American Indians consider the Red Rock Country of Northern Arizona sacred. For others, it's a meditation Mecca. To mountain bikers, it's a hypnotic and dangerous Wonderland full of killer trails, otherworldly plants, and strange animals.
"If it doesn't prick, stick, or sting you, then you're not in the desert," a local mountain biker told me.
Northern Arizona is a Mars-like landscape scored with ancient canyons, arches, hoodoos, and enormous slide rocks. Like the Sinagua (without water) Indians, the animals in this high desert are designed to live on little liquid while the plants seem to sprout out of a Dr. Seuss book.
This is traveling by bike in Arizona. But don't be deceived by the strangeness of everything, lest it distract you.
Darwin would have loved this place
The undeniable law here is Darwinian. Flora and fauna struggle to survive and the unfit are eliminated, especially the mountain bikers.
Most mountain bike trails in Northern Arizona are single track, which makes for fast free riding. However, a fine red dust powders the desert floor, adding an element of scary to the trail. When you include the fact that cacti of all kinds border most trails, your single-track mountain bike ride quickly moves into the dangerous category.
At the base of the Mogollon Rim, in the heart of Red Rock Country lies the Secret Mountain Wilderness. The mountain bike trails here follow multi-colored strata deep into box canyons. The rock formations and weird plants have a strange way of luring you further than you should ever go.
On the way to Devil's Oven, the Spanish dagger agave plants guard the trail like conquistadors, as if they were protecting a secret. Fall into a cluster of agave and it's certain death, not from poison, but blood loss.
This metaphysical playground draws nearly 4 million people each year and several hundred thousand mountain bikers. It's also home to some sinister varmints: scorpion, black widow, tarantula, and, of course, the rattlesnake.
The main outpost for mountain bike riding in Northern Arizona is Sedona, a tourist town sitting halfway between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon. The village is better known for its new-age vortexes and high-priced real estate than its biking trails.
Arizona's Mountain Biking Heaven
Yet the Red Rock Country around Sedona has 48 mountain biking trails, covering over 400 miles. Utility easements and jeep trails offer a wide swath of unlimited riding. (FYI, cars parked on Forest Service land must display a pass). There are toilets at some trailheads and gas, food, and lodging in Sedona.
On the trails, just remember that if it doesn't prick, stick, or sting you...
Thanks to Will Geurts at Sedona Destination Adventures for the picture and for keeping us alive on those trails! Visit him here at Sedona Destination Adventures and check out their beautiful gallery of unbelievable pictures.