kartchner Caverns is a world-class show cave near Benson Arizona. The state park there has camping and the area could be a staging point for some nice riding. Check the schedules for cave tours as the Caverns operate on a restricted basis when the bats are mating. The towns of Sierra Vista, Tombstone and Sonoita could make for nice waypoints.
While there are some significant climbs in the area, the Victorian era copper mining town of Bisbee is very interesting. I recommend the tour of the Copper Queen mine. Bisbee was once a thriving town within spitting distance of the Mexican border. Bisbee had virtually become a ghost town and then in the '60's and '70s it was reborn as a funky artist community and tourist destination. Look for a B&B in town.
I hope this helps. Let me know if I can be of any further assistance.
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