Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Schultz Creek Trail

A section of the Schultz Creek trail as it nears 8000 feet above sea level. The white barked quaking aspen trees are just leafing out. The difficulty of the trail is not reflected here.
The Schultz Creek drainage flows out into Fort Valley on the north side of Flagstaff roughly between the Dry Lake Hills and the higher mountains of the San Francisco Peaks. Most of the time the creek is dry in the lower stretches. The Schultz Creek Trail runs along the creek from the city limits of Flagstaff to Schultz Pass and is a mountain bike trail of some renown. It is frequently listed as one of the top mountain bike trails in the west. It therefore was quite a disappointment to me when I finally got to experience the reality. The scenery is good but much of the trail is in a bad state and poorly designed.

The creek valley (or canyon - they call everything around here a canyon) is a lovely place, particularly in the upper reaches of the stream, where water still flows on the surface and the deep greens of the spruce and fir trees contrast vividly with the startling white bark of the aspens. At higher elevations there are even small amounts of water to be seen flowing in the stream bed and grass covers the narrow creek bottom. Flowing water is a rare sight around Flagstaff.
There was a small amount of water flowing very slowly in a short section of the upper part of the creek in a nice, shady ravine. I'm sure it's a water hole for wildlife considering the scarcity of water in the area but I did not see much obvious sign.

Unfortunately the lower parts of the trail show severe signs of overuse. There are numerous "social trails," that is to say, trails that have been broken by wandering riders, hikers, and horseback riders, and it is difficult to even identify the correct path of the trail. In addition there are severely eroded sections of the trail. There are also too many stream crossings. Most of these are dry most of the time so I am not complaining about getting wet, but the dry creak bed is full of loose rocks up to boulder sized. There are many mountain bikers that enjoy that type of trail but to me it is bad trail, really suitable only for hiking. I kept wondering if I had accidentally wandered onto the incorrect path. I'm sure some of these alternate lines are easier than others so if I come back I will take alternate routes to see if I can find a better riding experience.
These teepee shaped piles of logs indicate preparation for a controlled burn. This is the dry, lower section of the trail, where the forest is predominantly pine.

I rode fine for a while but since I had chosen to ride up from the bottom it was a very long slog. Eventually I had to stop and take rests and push my bike up steep, technical climbs. Along the way I realized the popularity of the trail probably has as much to do with the fact that it can be easily ridden downhill-only due to Schultz Pass road being nearby for the entire length of the trail. I kept having to move aside for riders screaming down the trail from the top, some of whom I saw twice. Now I am a slow rider but I know that I am not so slow as to be lapped by someone riding up the thousand feet via an alternate route, even the road. Quite frankly a few of these riders looked like they weren't in shape to ride up anything. They were obviously using a shuttle vehicle. Now I'm not going to say that's cheating, but yet I am saying that. Come on people, you have to earn it! At least ride the bike up the road, not a pickup truck.

The trail moves away from the road when you reach the top of the pass and there are a couple of nice views over meadows like this one. I'm unsure of the mountains but suspect the two on the left are Agassiz and Fremont Peaks.

I earned my way to the top. I was a little disappointed to not be able to ride all the way from bottom to top without pushing my bike. This disappointment was mitigated somewhat by the fact that much of the walking was due to trail that was very technical and somewhat exposed and therefore risky for a solo rider. It didn't bother me too much. This is especially true if you take into consideration that the climb was nearly a thousand feet. I actually felt alright once I plateaued out in the vicinity of the pass and rode around fine for a while.

I stopped at Schultz Tank, a small pond at the pass. It's a lovely place but it was marked no bicycles, causing me to have to leave my bike by a moderately busy gravel parking lot so I did not do as much hiking around as I normally would (theft). I took a couple of pictures and avoided talking to the young lady doing yoga on the other side of the pond who had obviously mistaken me for someone else. Maybe that's why I'm still a bachelor?

The pond appears to have an obvious dam on the east end so it's not natural. One of the characteristics of the San Francisco Peaks region is the lack of natural surface water. I had seen one of the rare natural places for surface water in Schultz Creek but I do not think Schultz Tank counts.
Schultz Tank. I suspected the embankment on the left to be an artificial dam.

Eventually I decided to ride back down to my truck on the road since it was getting on towards dinner time and my legs were used up from the huge climb. The ride back down was a very long, fast downhill and was mostly quiet with a view nice views. I was vexed only by someone passing me in a truck, then stopping as I passed them, then they passed me again, ensuring I was breathing in dust from the gravel road for about a half mile. Such are the perils of riding forest service road. Next time I will ride up the road and down the trail. I gauge that is a more fun way to ride the trail. Since I have already ridden up the trail, I do not need to do it again.
A view of Agassiz Peak from Schultz Pass Road not far from the crest.