CategoriesAdventuresFitness

The Taylor House Ride in Flagstaff – What You Should Know


I just did the Taylor House ride for the second time. I previously did it more than 10 years ago, and exactly three things stood out about it that first time:

  • A tube-socked dude who nearly wiped a bunch of us out through having some of the worst bike-handling skills I’ve ever seen;
  • A very scary return to Flagstaff from Sunset Crater National Monument;
  • The scenery was absolutely wild as the road went through the lava flow area.
taylor house ride
A fast, beautiful stretch of road early in the Taylor House ride.

That last bit is what really brought me back. These days, it’s possible to record ridiculously beautiful rides with gear like the Cycliq Fly 12CE bike light/camera combo. I’ve been testing one for about the past month, and I really wanted to let it roll on this beautiful ride, which comes in four flavors (35, 45, 65 and 95 – I did the 65, which featured about 3,200 feet of climbing).

So let’s break the ride down a bit with some things you need to know.

Taylor House Ride is More Overgrown Group Ride than Race

There are no number plates of official timing for the Taylor House ride. It’s an open course, so you won’t be separated from traffic except for about the first 5 miles thanks to a police escort through the main part of Flagstaff.

Relive ‘Taylor House 65-mile Ride’

That’s pretty much alright until you’re headed back into Flagstaff on Route 66. You’ll have headwinds and crosswinds, plus some really narrow road shoulders. The bike lane also disappears in a few places. And you’ll have to jockey for position with semi trucks, people pulling trailers, RVs -- all that sort of stuff. And there’s a lot of pebbly crap to contend with, which can be scary in some of the faster spots.

On the other hand, the rest stops are superbly stocked and the volunteers are extremely helpful. F-Bomb had some of their cool keto nut butter mixes, which was nice.

There are also event photographers, but they didn’t manage to get a single good shot of me. Then again, I am not photogenic at all, so there’s that!

It’s All About Scenery

I promise that some of the scenery on the Taylor House ride will blow you away. This is especially a treat for people who haven’t seen it before. There are some wonderful bits of forest and prairie to cruise through.

sunset crater
Looking into the business end of Sunset Crater

And Sunset Crater National Monument is pretty much a movie set. Thousands of acres of lava flow and cinders, along with a dramatic cinder cone. Any person who visits from out of state will have trouble keeping their eyes on the road during this bit. In person, it’s far more grand than what you’ll see in my photos.

A Tough Ride Between Climbing and Wind

We had a brilliant day with a few clouds. But holy cow, we had one helluva wind behind us. I knew as our pack rolled through town effortlessly at 30 mph that we would face serious winds on the way back.

Sure enough, there were times when people would be crawling along headed back to Flagstaff. I really wanted to find a pack to stick with both out and back, but I was having trouble matching my speed to anyone. So I wound up going alone for quite a bit of it. It wound up being my slowest time in awhile, which wasn’t helped by a leg cramp with about five miles left; the narrow margin of error along Route 66 kept me from drinking for about 45 minutes, which played hell with keeping the electrolytes flowing.

I wound up finishing in about 4:20, right about how long it would take me to ride 75 miles in El Tour de Tucson.

Wrapping Up the Taylor House Ride

taylor house ride 65
Cranking back uphill from the 65-mile turnaround.

I enjoyed it, and I’m glad I did it. I’m not eager to repeat my experience on Route 66 — some of that traffic is simply too close for comfort. If they decide to close off a lane for cyclists, I’d do it again in a second, regardless of the wind. I think the Absolute Bikes crew did a nice job with everything; they can’t wave a magic wand to make Route 66 better, but I encourage them to do what they can to reduce the pucker factor there. (Maybe I’m just a big baby who hates trucks, trailers and RVs … I’m OK with that!)

Also huge props for:

  • The well-stocked aid stations;
  • The tasty finish-line food;
  • The general event vibe.

Have you ever ridden the Taylor House ride? What did you think?

sunset crater
A look at the lava flow
CategoriesAdventures

Overlooked Arizona Hikes – Red Mountain

I hiked less than a mile before I decided that Red Mountain is one of the most overlooked Arizona hikes.

Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. The sign-in sheet at the trailhead listed fewer than 20 names for the day I hiked the trail – which was a day of stupifying heat in the Arizona desert. Yep, a perfect getaway near Flagstaff from a 119-degree day -- yet few people took advantage of it.

Red Mountain Arizona Hikes
Entering the amphitheater at Red Mountain.

So what brought me here? Well, it’s a geological oddity – a 750,000-year-old cinder cone with its innards exposed. The volcano’s interior is an amphitheater-shaped maze of red-tinted spires and hoodoos. Geologists aren’t sure exactly what forces created the amphitheater that makes Red Mountain so distinct. Hey, a little mystery is good for your hike.

You’ll get something here that you can’t get at any other local hikes -- a look at a volcano’s interior, eroded over nearly a million years. Want to check out a few more photos? I have a slideshow with more shots. And be sure to watch the video at the end.

Red Mountain Arizona Hikes
Among the lava.

Judging from the meager traffic on the trail, that’s not enough. Maybe it’s all the other well-known Arizona hikes nearby -- the San Francisco Peaks, Lava River Cave, Sunset Crater and its lava flows, Walnut Canyon, just to name a few.

I’m not saying you should skip a bunch of other great hikes near Flagstaff. But if you want to find a less-traveled spot that offers something unusual, think about Red Mountain.

It is an easy hike, though. You’ll put on about four miles hiking there and back, plus crawling around in the amphitheatre. On the way there, I hiked past hundreds of buzzing cicadas and managed to scare a few bunnies. The trail eventually turns up a wash, so you’ll have to slog through some sand.

Red Mountain Arizona Hikes
On the way to Red Mountain

One of the cool things is how your perspective will change during the approach. The amphitheater seems fairly flat from a distance – kind of eye-catching, but not that spectacular. As you get closer, though, you start to see the scope of it. It becomes more of a landscape and less of a simple backdrop. My wife said it reminded her of the Valley of Love in Turkey crossed with Sedona.

Red Mountain is definitely on my list of favorites Arizona hikes. Weird geology is one of my favorite reasons to hit the trails, and this is a great example of what you might find in an ancient volcanic field.

To get Red Mountain, head north on Highway 180. The turnoff is about 30 miles from Flagstaff. It’s marked with a sign. You’ll follow a dirt road – nothing your typical passenger car can’t handle. It leads to a parking lot. There’s no fee to use the area.

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CategoriesAdventures

S.P. Crater – Cool Arizona Destination (With Video)

It’s easy to forget or to never even realize it – but much of northern Arizona’s landscape was shaped by fire. Or by lava, if you prefer a more precise word.

Volcanoes disgorged magma onto the surface, forming everything from towering giants like the San Francisco Peaks to the loaf-like dome of Mount Elden to the mysterious hoodoos of Red Mountain. But trees have covered the landscape, often concealing the area’s volcanic origins.

S.P. Crater
SP Crater cuts quite a figure on the prairie.

 

S.P. Crater – Way Off the Radar

S.P. Crater, however, will resist any attempts to whitewash its furious history. This beautifully shaped cinder cone had the foresight to belch a four-mile long lava flow onto the flat prairie lands. Today, nearly 71,000 years after its birth, S.P. Crater stands out among a multitude of lesser cinder cones in the area, beckoning visitors to peer into the crater that once spewed ash and blobs of lava.

Few hear its call, though – that’s likely because of the nearby Sunset Crater National Monument. The park might be slightly more picturesque, with its pine forest and an equally haunting lava flow.

But for me, S.P. Crater has an effect that its just-slightly Disney-fied neighbor doesn’t: a sense of solitude that practically takes me back in time. I can picture the lava glowing red as it churns across the landscape like so much hell-flavored soft-serve ice cream. I can smell the sulfur in the air as another family of bombs rockets out of the crater, borne aloft by super-hot gases.  I can imagine fumaroles venting steam into the air.

Also, I can climb directly to the top, and even descend into the crater. This is forbidden at Sunset Crater, for concern of erosion. Park officials closed the slopes in the 1970s, propelled by fears that, one day, Sunset Crater would be nothing. I don’t know if there is any hard science to back that notion – if there is, I’d like to see it.

 

S.P. Crater
Walking the lava flow.

Not as Touristy as Sunset Crater

On a Memorial Day weekend exploration, I encountered not a single hiker. A few pickup trucks passed within a few miles, but our only company was the cattle (S.P. Crater is on land belonging to the Babbitt family, and I applaud them for granting access to those who want to visit the craters). When the wind died down, we could hear them lowing even from nearly 900 feet above them.

Engine noise from the highway is nonexistent, and you can catch glimpses of the brilliant colors from the Painted Desert; it looks just a few miles away, but is closer to 100 miles distant. You can watch small cloudbursts roll in, drop rain and disappear. Be careful, though, because some will contain lightning. Use your head.

If you’re in northern Arizona, I’d recommend visiting both of these iconic volcanoes. Each will give you a distinct experience that will be hard to forget.

How to Get to S.P. Crater

Just head north from Flagstaff on Highway 89. Go past the turnoff to Sunset Crater. SP Crater will soon be in view.

Look for a dirt road headed west. If you see Easy Joe’s Saloon, turn around and head back. The dirt road will branch off more than a few times. I’ve found my way to S.P. Crater more than a few different ways. Don’t worry about getting lost. It’s easy to get back to 89 one way or another.

Make Time for the Lava Flow

The lava flow north of the crater is worth checking out up close. It’s about 5 miles long and extremely rough – you’re not going to be able to see all of it. But who knows what’s waiting to be found in it? Lava flows are always a good place to find a lava tube.