New Estrella Trails a Bit of a Mystery

The people who built the FINS trails in the Estrella community of Southwest Phoenix are up to their old tricks again – but this time, they seem to be building new Estrella trails with the blessing of landowners.

I went out to FINS in late April for one of my rare West Valley forays; it’s a bit of a haul, and the FINS network doesn’t have a whole lot of mileage. But some fun on Kimurel’s Hurl – one-third of a mile of crazy fun complete with wooden bridges – appealed to me that day. I had my GoPro charged and was ready to go.

My day took a turn for the way better after knocking off one lap around the outside perimeter of FINS and run down Kimurel’s Hurl. After that, I struck up a conversation with a dude resting after taking a lap.

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A tight switchback at the new Estrella trails.

I always grill locals at FINS. It’s how I find out cool things, which sometimes are enough to turn into stories for mountain bike magazines. This particular stranger clued me into miles of new Estrella trails to the east (see the video to get a look).

As I questioned my new friend, I learned that the FINS crew worked with the people who own the land that comprises the Estrella community. They designed and carved the trails, which are well marked.

But nobody – and I mean nobody – is talking about these new Estrella trails. This is happening on the downlow.

Now, the signage for the new Estrella Trails is far from complete. I would’ve been flailing around without my tour guide. You may have to question a few locals to link everything together. And there’s a giant gap between the southwest end of D-Votion and the FINS network.

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The new Estrella trails are swooping, flowing fun – but some parts require hard work.

I’ll tell you what, though – there’s some fine stuff east of Estrella Mountain Parkway. We’re talking long, grinding climbs. Switchbacks. Tons of options. The kids from the Estrella Foothills High School mountain bike racing team will definitely benefit from these trails. The Wolves have a perfect training ground right in their collective backyard.

D-Votion itself isn’t quite as steep. But it’s full of flow and switchbacks.

Flow – that’s the mysterious quality that reveals who built a trail, isn’t it? When a trail flows, you can bet mountain bikers built it. Or at least had input.

So, two things are on my mind after riding these new Estrella trails.

First, it’s awesome that the developers/landowners see the benefits in engaging trail users.

Second -- why so quiet? What else are these trail builders up to? Why has the Estrella Trails Club website gone offline?

My Spider Sense tingles: You won’t find a map that shows all these trails online yet. The best I found was a half-assed D-Votion map, and one on this page that may plug the hole between D-Votion and FINS -- but it has none of the new stuff to the far east side.. Something is afoot, and these new and untalked-about Estrella trails are just the beginning.

 

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Arizona Mountain Bike Trail Profile: FINS

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A look at the Fantasy Island North Singletrack terrain.

I hate comparing anything to Fight Club – especially a mountain bike trail. But I have no choice with the Fantasy Island North Singletrack, aka FINS, which is a great Arizona mountain bike trail.

I first wrote about FINS for Mountain Flyer magazine back in 2009. During my first ride there, I met a couple of other riders. Turns out, they were two of the two trail-building honchos responsible for the network. Read the story for the history – I’d rather focus on the here and now. I’ll just say our conversation spawned the story for Mountain Flyer. I’ve often wondered if they still would’ve agreed to the interview in retrospect: I’ve heard little from them since. So there’s not much talking about Fantasy Island North Singletrack outside the trail builders and local riders. Even the website for the group responsible is … um, a bit inscrutable.

This past weekend, I checked out what’s happened since my last visit when it totaled about 12 miles. The answer? Plenty! Here are my takeaways for anyone who wonders about an overlooked mountain bike trail.

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The FINS FINS Trailhead – be sure to drop some bucks into the kitty!

FINS is Built for Bikes

Horses aren’t allowed on Fantasy Island North Singletrack. Hikers? Yes, but there are certain trails the builders request that hikers avoid. What we have here are twisty, turny, windy trails. Don’t shut your brain off. Brake before the turns, check yo’self and all that – the next corner or dip is never far away.

All this adds up to a mountain bike trail that’s made for mountain biking. There’s always something happening, and never a dull stretch of trail.

Something for Every Skill Level

Let’s say you’re not a mountain biker yet. But you plan to buy a mountain bike after work and hit the trail tomorrow. If you live near Fantasy Island North Singletrack, you can go from “barely able to stay upright” to “total badass.” There are smooth, groomed places to get your flow on without taxing your skills or legs. And then there are steep, nasty climbs. Bermed corners. Jumps. Steep descents with tight switchbacks. Even a freakin’ mountain bike teeter-totter! And when you can clean the entire mountain bike trail, get a singlespeed and repeat.

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“I’ve got a bone to pick with you!”

One Feature Needed

I spent a few hours trying to ride as many Fantasy Island North Singletrack trails as possible, with few repeats. I was able to put in about 17 miles, though I probably could’ve gotten another four miles.

I did more backtracking than I’d prefer. If it’s even remotely possible, I’d love to see an outside loop running 12-15 miles added to the mountain bike trail network. Not easy, I know. But worth considering.

More From These Geniuses

This is a quality mountain bike trail network, not only in fun factor – they appear to be sustainable, too. I admit that some of the steep, switchbacked sections will probably need careful maintenance.

But the rest? So well done. I saw little in the way of erosion. If I were a public land manager interested in improving the trails I manage, I would contact the Fantasy Island North Singletrack crew and hook them up with a paid gig.

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North Star is the high point of FINS.

There is serious knowledge in these trails – just witness the awesomeness of Kimurel’s Hurl, two-tenths of a mile of mountain bike bobsledding! (Check the video and watch for Suicide Squirrel.) McDowell Mountain Regional Park officials have publicly mentioned a flow trail – well, I’d say the FINS team could nail it On.The.Head. Sign ’em up! And if I managed Estrella Mountain Regional Park, I’d pay them good money to work some magic on the currently tragic, sand-choked, no-flow-havin’ mess called the Competitive Track.

An elevation profile and my GPS tracks, mountain bike trail
An elevation profile and my GPS tracks.

Pitch in

Some people who care have swung their shovels and other implements to make this mountain bike trail what it is. They even provide printed maps, as if the permanent maps posted throughout the trail network aren’t enough. Don’t live in the neighborhood? Too strapped for time? Pitch a few bucks into the handy cash receptacle at the trailhead. They deserve it.

The Maricopa County Parks system charges $6 per carload to enter and use the trails. Make of that what you will.

How to Get to Fantasy Island North Singletrack: Go south on Estrella Mountain Parkway from Interstate 10. Continue until you enter the Estrella Mountain Ranch community, and watch for Westar Drive. Head west, and park at either Westar Elementary School (NOT during school hours) or at the trailhead less than a mile up the road.

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5 of the Best Places to Mountain Bike in Phoenix, Ariz.

EDITOR’S NOTE (May 1, 2012): This post is really old. I will publish an update soon. Subscribe (it’s free) in the box to the right so you don’t miss it!

EDITOR’S NOTE PART II (May 11, 2012): UPDATED and cooler than ever.

I just recently ran into an old classmate at an ad hoc high school reunion. He’d moved from the area, and mentioned that he was getting more into mountain biking, but isn’t sure where to ride here. Naturally, I promised him some tips … and then I thought, “hey, maybe some other people besides Mitch would dig some advice!”

So here are 5 places in the metro Phoenix area where you can ride. Each will offer something different. These are in no particular order. I’ve linked each to my buddy at MTBikeAZ.com, who has produced some fine maps and profiles!
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McDowell Mountain Regional Park: There is something for everyone here. The Competitive Loops host all sorts of races. You can choose from the Long Loop (about 9 miles), the Sport Loop and the Technical Loop (both about 3 miles). You can string them together for some uberloops. All require some skill to handle steep drops, breaking bumps, rocks and lots of loose nastiness. Speeds can run high. Leave your iPod at home … rattlesnakes love hanging out trailside, and your earbuds will mask their warning signal. And watch the trail closely – that big rock you’re zooming around just might be a desert tortoise! Also, the park offers a 15-mile loop called The Pemberton, aka Trail B. This is technically easier, a varitable mountain bike super highway. By the way, the MTBikeAZ site’s map of this is outdated. Pick up a fresh one when you come into the park. Some snobby riders will label it boring: Not true. It has all sorts of offshoots to explore – and if you’re not up for a 15-mile loop, it has lots of connections back to the trailhead to cut it short, some of which are so fast that you’ll arrive at the bottom before the sound of your tires on the ground does. The park entry fee is $6, and it’s a screaming deal: The race loops feature a beaut of a new bathroom. Trail B’s launching pad has a groovy restroom AND a vending machine!

Pima and Dynamite: This is great for winter epic rides. You can just go forever and really get away from the red tile roofs. As you head away from the intersection, you’re on a false flat as you roll your way up. The terrain undulates and wiggles beautifully. Lots of hardpacked stuff, but it gets more wild and wooly the further north you go. Bring lots of food, water, sunscreen and tubes! Epic high desert scenery makes it even better. The terrain can be tricky and the speeds can be high. I rode here once with a friend, and we went home bloody, thirsty and late: His wife banned me from their house for one year, saying I brought him home sun-baked, penniless and smelling of cheap perfume. I only participated in two of the three! No bathrooms or facilities of any sort here. A bummer … this is State Trust Land, which means you need a permit. Yes, you really do. It’s pretty cheap, though it requires prior planning.
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Phoenix Mountain Preserve: Trail 100 is the mainstay of this ludicrously awesome urban park. The visionaries who set land aside for this gem deserve medals. There’s a trail at Tatum just south of Doubletree Ranch Road. You can ride this monster clear to 7th Avenue … and don’t forget all the side trails! Bring a GPS for sure so you can log everything you ride. Some terrain can be tricky: Crossing the Dreamy Draw freeway and heading west takes you up a few nasty climbs, and into a hideous, rocky wasteland. That eventually turns into some wild, good-time singletrack. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a snake, a bunny or three or even a ringtail. There are actually water and toilet facilities scattered around, which is nice.
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Papago Park: You experienced riders out there better stop snickering. You were once a newbie, a squid, a beginner. And I’ll bet this is where you cut your teeth. Mountain biking isn’t just about YOUR ride – it’s about what you pass on to create a new generation of riders. And Papago is the place to train your apprentices. And let’s face it: this place is fun. That four-mile loop around the old golf course is fast as hell, with beautiful sweeping turns that’ll help even the stoniest veteran keep them skills up. Parking, bathrooms, vending machines and water fountains are scattered all around. As your skills (or those of your apprentice) improve, head south to some short but steep climbs and a few super-secret drop-offs way south toward the freeway.
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Fantasy Island North Singletrack (FINS): This is a new trail, and I pumped out 900 words or so about it for the awesome Mountain Flyer magazine. It’s a bit controversial, though, as you’ll see from the article. But we won’t worry about that, for now. Let’s focus on this: People who know and love mountain biking built this beast, and did a right bang-up job. They smashed a lot of miles (15 and counting at last check) into a really small footprint. It’s all hardpacked and groomed. These trails are fast, like bowling balls on a greased bobsled track. There are some switchbacked climbs that’ll burn your legs and scald your lungs. Lots of turning, barely any straightaway flying; that’s to keep the speeds reasonable and hone your turning and braking skills. No facilities here, either, so stock up on the water and be willing to pee outside.
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Okay, I know some people’s rides got the shaft. I know there will be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. I’ll give some explanations below about why some got left off the list, but here’s the bottom line: If you don’t like my choices, go write in your own blog about your favorite rides!

Onto those that didn’t make it:

South Mountain: The Mormon Loop, the National and the Desert Classic are legendary around here. But you know, they’re just too crowded and eroded to be my favorites.

Hawes Loop: Too much road pedaling to fully access everything.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park: Because it’s the most suck-a-licious, pointless, loose-rocked POS trail I’ve ever turned tires over.

A few quick mountain bike notes about Wandering Justin: Riding since 1992. Ex shop mechanic. Raced in several 12-hour races (including one win in co-ed sport category), several epic singletrack races, one state series. Rides a 2006 Gary Fisher Cake 2 DLX, but likes Santa Cruz and Specialized way better. Has been (falsely) accused many times for gross malfeasance, negligence and nincompoopery leading to riding parties getting lost.