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Old 05-19-2020, 10:04 AM   #1
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Az bdr

On May 9, I packed up the van and drove 415 miles to Bisbee, AZ to stage for a trip up the Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route. As a side note, one of the owners of the Jonquil Motel where I stayed in Bisbee filmed the videos for the BDRs, and the other works for Overland Expo. Small world! I had originally planned to go to Overland Expo to gawk at stuff to buy for my new little truck, and decided to do the BDR to get there. I thought of doing it solo, but then Bill (Trailjeeper) and I linked up on Overland Bound, as he and his brother were interested in doing the same route. When Expo was canceled, we were determined to do the trip anyway. Bill has an old Jeep YJ, Bill’s brother Patrick and his friend John were riding dual-sport bikes, and I was in our Sportsmobile.
Day 1 – I met the others at Coronado National Memorial. The border area in that part of AZ is at about 5,000 feet, so not nearly as hot and arid as I expected. We started out up over Montezuma Pass and back down to the border fence, the Southernmost point on the trip. We then wound our way up Canelo pass and down into Sonoita for gas. Out of Sonoita, we traveled through some kinda rough rocky arroyos and then out to the highway by Whetstone. Here we varied from the BDR route and went East to Tombstone for gas, and then into the Dragoon Mountains where we camped for the night. Bill and Patrick grew up in this area. Bill still lives in the area and is very familiar with the roads and trails, so he picked a route for days 1 and 2 which he thought would be more interesting than the established route. It was a great change! We covered about 170 miles.

Here's the route

At the start

At the top of Montezuma Pass

At the border fence (made of railroad rails)



Dirt cliffs north of Sonoita

The Dragoons at sunset



Rain threatened but never materialized
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Old 05-19-2020, 10:13 AM   #2
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Day 2 – We started over the Dragoons at Middlemarch Pass at about 5,900 feet, and then down the eastern side and hit the pavement to Wilcox, where we gassed up. This area has a lot of agriculture, including some large dairy farms. Luckily, the wind was right, and the “dairy-air” wasn’t bad. From Wilcox, we took some higher-speed graded dirt roads until we rejoined the designated BDR north of Benson. Then it was up the San Pedro River valley towards Mammoth, through the Sonoran Desert replete with great saguaros, cholla fields, and other desert flora. We gassed up and had a lunch of carnitas in a tiny Mexican restaurant in Mammoth on their first day reopened. It was great to soak up some AC, as this was the hottest part of the trip at 100 degrees and less than 2,000 feet elevation.
From Mammoth we took a short jaunt up the highway until we diverted onto the “expert” route up Pioneer Pass, which crests out at about 5,800 feet. Here I learned the Dual-sport grading system of rocks by size – baseballs, softballs, baby heads, and watermelons. This section was narrow and steep, with lots of washouts and loose rocks (softballs and baby heads, but jagged, not smooth), and getting to the top was a reward in and of itself. The southern side, which we climbed, was arid desert terrain, but as soon as you hit the crest, you are in cool pine forest on the north side. We camped a couple miles down from the crest in a beautiful forest spot. Total mileage for the day was about 175 miles.
One of John’s riding buddies, Peter, rode up from Phoenix to meet us at camp. Despite a late start and a flat tire on his bike, he rolled into camp in the dark. We stayed up late (ish) yakking before we hit the sack.

North of Wilcox



South of Mammoth



Starting up Pioneer Pass. I don't have any pics of the hard part, I was too busy.

The bikes on Pioneer Pass





Looking south from the summit

Taking a break at the summit

Camp for the night. Campgrounds were all closed but dispersed camping was allowed
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Old 05-19-2020, 10:21 AM   #3
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towards the Salt River crossing, where we got held up for quite a while by road construction.
Above the weir at Soldier Camp Wash, we split up, with the 3 bikes continuing up FR 203, and the 4 wheels proceeding on the designated BDR route. This was a good decision for the 4 wheelers, as the BDR was steep, loose, and slow going, but nowhere near what the bikes were contending with. Although our route was substantially longer, we arrived in Young about an hour before the bikes. The route they had chosen was surely the most difficult of the whole trip, steeeeeep, rocky, and narrow. Needless to say, they were pretty pasted by the time we met back up with them. There was no way my rig could have gotten through the trail they chose. We gassed up in Young, looked for the only restaurant (closed on Tuesdays), and then found a campsite in the NF, and crashed out pretty early. Peter spent the night with us and headed back to Phoenix in the morning. Total miles for the 4 wheelers was about 115 miles, and for the bike probably less, but exponentially harder.
In Young, we crossed paths with two dual-sport riders from the San Diego area doing the BDR. Turns out they started the same day as us, and Bill had conversed with one of them on the Forums prior to the trip! We saw them once the next day, and then they left us in their dust for the rest of the trip.

Good Samaritan



The weir



I like dead trees

Again, not the hard parts


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Old 05-19-2020, 10:27 AM   #4
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Day 4 – Today started with a good long section of well graded forest roads, a welcome relief from the technical slow day prior. We headed off towards the Mogollon Rim, only to be caught again in road construction, where they were clearing dead trees from around the road. After what seemed like an eternity, but was only really a short delay. We climbed up to 7,800 feet to the Mogollon rim, with its spectacular views and relentless winds.
From the Rim we continued on traveling on well graded roads towards the Flagstaff area. We gassed up in Clints Well, and l thought we were running ahead of schedule until the track through the high meadows went from smooth dirt to large jagged volcanic rocks, some loose and some embedded in the dirt. The pace slowed to a 2-3 mph crawl, brutally slow even though it was across flat ground. This was another hard day, slow for us, but especially hard on the bikes.
Around Mormon Lake, it was getting late in the afternoon, and we decided to divert to pavement and get to Flagstaff for a well-deserved shower and a meal. Ironically, the track seemed to smooth out once we made that decision! Even though the Brewery was closed to dining, the take-out burger hit the spot. Total miles was about 155.

On the Mogollon Rim





How do you run into this sign?

Another dead tree

One of the few smooth spots

That's more like it!
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Old 05-19-2020, 10:31 AM   #5
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Day 5 – Today started on pavement, we gassed up in Flagstaff and headed off to rejoin the route at Winona. The first dirt section was rocky and narrow (again), but was not a harbinger of things to come as after that it smoothed out as we approached the black cinder fields from the Sunset Crater. From there, the route heads North towards the Eastern end of the Grand Canyon through some beautiful pine and pinon-juniper forest. Although we planned to get to the Cameron area at the South end of the Navajo nation, we decided to quit early and camp in the pine forest near the GC rather than pressing on and camping in the desert. After we made camp, Patrick noticed that a clamp on his front brake line had slipped down the fork tube, allowing the brake line to rub on the front rotor. There was a small seep of brake fluid coming out of the line, which was ultimately patched with a JB Weld-like substance and self-sealing tape. Total mileage for the day was only about 90 miles, but no one was complaining.

The mountains by Flagstaff still holding snow

The cinders



High meadows and smooth roads
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Old 05-19-2020, 10:42 AM   #6
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Day 6 - Today we split up, as Patrick’s family was meeting him in Tucson the next day. It was apparent that they were not going to be able to continue north to the Utah border and still get back South in time, even if they slabbed it the whole way. We decided to go to the South Rim and get some parting shots before we split up, with me continuing on the Utah, and the rest returning south. We got to the gate at the Grandview Entrance to the National Park only to find it locked. Access to the park had opened that day, but only at the South Gate and only between 6 AM and 10 AM! We took a consolatory picture at the gate and went our separate ways. I continued on to Cameron on the designated route which included some tight rocky sections in the forest and one pretty technical descent into a deep desert gorge complete with large loose rocks and rock steps. Luckily it was not too long. I met a kid from North Dakota riding the BDR by himself, and he thought that this was the most difficult section of the whole trip. I would agree.
I gassed up in Cameron and headed off across the Navajo Nation. Because of the virus situation, the visitor center was closed and access passes were unavailable. This meant that I could travel through, but was not allowed to camp or hike within the Nation. Luckily, the BIA roads where pretty good, and time went relatively quickly. The Nation contains some of the most barren but beautiful desert of the trip. Near the border, I entered Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, hoping to camp at the Stateline Campground at the border. Unfortunately the campground was full (all 8 spots), so I decided to continue on to Kanab to motel it for the night.
At Stateline, I punched Kanab into the Garmin Nav in the van, assuming it would pick the fastest easiest route. Instead it routed onto a narrow 2 track “unnamed road.” This is how people get stranded in their Hyundais and Accords blindly following the GPS. After a while, I aborted that and went back to the graded BLM road I started out on, which went into Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, and then out to the highway. Total mileage for the day was a long long 295 miles.

No views of the Grand Canyon today







The gorge with the rocky descent, of which I have no pics, too busy







Jabba Hutt butte!

Quintessential Navajo Nation pic


Vermilion Cliffs



The finish

Garmin's suggested route to Kanab

The route I took to Kanab, through Grand Staircase - Escalante


The next day I slabbed the 480 miles back to Albuquerque through Page, Kayenta, Shiprock, and Farmington. Even though it was some spectacular country, all I had on my mind was smooth sailing and getting back home, ready to see the missus and sleep in my own bed.
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Old 05-19-2020, 10:44 AM   #7
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Wow, that looks like a fantastic trip, one that I will have to add to my list once were released back into the world. Nice report............
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Old 05-19-2020, 11:24 AM   #8
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Thanks for the trip report. I'll have to tuck this away as a good trip to do.
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Old 05-19-2020, 01:19 PM   #9
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Looks like a great time! Thanks.
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Old 05-19-2020, 01:32 PM   #10
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Fantastic write-up and photos. Thanks!
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