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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mountain Biking Mount Elden, Flagstaff AZ

   Well anyone that knows me, "Arizona Jones", knows that I like to mountain bike.  In the summer it can get pretty hot in Cottonwood where I live.  In fact temperatures of well over 100 degrees are nothing unusual.  So when it gets hot I like to travel to higher elevation where it is cooler to ride.  One of those spots is Mount Elden near Flagstaff Arizona.  Mount Elden is part of a series of mountains north of Flagstaff called the San Francisco Peaks volcanic field.
 Mount Elden is one of the  peripheral mountains and it rises up above the already 7000 foot high plateau that Flagstaff is on.  Mount Elden is one of the farthest south of these mountains and is also one of the smaller ones being about 9297 feet in elevation.  Some of the other peaks reach as high as 12,000 feet. 
   Most of the other mountains are in a designated wilderness area but Mount Elden is not and so Mountain Bikes are allowed.  On Mount Elden is a great trail system that gives you opportunity for many different loop or out and back options.  With the bottom of the mountain being a full 2000 feet below the summit there are also great opportunities to get in some fun downhill runs as well as the tough climbs for those who want a serious workout.  And serious climbs at this altitude will really test even the best mountain bike riders. 
But for me it is about not just the workout but the enjoyment and the beauty.  Mount Elden is covered with a beautiful forest with a variety of trees including Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir, and Aspens. The eastern slopes of Elden were badly burnt by the Schultz Fire in June of 2010 but much of the good stuff is still intact. So here are some trail descriptions, to help plan a ride or hike.
Oldham Trail #1
Mt. Elden's longest trail at 5.5 miles, it begins at the north end of Buffalo Park (elev. 7,000 feet) in Flagstaff and climbs gradually past boulder fields and cliffs on the west side of Mt. Elden. You cross Elden Lookout Road several times as the trail winds higher through forest and meadows to Oldham Park and on to Sunset Trail near the summit. The trail is moderate at the bottom but gets very difficult on the upper part if you are climbing and has an elevation gain of 2,000 feet.
Rocky Ridge Trail #153
Ponderosa pine, Gambel oak, alligator juniper, cliffrose, and yucca line this western approach to Mt. Elden. This trail begins from Schultz Creek Trailhead heads east and connects with the Oldham and Brookbank Trails. Distance is 2.2 or 3 miles depending on which fork you take. Schultz Creek Trailhead lies a short way off Schultz Pass Road 0.8 mile in from US 180. Elevation change is only about 100 feet but there are some rocky technical parts on this trail.
Brookbank Trail #2
This moderate to steep 2.5-mile trail climbs north through a forested drainage to the edge of Brookbank Meadow, owned by the Navajo Tribe, then curves east to eventually meet Sunset Trail at a low saddle. The part of the trail between Brookbank Meadow and the Sunset Trail goes through some very nice forests and meadows.  Elevation gain is 1,000 feet. The trailhead (elev. 7,900 feet) can be reached by hiking or biking the Rocky Ridge or Oldham Trails or by driving a half mile in on Schultz Pass Road from US 180, then turning 2.5 miles up Elden Lookout Road.
When at Brookbank Meadows in the Dry Lake Hills area I often take an unnamed trail out southwest across the meadows to a view point that over looks parts of Flagstaff. There is a rock outcrop that I often take a break at and enjoy the view.
Schultz Creek Trail #152
This gentle 3.5-mile trail parallels an intermittent creek and also paralles Schultz Pass Road. The top is at Shultz Pass at the Sunset Trail Head (elev. 8,000 feet) and the bottom at Schultz Creek Trailhead (elev. 7,200 feet). Sunset Trailhead is at Schultz Pass, 5.6 miles up Schultz Pass Road from US 180, and Schultz Creek Trailhead is a short way off Schultz Pass Road 0.8 mile in from US 180. This is a very fun and fast downhill!
Sunset Trail #23
The alpine meadows and forests on the north side of Mount Elden offer some of the most pleasant hiking and bikling in Arizona. The four-mile Sunset Trail climbs gradually from Schultz Pass through pine, fir, and aspen to Sunset Park and on to the summit; elevation gain is 1,300 feet.  as you climb away from Schultz Pass you have some nice views back towards the San Francisco Peaks.  Latter as your head south you will traverse along the eastern edge of Mount Elden and will see below the visible scars left by the Radio Fire of 1977, and more recently the damage left from the Schultz Fire.  from different points on the Sunset trail you can view the San Francisco Peaks, Sunset Crater, and Painted Desert.
Begin from the Sunset Trailhead (elev. 8,000 feet), just west of Schultz Tank at Schultz Pass. To reach the trailhead, follow US 180 northwest three miles from downtown Flagstaff to Schultz Pass Road, then turn right 5.6 miles.

Little Bear Trail #112
This trail is steep in places with some switchbacks is 3.5 miles long with a 1,000-foot elevation change between Little Elden Trail and Sunset Trail. This may be still closed due to the big Shultz Fire in June of 2010.  This area being burned is a sad loss.  It was a real fun and beautiful trail to ride. 

Little Elden Trail #69
This trail descends down to the east side of Shultz Pass from Schultz Tank and links to trails that wind around the base of Mount Elden. From Schultz Tank to the bottom of Heart Trail in 4.7 miles. I have not tried this area since the Shultz Fire but I'm pretty sure this area has significant damaged.

Here is a trail map I came up with to help navigate.  There are also many trails that are not named that are north of Schultz Pass Road that can be explored.  As well as several on Elden itself. 

My earlier post about the Shultz Fire   http://arizjones.blogspot.com/2010/07/fire-on-mountain.html 

Here is the best map I have found for the Mt. Elden trails by Dale Wiggins. It has many on it I have not been on. Very detailed!

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