Details #1:  SW Day Rides, A Wish List  (Spring of 2011 & 2012)


Unplanned Recon Work

In mid-February of 2011 we flew from Portland to Las Vegas and rented an RV for a 2 month road trip that was to include near-daily hikes. One of the trade-offs we made for the trip was to leave our bikes at home but we weren’t through our first full day in the RV before we were regretting that decision. Below are the day rides that we wished we would have made:


Red Rock National Conservation Area, about 20 miles west of Las Vegas. The main feature of the park--well, not technically a park but I’ll call it that for ease--is the one way, 13 mile scenic drive. The cyclist I spoke with said there was about 1000’ elevation gain on the route, most of it in the first 5 miles. Stunning views, frequent bike lanes, and generally sedate traffic made this look like a world-class ride. (He also volunteered that the park was 5th in the world as a rock climbing venue.)

Bring your own food and water because the only chance for water is near the entrance at the Visitors Center though I don’t know if it is potable. No-flush toilets do pepper the route.

One of several places called “Red Rocks” in the SW.

Aggressively prepare for the weather. Bring a ton of water if it might get hot as there is little to no shade and no water along the way.  And bring what you need for a long, bone-chilling descent if the temperatures are on the cool side. Might as well be prepared for a lot of wind too. Oh, and be sure to bring your camera and have it ready to receive a load of photos. 

Cyclists currently pay a $3 per person entrance fee but you’ll save money by paying the $7 car load fee if 3 or more of you drive your bikes into the park in a single vehicle.

It seemed that many cyclists were making a long ride out of it by biking from Las Vegas, which is very roughly 20 miles away. The last housing development ends where the road to the park shrinks to 2 lanes and there was a sign for an Albertson’s grocery on the premises. Perhaps one could park their car in the retail area (which we didn’t explore) and bike roundtrip through the park from there instead of all the way out Cheyenne Avenue, much of which is intense urban traffic.

River Mountains Loop Trail, Lake Mead, about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas.

This is a 35 mile paved, multi-use path closed to traffic that loops around a mountain base as it parallels Lake Mead for roughly 1/3 of its length. We were longing to bike the entire route after walking about an hour on it.

If you are arriving from Las Vegas and aiming towards the lake, consider going counterclockwise on the bike route because that direction might deliver the best views of the lake.  We know nothing about the elevation gain involved in this route. Bring your own food and water as it appeared from the map that there were no services along the way.

A chunk of the trail travels through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, so if you park your car within those boundaries, you’ll be subject to the $10 fee that gives you a week of access to the Area. There is a Park Headquarters outside of the Area that was closed for renovations when we were there but after it reopens it would be an option for free parking. The Historic Railroad Trail parking lot is another free option roughly 5 miles west of Hoover Dam and near the Visitors Center and adjacent to the route. (The unpaved, gritty, rails-to-trails path from this parking lot is a nice walk (or ride) in its own right that goes to the Dam.)



We saw many bike lanes as we spent hours circumnavigating Phoenix to get to our RV park but our cycling friend who was living there didn’t recommend the biking. In her experience too many of the police shared in the belligerent attitude of too many locals that cyclists were fair game for clipping.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park  (northeast of Phoenix)  2012

We didn’t pull out our road bikes here because of the cactus spines but this Sonoran Desert park is a mountain biking mecca. There are 51 miles of trails open to bikes, hikers, and horses. We didn’t explore the “Competitive Track” that is one way traffic of the same mix. It’s described as “challenging, strenuous, and high-speed recreation for individuals, groups, and organized events.” It seemed that more than half of the campsites of the 76 sites had mountain bikes parked out in front. If you are inexperienced with cactus spine punctures, I’d recommend calling a couple of Phoenix area bike shops and asking for their tire/liner recommendations for McDowell Mountain.

There is some nice road riding available on the long approach to McDowell, in the nearby sprawling Phoenix ‘exurbs’ at Fountain Hills, and on Shea Blvd south of Fountain Hills. Tire protection against the cacti is probably also advisable on the roads.

The campground at McDowell Mountain is delightful. Our space #57 was the last slot open when Bill booked online a week in advance and we hoped it wasn’t the dregs. Far from it: it looked to be the best spot in the park when we arrived. We had a 180º view from our picnic table that was free of any structures: we saw only the dense desert vegetation and the distant mountains. February and March are the campground’s peak months so book in advance for that interval: The best showers were however at the far end of the loop from our campsite but they were worth the extra walking. Water and electric hook-ups and a dump station are the standard services. We enjoyed the one interpretive hike we attended with the park ranger.

Bike lanes abounded here too but apparently it isn’t a consistently bike-friendly environment. A woman at a bike shop in Albuquerque told a story of how 3 staff members riding in a Bike Tucson organized event were injured, along with other riders. A local motorist became impatient while waiting for a break in the pack so just plowed into a bunch of cyclists so as to make his turn. She implied that their were no penalties for motorists that hit cyclists but I didn’t verify that.

Saguaro National Park East (east of Tucson city limits)

The 9 mile, one-way scenic drive was wildly popular with local cyclists. Some drove in and parked, others pedaled on the feeder bike lanes. Stretches of it are wickedly steep for a series of short, tight roller-coaster up’s and down’s. Fresh water and shade at the Visitor’s Center at the entrance with artificial shade and pit toilets at a couple of other points. The $5 fee per bike or pedestrian entitles you to entry for a week, $10 per vehicle, or use your annual National Park pass.


Riding Highway 179 between Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek south of Sedona will deliver many grand views of the stunning Red Rock scenery. Relatively low traffic speeds, good asphalt, stretches of divided highway, and bike lanes made it look like a fine ride of 10-15 miles round trip. You’re at about 4500’ and the road is anything but flat, so it will be a good workout for the distance.

The “Pink Jeep Tours” rigs were a sure sign of a tourist-friendly area.

Park for free at the US Forest Service Red Rock Ranger Station a little south of the Village of Oak Creek. While there, go in to the visitor’s center and learn about the parking permit requirements for being in the greater area. The Ranger Station is about where the bike lane heading north begins and you will do most of the elevation gain on the way to Sedona, making the return trip easier.

Free parking is also available in Sedona should you prefer to ride the other way. Services are available along the sprawl at both the Village of Oak Creek and at Sedona. A number of view points make it easy to get off the road, at least 1 with toilets. There is little or no shade outside of the urban areas and probably no water. Remember to bring your camera.

I personally would not ride 89A north of Sedona on the way to Flagstaff. The segment through the dramatic gorge is a very steep, very windy, and very narrow road that has people like us on it in a rented 25’ RV that have their hands full staying on the road without worrying about the needs of cyclists. There were no cyclists on it when we rolled through. 

New Mexico

Albuquerque ‘burbs

On the east side of the city, parallel to but east of I-25, is a beltway road “Tramway Blvd.” Look for the National Park forest road #333 off of Tramway that turns uphill into the mountains.  If you are needing to clear out that stale glycogen from your muscles, join the riders that turn off of Tramway onto #333. The paved part of the windy road up to the La Luz trail parking lot ends after 2.2 miles and almost 900’ gain. We were very carefully driving our 25’ RV on segments posted at 10 mph that seemed to be in the 20% grade range. Very narrow, no shoulders, but good asphalt and all of the cars are creeping along. Pit toilets, no water, no shade is your reception. The hiking trails from La Luz are delightful: grit rather than broken rocks on most of the trail surfaces and grand views.

Droves of cyclists ride the wide shoulders of Tramway Blvd despite the fast traffic. It is apparently illegal for them to be on the stretch of Tramway Blvd that is flanked by the multi-use path that begins at the intersection of Tramway Blvd and Tramway Road and continues south.

The woman at the Performance Bike Shop in Albuquerque said that she does not ride on the city’s roads because it is too dangerous. A belligerence on the part of some of the motorists makes it unsafe in her mind and she sticks to the multi-use paths out of traffic. Unfortunately their biking culture is at the awkward stage in which the pedestrians believe the bikes belong in the road, so they too will bully cyclists. But given that for the first quarter of 2011 Albuquerque motorists were killing an average of 1 cyclist a week on the roads, she preferred to take her chances with the hostile pedestrians.

Check the local bike shops for a free map of Albuquerque’s bike routes or go online: for more information.

National Parks

Based on our limited experience, we are guessing that almost any National Park or Monument in the US SW is a better than average biking venue.  The limited traffic and curious rather than hurried mood of the visitors make the Parks safer for cyclists than many stretches of road. Some are one-way roads, committing you to completing the loop; the 2-way roads let you turn around whenever you choose. A drive-through first might be worth doing to plan the next day’s bike ride.

Mountain Biking in the SW

We are definitely roadies, despite our fat tires, but have one word of advise for the MTB crowd: don’t bike alone in these mountains. Throughout the SW when hiking we saw signs warning of cougar/mountain lion sightings. These big cats have no trouble taking down a human and they are more likely to consider a solo athlete easy prey than several together. We made a point of hiking within feet of each other to have a more threatening presence. The challenge is knowing when you are moving in and out of higher risk areas so we always assumed they were a threat when hiking in the SW and behaved accordingly. If challenged by a cougar, aggressively fight back rather than be submissive or run away because if you do, you are toast.

Another Word of Caution

Goat’s head thorns and other spiny threats are widespread in the SW, so go prepared with pliers, spare tubes, a good pump, and lots of patch kit material. Liners, Kevlar, Slime, and the other remedies are worth considering, but be prepared for the inevitable. And budget enough time for fixing a flat or 2 when you are planning your ride. And speaking of budgeting time, allow plenty of time to get to your destination in case the often-fierce winds pick-up.

PS: Death Valley, California Ride (11/2011)

In November on a 2nd trip to the SW, we did a nice training ride in Death Valley from Stovepipe Wells Campground sort of west on Hwy 190 to Emigrant Campground/Day Use area. It took us about 90 minutes of pedaling (plus water stops) to ride the 15 km (9+ miles) with 600+ m (over 2,000’) gain and about 30 minutes to coast down. A nice but not stunning ride but a good way to go if you are needing to put on some miles. It’s posted as 4-6% grades most of the way and this is definitely a ‘road less traveled’ in Death Valley so there is less traffic. The Emigrant Day Use area has flush toilets, potable water, a pay telephone, and shade--all of which are hard to find in the Park--making it a worthy destination. I was glad to have a jacket, fleece shirt, and full finger gloves for the chilly, low-effort descent.