Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route
Ride Report AZBDR April 2014
I have been inspired by the route planning of the Backcountry Discovery Routes team. The “BDR” goal is to plan and publicize dual-sport motorcycle routes, then produce detailed maps (in cooperation with Butler Maps), DVD’s of the trips, and free GPS tracks for the routes. Previous routes included the impressive scenery of Washington, Utah and Colorado. The latest addition to the BDR catalog was a route across Arizona. I have spent some time in years past traveling the back country of Arizona by 4×4 and ATV, especially in the Sedona area. When the “AZBDR” was announced I began making plans to ride this new route. My ride began with a 1200 mile trip by truck from my home in Arkansas to Sierra Vista, AZ. This would be the starting point for my route. (I hauled my Yamaha WR250R on the rear rack of my pick-up.) I was on the road from the motel shortly after 7:00AM on April 1st. It was about a 30 minute ride south to the official start at the Coronado National Monument that is situated right along the Mexico border.
After 3 more miles of paved road within the park, the single-lane gravel road climbed to the top of Montezuma Pass at 6,575 feet. There was a clear view down the valley back to the east 5 miles to the start.
After crossing the pass, the BDR route continues down into the plains along the US Mexico border. I had originally thought about skipping this section and riding north, but I was glad I had changed my plans. The rolling hills and scenery were very cool. Plus I was able to ride along the actual international border. The fence is VERY unimpressive and barely keeps cattle from crossing the border!
It was a total of 43 miles from my motel in Sierra Vista to the Mexican border road. It was light overcast at 9:00 am on April 1st. Everyone wants to know if I saw any illegal “trespassers”? The answer is NO, but I did see at least 10 Border Patrol trucks and evidence of observation stations.
Here is a video of the route along the Mexican border:
The BDR route follows the actual border for only a short distance, then winds north and west, eventually connecting Highway 83 to Sonoita. Forest Road 900 continues north of Hwy 82 and connects with FR 913. This section includes a warning of deep sand. Since I was riding the BDR solo – and had no one to impress – I took the “bypass” back to Hwy 83. It was on Hwy 83 that I was “waved through” a Border Patrol checkpoint that included several agents and a drug sniffing dog.
A few miles north on Hwy 83 I turned east on Hilton Ranch Road to Red Cloud Mine Road. This is a rocky, rutted, and remote 10 mile stretch to the intersection with Interstate 10. From here it is about 10 miles on I-10 to Benson for fuel and a late lunch.
Except for the 10 miles on Red Cloud Mine Road, the riding had been fast and easy. I covered 142 miles and made it to Benson at 1:40 pm. As I was approaching Benson, my low fuel light came on – only because my Yamaha still thinks it has the original 2-gallon gas tank, instead of the 3.1 gallon IMS tank. I refueled with 2.4 gallons which calculates to an averaged 59 mpg. (The 3.1 gallon capacity – 2.4 = 0.7 gallons remaining. Actual range = about 180 miles. In addition I also carried two 1-liter MSR fuel bottles as a reserve and as fuel for my camp stove.)
The BDR route runs through Benson on Business 10, then turns north on Pomerene Road and Cascabel Road along San Pedro River which is bordered by irrigated pastures.
My original plan was to camp near Redington. The road north was easy 2-lane, well-traveled gravel. I encountered a few cars, trucks, and even a school bus. I also passed 6 Harley's riding 2-up, including 1 trike taking the back road south from Redington! Then I passed 1 motorcycle with a sidecar and 1 ADV bike.
It was only 3:30 pm when I passed Redington so I continued on to Mammoth. It was 4:30 pm when I stopped for fuel at Mammoth. I had traveled 213 miles so far. I topped off with only 1 gallon, meaning that I had averaged 70 mpg on the easy ride up from Benson.A look at the map showed that it was only 20 miles to Winkleman. The BDR route continues on Camino Rio Road north of Mammoth. This road parallels a railroad track and the San Pedro River to Winkleman. It is generally easy, with some washouts and rocky sections. It took just over an hour to ride the 20 miles.
I had “supper” (that is, a hot dog) at the gas station in Winkleman. I continued north on Hwy 77 looking for a county park, which I never found. But a few miles further I found a Forest Service primitive camp in the Gila Forest near Christmas. Total miles for Day 1: 243
Day 2 started on Dripping Springs Road. First the road is 2-lane gravel, then it turns onto a 1-lane road that climbs the ridges for great views of the Pioneer Mountains.
Again, the riding is easy – until the last short climb on a VERY rough trail near Pioneer Pass. The views from the pass are impressive at over 6,000 feet.
There is a nice Forest Service campground just over the pass. It’s then a scenic ride down into Globe for a late breakfast.
I refueled with 1.2 gallons since my last fill in Mammoth. I had ridden 66.5 miles = 55 mpg. After brunch, I left Globe about 10:30 am. The BDR route takes Hwy 188 to 288. It then turns on Cherry Creek Road or FR203. Again, this starts as 2-lane gravel for several miles. The road crosses Cherry Creek and Coon Creek. There are several great camping spots near the creeks.
After the last creek crossing, the Forest Road turns to a rough 2-track for about 40 miles of challenging riding.
This section of the trail is described as “the most difficult of the trip with relentlessly rocky two track.” I completely AGREE! There are LOTS of washouts, rough slopes with loose rocks, hairpin corners with water crossings and ruts. Almost the entire section of trail is run in first gear due to the rocks and ruts and slopes.
FR203 clings to the eastern and northern slopes of the mountains. The good news is that you have some shade on this section in the afternoon. You would bake in the mornings during the summer!
I repeat: this section of the AZBDR is 40 miles of challenging, slow riding. There are NO bailouts. NO side trails, and no shortcuts until close to Young. You only have the option of cutting over to intersect Hwy 288 for the last 15 miles or so into Young.
As mentioned, I was riding solo. I had no problems along this section – except for dumping my bike trying to ride it over a downhill, washed out rut at 0.5 mph. Unless you are very confident in your riding and back country skills, I would NOT recommend tackling this section alone. You could literally be 20 miles from help if you break down or get hurt. I never saw another person or vehicle. Much of the trail would be impassable in a stock 4×4!
The map shows the BDR route turning east on FR329, and then joining FR54 heading into Young. This is marked “Expert Only”, and since I was riding solo I turned west towards Hwy 288. This last few miles on FR203 were just as challenging as the previous stretch of trail. In fact, the last section before hitting Hwy 288 (which is just a gravel road) included a steep 180-degree switchback, and then a climb up a slope with some of the worst large, loose rocks, deep washouts and ruts on the entire section.
I was so thankful for my nimble WR250R and could not imagine wrestling a bike weighing hundreds of pounds MORE on these rough sections!
I arrived at Hwy 288 at 3:15 pm – 4 hours and 45 minutes to cover the 65 miles from Globe, much of it at 10 mph or less.“Highway” 288 into Young is several miles of well-graded gravel. There isn’t much in Young. (It used to be called “Pleasant Valley” when it was originally settled in the early 1800’s. That is before a deadly blood feud erupted. Later they changed the name to Young, which was the name of the first Postmistress in the area.)
There is a 1-pump gas station (with regular gas) and I topped off my tank: 1.4 gallons for the 80 miles since Globe, for 57 mpg. It was 4:30 pm and I continued north on 512 to Hwy 260. The road climbs to over 7,000 feet in elevation. The temperature dropped dramatically as I crossed Clear Creek.
Then it started to snow! I turned west on Hwy 260 to reach FR 300, also known as the Rim Road. FR 300 was open – it had been closed for the winter until recently – so I motored west looking for a camp site for Day 2. As I arrived at a Forest Service campground 9 miles up the road, the flurries turned to a heavy snow. In 30 minutes there was over 1 inch of fluffy snow and it was starting to snow harder. Day 2 miles = 153
In Young I was told that 6 inches of snow was possible. After I had set up my tent, I realized that 6 inches of snow would strand me for at least a day until it melted enough to travel. So I yielded to caution and repacked my gear and backtracked the 9 miles to Hwy 260, and then rode through whiteout conditions in the dark down into Payson, AZ.
I have done plenty of winter camping. I had nothing to prove by setting up camp in the 20-degree conditions. A hot shower at the Super 8 in Payson was better than possibly spending a day (or three) alone in a cold campsite on the Mogollon Rim!
Day 2 miles after the wet, cold ride to Payson = 190
Day 3 started with fuel in Payson. I had traveled 74.3 miles total since the last stop in Young. I needed only 1.2 gallons = 61 mpg, including about half highway riding.
I took Hwy 260 north to Hwy 87 for 28 miles of highway riding to the Rim Road FR 300 on the west side of the Mogollon Rim. I would then ride east to almost where I had tried to camp the night before.
The forest road was VERY slippery with the fresh snow. There was no grip for the front wheel so I had to ride slowly until I hit sections in the sun where the snow had melted. Some of the hills were all but unclimbable with no more than 2 inches of snow. I had made the right and safe decision not to camp overnight (in addition to not having winter gear along. Temps were still below freezing until late morning.)
I took lots of great pictures of the rim with a covering of snow. Most of the way through the forest I was the only track on the road meaning that I was the only one to witness the scenery – especially since the Rim Road is closed during heavy snows of winter.
After the Rim Road, the BDR continues on FR 139 and then 139A. Unfortunately, FR 139A suffered a washed-out bridge and was being rebuilt. With an unloaded bike and a riding partner I might have bushwhacked around the construction. But I decided backtracking four miles was better than getting stuck.
Back at the intersection of 139 and 139A I left a marker that you can watch for if you get the chance to ride the AZBDR – see below:
I saw many, many fresh elk and deer tracks. Traveling through this section of the forest north of the rim I was also treated to the sight of 21 elk!
Leaving the forest, you cross Hwy 87 and continue north on FR 211 and FR 82. Forest Road 82 is a 2-lane road until it gets closer to Long Lake, then it becomes a 1-lane road, and then degrades into a dirt track. North of Long Lake, the dirt track deteriorates into a trail better suited to ATV’s than 4×4 vehicles. The track is badly eroded, sometimes 6 inches and sometimes several feet below the surrounding grassy plain.
The terrain opens to high mountain meadows and evergreens. I saw another 6 elk while traversing this section.I fought the continuous rocks for about an hour until the temps rose above freezing and the mud started to thaw, and then the rough track became very greasy. A few times it was easier to ride in the rough meadow next to the trail!
After 100 miles, I came to the intersection with FR 124 and turned west toward Sedona and family. Again on this stretch of the BDR I never passed another vehicle, much less a motorcycle!
The official AZBDR trail continues north to Winona and then the Grand Canyon north of Flagstaff. I had ridden 243 miles on Day 1, 190 miles on Day 2, and 100 miles on the BDR route on Day 3 for a total of 533 so far.
FR 124 begins as a muddy trail and then eventually opens into an actual forest road, although still VERY greasy with the thawing mud. I crossed over Hwy 3 south of Mormon Lake, then continued west to Interstate 17 and the exchange with Schnebly Road.
I grabbed a broken stick and scraped off as much caked-on mud as possible. The chain and suspension was completely clogged with the clay. Poor Yamaha!
The light snow the night before had turned the dirt roads into slick grease, almost too greasy to stand up on! I can only imagine that this section would be nearly impassable after a heavy rain. And Arizona gets heavy “monsoon” rains in late summer!
Schnebly Hill Road is an ADV destination in itself. It leads down into Sedona and the unique red rock landscape.
Here is a video of the ride down Schnebly Hill Road:
I reached my destination in Sedona late afternoon on Day 3 having covered 143 miles. In total I had ridden 576 miles from Sierra Vista in three days. The official AZBDR route recommends four days to cover these sections, ending in Winona at Interstate 40. The full AZBDR also includes two more days riding north through the Navajo Reservation and includes a side-trip to the Grand Canyon. This would provide an easy 6-day trip across Arizona of about 743 miles, or 123 miles per day. Because of many previous trips to Arizona and the Grand Canyon I elected to skip these last two sections for this ride. If you are planning to ride the AZBDR and have some extra time, I would definitely encourage you to take the 40 mile side trip to Sedona. There are hundreds of miles of well-marked trails in the surrounding forest and desert. There are also numerous guided 4×4 and ATV tours, as well as many places to rent ATV’s and Jeeps if you want an alternative to your motorcycle. It took a few hours to scrape and wash the mud off the Yamaha. Then I enjoyed several days of vacation in Sedona. Too soon, it was time to load the bike for the drive back to Arkansas.
All cleaned up, now I am ready for the next adventure: the Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico sections of the Trans-America Trail and the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route later this summer!