White Canyon Singletrack

The fates smiled. A last minute bikepacking trip moved quickly from far fetched daydream to reality.

We didn’t have much time to plan, let alone pack. Trail construction status is unknown, the river is high, but the need to get outside and into the desert is highest of all. A year of ‘short’ riding took its toll on my adventure psyche. The last bikepacking trip is a distant memory. My injured back has prevented dreams of riding fast or long. And the other ‘details’ of my life have been draining as well.

But all is on the up, and Lee and I saw a tight weather window, so we took it.

We took a low stress approach to the day, meeting ‘late’ and picking up groceries at the Pinal Market in Florence. Then it was on to the Picket Post trailhead, finish line of the AZT 300.

We headed south on the Arizona Trail.

Lee said it best, “there’s nowhere I’d rather be”

And south was a very good direction. Come to think, any direction is a good move on the AZT.

Sometimes you’ve got to change directions abruptly.

We mingled with the saguaros, coasted past massive walls of marbled rock, and even got a little scorched by the sun.

It was that perfect temperature where you can pedal a hard effort, feel the heat just a touch, then lose it on the next descent or breeze. Right on the balance of warm and cool.

About 11 miles in, we reached the ridgeline where I spent a week camping two Novembers ago. I grabbed the brakes as my jaw dropped and goosebumps ran along my back. Look.. ..at.. ..that!

The trail exists! Part of me was incredulous that a trail could be made on sideslopes so steep and in a place so remote and so beautiful. We suffered on that hillside, trying to find spots to cross drainages, duck under rock fins and plant the apex of turns. To see it firsthand was just amazing.

A flash thought hit me — this piece of trail might be one of the most amazing and lasting things I work on in my entire life.

Let’s go ride it! See how the crossings and the turns came out. See if the tread’s purchase is wide enough to permit a little speed.

Stop and peer off the edge, into the sharp teeth of upper Martinez Canyon, and other views deep into the heart of Gila River country.

The trail could go this high, but no higher. Rocks and wilderness boundaries were the two biggest constraints out there. The fact that this trail lies just barely outside of the White Canyon wilderness makes it all the more special to mountain bikers.

Tim McCabe was on the crew with me, laying out this piece, along with trails master Mark Flint. Tim, this spire is still calling your name for a first ascent!

A technical section we threw in worked out oh so well. Smiling? You better believe…

There was indeed much to smile about as the sun lowered to the golden hour, calling an end to a superb afternoon on the trail.

Nothing called an end to the trail.

We rolled over the divide, dropping towards gnarly mountains familiar but from new perspective.

It was easy to imagine that the whole world is nothing but rock and cactus.

That the trail is all there is, endless and beautiful.

As the cool blue shadows drew us in, I lost myself in them.

And that was a good thing. The sky painters got to work, and the work of the trail builders continued into the night.

There was more trail than we could ride. So we pulled out the half eaten Subways and called it a night on the side of the trail.

Nights are long as November transitions to December, but a little stick fire is a pleasant diversion. So is Lee’s company and sense of humor. Thanks for being such a good friend, Lee.

My back may have been sore, and the night long, with the occasional mosquito or fly bugging our faces. But the stars were deep, and though the world elsewhere may be a chaotic storm, all was quiet and calm on a ridgeline a few hundred feet above the Gila River.

Breakfast. Experienced bikepackers know.

Sunrise on ‘the post’ (the real picketpost?) revealed incoming weather. The clouds and wind of the system were on their way.

The trail turned onto a steep section of road, and I figured that was it. We were prepared to continue on 4×4, or by foot if necessary.

But no! We spied another cut on the hillside. The trail continued.

It continued, and continued well. Some sections were fast and flowy.

In total, there were six more miles than I was expecting. We rolled brand-spanking-new singletrack (the trail machine’s tracks were still fresh) all the way to the Martinez/Coke Ovens road.

Chop chop! Martinez/Box/Orphan Boy, you just got the axe! The AZT 300 / 750 gets a whole bunch of new singletrack.

We pedaled backwards on the AZT 300 route, on roads that pitch steeply up or down, but never in between.

Around the flank of the Battle Axe (the white cliff in front of me), even the roads out here are incredible riding.

I think this spot qualifies as “idyllic.” After watering up and inhaling salmon and salty fish, we continued to loop back on roads.

Thanks, Stan’s.

We skipped food in Superior in favor of Mt Athos in Florence. Good call.

The entire White Canyon passage is not yet done (that we could tell, anyway) but it’s very close, and the most critical connection has been made. Start planning your adventures now, whether they are this winter or come April 13th (AZT 300 day).

GPX file is available here:


I have to thank my friend Lee for helping make this trip happen, and so smoothly. Thanks Lee, I needed it.

16 comments to White Canyon Singletrack

  • Ed

    Beautiful scenery, nice photos and a great ride Scott.


  • RayH

    Great post Scott…going to get out there in a few weeks. Where is the spring that Lee is getting water at?
    rhemmele at gmail.com

  • Scott – What a great blog. Great photos and writing. I really felt the love you have for that piece of land…and I am drooling thinking about getting my turn to ride it sometime.

  • SimonZ

    Great stuff Scott! I really enjoy reading about your adventures and then retracing your footsteps if I can. Maybe I will see you at some AES stuff soon.

  • I can’t wait to get down and see this for myself. Spectacular country. I feel bad for anyone racing the AZT that has the misfortune of riding through here in the dark!

  • blisterfree

    I’m speechless! Any water? The lure is gonna be too great, though. Hikers will abandon the old WCW route and artesian well en masse. Trough Springs and Kelvin to the rescue on either end, hopefully.

  • scott

    Brett! I knew this would pique your interest! Indeed a trail of this quality will be too hard to resist. We did find a flowing source of water just off the Martinez road, not that far from where the AZT hits the road. If it’s flowing now, I’m guessing it’s a pretty reliable source. So there is hope…

  • Awesome pictures, Scott (and Lee)! Lee waxed poetic about your trip over the weekend, now I can see why! Sounds like you hit the perfect weather, too, I bet there’s snow sprinkled on that trail today.

  • Wow! Tracey and I will need to try to roll this section. But we’ll certainly wait for warmer weather that this nAsTy stuff we’re getting now.

  • Scott- what a fantastic ride that must have been! Can’t wait to get out there myself, as I have a special place in my heart for that piece of AZT as well. Thanks for the trail update.

  • La

    Yum yum. Great words, pics and motivation for me to check it out. Thanks!

  • Great post on a great site. I’ve always wanted to ride the Arizona trail. Now I want to ride it even more. Thanks I’ve added your site to our Bike Blog Hub.

  • jn14

    Nice photos Scott!
    Lee told me about your trip and I had to look it up.

  • John Rendall

    Hi Scott and Lee, so glad to see that you made the ‘Gila River Canyons’ trip. As you know, our new passage will be one of the most beautiful and challenging experience for the entire 800 miles. I’m sure you were the first to ride it because the whole time we were building the canyon sections we never saw another human being. The Ajax section was completed in the Spring and the Red Mtn. section we completed 2 days before you traversed the area. Yesterday, we had a celebration on the eastern end (Kelvin Bridge section) when the two crews met, but we still can’t say it’s officially open until the mining crews are finished their test drilling on 3 different pads. Hopefully they will be completed in another 3 weeks and then we will redo the 2 mile road they had to contruct and incorporate it into our trail, thus making it a non-mortorized 30-36″ tread. Next week we will be changing the signage on the south end of the Alamo Cyn Passage so as to direct the southbound traffic on to the new section near the BLM/ NFS boundary and remove all the signage leading to the White Cyn Wilderness. When finished it will end up being a 36 mile trip from Kelvin Brg. to Pickett Post. I’m positive the combination of both the ‘Alamo Cyn’ and ‘Gila River Canyons’ passages will be a very popular trip for mountain bikers, hikers, and equestrians. Thanks for all the great pictures.

  • Nothing like a little bit of Big Tex in the morning!

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