Category Archives: biking Arizona

Cycling in rural Southeastern Arizona

One of my favorite things about living on the farm is that I can ride my bike to my cousin’s house and play.  –Greta, daughter of Tedd Haas, a farmer from Bonita, Arizona.  From the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) story: “Arizona Farmer puts conservation in action”

On our recent birding trip to McNeal, Arizona, I fell in love with the landscape.   I think my wife is used to this by now.  After every trip we take I want to move there.  This is probably what makes me a  geographer, that I throw my heart and imagination into the uniqueness of every place. Even though we left after four days as planned and returned to our lives and love at our home in Albuquerque, my imagination and dreams take me back to this location all the time.

After the six hour drive down the Rio Grande valley and then over the continental divide on Interstate 10, we spent the first night recovering in Willcox, Arizona at the Days Inn, where we picked up the local literature including the Wings Over Willcox guide.  The next morning I set out on bicycle to meet Mai at our destination, the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, where we would camp for two nights.  You miss most of the landscape traveling at 65-75 miles per hour in an automobile, but cycling is slower, gentler, and immersive.  A recent storm left white snows on the high peaks of the Sky Islands–the high mountain ranges prominent above the spacious desert basins.  The air was crips and clear under Arizona’s astringent light.  Though I had arrived the day before, being on my bike made me feel like I was present, definitely here.  As I pedaled and tuned in, I heard cranes and then saw their graceful silhouettes gliding in the sky.

The Sulpher Springs Valley reminds me of the San Luis Valley up in Colorado.  With center-pivot irrigation technology, farmers bring ground water to the surface and distribute it to crops in the fields. It’s startling to see such a diversity of agriculture, from grapes and pecans to corn, beans, and tomatoes. Because water and soil is precious, farmers practice conservation.  The native grasslands and wetlands are also increasingly being recognized as vital and protected in public lands and through partnerships using conservation easements, like the one at Cienega Ranch.

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The cycling here is gorgeous.  I pedaled down Hwy 191 from Willcox towards the Chiricahua Mountains, and then south on Kansas Settlement Road, where I passed the Bonita Bean Company.  The valley feels huge, but the roads, energy and water infrastructure, and buildings serve as a mesh of civilization between the wild reaches of the Sky Island ranges dominating the horizons.  Pedaling circles and streaming down the road, I watched the landscape slowly unfold.

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Somehow it ws the landscape and not the beautiful campus or the textbooks or even the library that made me feel smarter…  –Heather Sellers, “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal”, from The Sun Magazine

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We came for the cranes, but the raptors are abundant and also incredible.  They like the high perches of trees and telephone poles by the road.  It’s beautiful to watch them fly.

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The second day I cycled through Gleeson, taking the long way from our campsite to meet Mai at the Douglas swimming pool.  The Gleeson road to Tombstone is a delight.  From Tombstone to Douglas I went through Bisbee, which has to be one of the best cycling places anywhere, tucked into the Mule Mountains.  Cycling by day, watching the starry skies at night, and observing the cranes fly in and out from their roost at dusk and dawn was great living.  Returning to city life, I feel ambitious.  We can boldly envision a night sky above our cities that is dark and allows people to connect with the stars–this is a good point of departure for equating progress with pollution, even light pollution.  We are already paying closer attention to restoring wildlife habitat, clean air and water, and making transportation safer and a way for people to connect better with our communities.  Cycling has a role to play in every place around the world. It certainly fits well in Southeastern Arizona, making us envoys of beauty like the birds and stars.

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Area Rides and Cycling Culture:

Every October there is a big cycling event out of Douglas, AZ
http://www.perimeterbicycling.com/cochise-cycling-classic/

The Willcox Flyer takes cyclists towards the Dos Cabezas and back to Willcox
https://www.facebook.com/WillcoxFlyer

The Bisbee Bicycle Brothel is pretty amazing
http://bisbeebicyclebrothel.com

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Designing and Educating for Bicycling

Every effort to promote bicycling hinges on a clear understanding of how bicycling works in the context of the overall transportation ecosystem.  The guiding principle for bicycling is commonly referred to as vehicular cycling.  A more modern term is bicycle driving.  It is the basis for safe coexistence with traffic and conforming to the rules of the road.   If you’ve ever operated your bicycle on an ordinary residential street, going with traffic, then you’re already doing it.  Bicycle driving is what is taught in the Safe Routes To Schools curriculum, and every other bicycling education program.   Complete Streets is the design aspect for bringing bicycling into the mainstream by designing streets for bikes.  The educational component is bicycle driving, and it instills confidence for people to be fully empowered to use bicycles to travel anywhere.

The Bike League’s curriculum and all bicycling education programs are designed “to create a mindset that bikes are treated as a vehicle” (from becoming an instructor).  This mindset instills a sense of proportional responsibility and is the basis of appropriate relationships for bicyclists to all kinds of traffic and traffic control devices.  This mindset shared by all sets the tone for great streets and trails.  On the multiuse trail this principle guides bicycles to yield to pedestrians and equestrians, gauging travel speeds accordingly.  On the road the bicycle driving principle means the most predicable, safe, and visible way to move is with the vehicular traffic flow.  Even when there is physical separation between motorized traffic and bicycle traffic, such as with a protected bike lane, the motions of the two traffic streams must always be coordinated and mutually aware.  This is especially true at intersections, driveways, and parking zones when traffic mixes and the cooperative environment depends on predictable movements, communication, awareness, negotiation, and common rules to which all traffic adheres.  Complete Streets policies support design environments that welcome bicycle traffic and lower traffic stress so that people have a better chance to positively orient to the road with whichever mode they choose.  A Complete Street is as an inclusive place and built on the underlying structure of relationships between varying types of traffic.  Traffic skills education is a complimentary factor that facilitates pleasant travel by fostering order and raising awareness.  Design and education work in tandem to promote good bicycling.

Most people have some reservations about bicycling because they are not clear how bikes fit in.  Forward looking solutions include education for drivers to respect all kinds of traffic, and treating bicycles as an equal vehicle, welcoming diversity.  Most bicycle traffic occurs on roads without a designated bicycle facility such as a bicycle lane.  A regular travel lane needs to be at least 14 feet wide for it to be safely shared side by side by a car and a bicycle.  Seeing bicycle traffic using a general travel lane may look different than what we are used to.  I trust we are acclimating to bicycles as a normal component of traffic and civic life in the mainstream, just like we are welcoming diverse religions, cultures, and lifestyles.  Change takes a new attitude, an open mind, and in the case of roads, traffic calming and the conception of an inclusive space.

Bicycles are good for the transportation ecosystem.  As we design and educate better for bicycles, include bicycle traffic in our engineering metrics and traffic flow analysis, and we learn more about what bicycling can do for us and we do it more, things are going to get a lot easier, safer and more attractive.  The quicker we can make these changes, the sooner we can move ahead.  In the Southwest, Utah and Colorado are already in the bike friendly top ten.

For understanding bicycling, I’ve benefited from the generosity of the creator of azbikelaw.org.  For the last two years, Ed has suggested reading related to bicycle law, roadway design, engineering, and traffic behavior.  He has a “do it yourself” entrepreneurial attitude and continues his education, applying critical thinking and analytical skills to practical experience to spur progress.  Ed responds cordially to questions, and links people to resources.  Always there to foster more informed dialogue.  Some of the lessons were tough, like the lessons from a cyclist who was killed by a hit from behind on a charity ride in Cornville.  Ed’s analysis and documentation is brave and courageous, like the novelist Cormac McCarthy’s willingness to tell the story of violence in Western culture and its continuum past to present.  AZ Bike Law is my August 2015 Bike Org of the Month.  Thanks for your diligence and enthusiasm Ed.

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Please be kind to persons bicycling, walking, rolling, driving autos and commercial vehicles.  Drive with care and caution.  Forgiveness and understanding.  We are all learning.  Gracias!

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Flagstaff Days

Waterline Road, San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff Arizona

Waterline Road, San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff Arizona

during monsoon come flowers

during monsoon come flowers

the elk are the masters of the woods around Flagstaff

the elk are the masters of the woods around Flagstaff

The San Francisco Peaks towering above Flagstaff are a big draw.  We moved to Flagstaff in 2004 when Mai enrolled at Northern Arizona University.  We spent ten years there.  We were married at the Grand Canyon.  Special place.  I remember our first visit.  Aspen groves and views of the Grand Canyon from Snowbowl Road impressed us, but the forest road around the back side of the Peaks sealed the deal.  Flagstaff is a great place to raise a family on bicycling.

Hart Prairie Road in June, part of my loop around the Peaks route

Hart Prairie Road in June, part of my loop around the Peaks route

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At 7,000 feet above sea level Flagstaff is a healthy and stunningly beautiful environment.  The atmosphere shimmers with perfectly clear, distilled light.  The sun’s press on the skin is intense.  Mountain storms bring deep snows, heavy rains, crackling lightning.  The milkyway swirls in luminous bands across dark night.  The water is cold and clean and the air is delicious.  I met so many people bicycling in Flagstaff.  I met as many people through cycling as I did through working at NAU.  Those communities, work and bike, changed my life.  I met many quiet leaders in Flagstaff, remarkable people, who were not in high positions but lived extraordinary lives.  Real leaders inspire by example through the conduct of their own affairs.

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the road ride out to Wupatki National Monument is outstanding, from the painted desert to the Peaks

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on Mt. Elden, Flagstaff Arizona

The three main road bike rides are hard to beat.  The alpine climb up Snowbowl road is just seven miles out of town by Hwy 180.  I could ride out of town and be up above 9,000’ and home again in about two hours.  I liked that.  The road by Lake Mary is one of the best rides anywhere.  Take it as far as you want to go.  I rode it on my lunch break or after work and every Saturday on the group ride.  The long road north into the painted desert to Wupatki is world class and the slow undulating climb back on the Sunset Crater loop road is relaxing and beautiful.  Rides and races through that cinder marked landscape etched indelible memories.

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All summer 2009 273

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The mountain biking in Flagstaff will blow your mind, but winter limits it to six or seven months.  The city is encircled by national forest public lands and you can bike out of town in any direction in literally a few minutes, a few city blocks.  Some of the most accessible riding around.  You get into the woods and realize right away there are probably more elk than people there.

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finding some peace on snowbowl

finding some peace on snowbowl

During the winter months you can ride in Sedona and the Verde Valley.  Or you could go to Phoenix or Tucson and experience shorts weather any month of the year.  There’s no doubt about it, Arizona is a unique amalgamation of unmatched cycling and Flagstaff is about as good of a place to live and raise a family that I can think of.  We are thankful to have spent ten years there.  A secret place yet to be discovered, best revealed pedaling two wheels.

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Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists: Bike Org of the Month

Cup of Pop by Don Ross

The Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists has been instrumental in supporting my bicycling education and improving my confidence for riding safely.  Learning bicycling skills is continuous for me even though I’ve been cycling for seventeen years and have pedaled over 200,000 miles.  In fact thanks to the Coalition my education is accelerating!  The Coalition is like an open source course on bicycling.  Members share information freely, connect and guide one another to cutting edge resources, and create a sense of community where all the participants have an awareness of and great sensitivity to what it means to be a bicyclist in 21st century America.  The Coalition does a lot of work on bicyclists’ behalf including liaising with politicians and planners to ensure active and traditional transportation life ways are part of the backbone of Arizona’s transportation infrastructure and culture and well integrated into the daily traffic flows.   The Coalition advocates for bicycling as an egalitarian transportation method and provides educational resources so everyone can feel confident bicycling to get to where you want to go in life.  Even though I’m a racing cyclist the Coalition welcomed me in and truly supports the entire spectrum of a diverse community of riders around our common passion for keeping bicycling as a beautiful part of daily life in wondrous Arizona.  Thanks CAZBIKE for helping citizens better implement freedom of choice in our daily transportation decisions by making bicycling a safer and more enjoyable way to go.  I highly recommend everyone who bicycles in Arizona to join.  The Coalition ensures the voices of bicyclists are heard and makes us stronger bicyclists by joining us together.

Bisbee in 2006

Music: Michael Manring, The Enormous Room

Bring back La Vuelta de Bisbee!  It is one of the best stage races ever in the unique Southwest borderlands, La Frontera de Americana.  After doing the Flagstaff community group ride  Saturday with some of my old teammates that I raced with at Bisbee and seeing them working together as a team (now team GST), it reminded me of the wonderful gifts teammates can bestow to young riders.  Road bicycling is a team sport but with small fields and local races we don’t always get to practice the team dimension to its fullest potentials.  At Bisbee in 2006 my teammates on Grand Canyon Racing showed me the way to the top of the mountain, specifically Mule Pass in Bisbee where both the prologue and the last stage ended.  That was an incredible journey of discovering something new about racing and myself and my teammates all in a compact weekend sporting adventure.  Cycling is a great sport and it is here to stay.  Viva La Vuelta de Bisbee!  Here’s me in the middle celebrating the team win with my brothers in cycling.  This is a thank you that resonates forever and one I will be paying forward my whole life.  Thank you for showing me the way and investing your spirit.  You guys know how much I love you.

Teachers and Student

Teachers and Student

How’s My Driving?

I’ve heard a similar story from different people on separate occasions regarding motorist concerns for the well being of bicyclists who are riding on narrow country roads with tight corners in places with limited sight lines.  The story goes something like this.  My friends who live out in the country worry that they’ll be driving their truck one day and come around a corner and there will be a bicyclist in the road and oncoming traffic coming the other way and no time to slow or stop.  How worried they are for the cyclist.

The first time I heard this story I thought it was a commentary on ignoring responsibility for dangerous driving habits and placing the blame on someone for just being there in the way of our rushing.   I cycle the stretch of road in their story.  It is a fine country road and I have seen horses and horseriders two abreast in the lane, slow moving construction vehicles, off highway vehicles, snowmobiles crossing the road in winter, walkers, cars pulled over not quite off the road, utility workers, logging equipment, cable guys laying cable, and though I have not seen a tractor out there it seems like there could be one.  It is a quiet road and people feel at ease taking life slowly and watching wildlife.  All good reasons to drive at a controllable rate of speed especially around blind corners.  We always need to be prepared to slow and stop and adjust our speed for conditions.  That is the responsibility that comes with driving.

The second time I heard this same basic story told by a different person about a different friend on another country road it troubled me more because there was a pattern of dangerous thought here coming from intelligent people who are also bike advocates.  I shared my concern today with a friend over coffee.  He made a tremendous insight.  He said it was exceptional the motorist in each story is acknowledging they know cyclists use the road and anytime they are driving around a corner too fast they are fully aware they could possibly be endangering a cyclist.  Chilling insight into the consequences of failing to think worlds exist outside of car culture. The motorist is making a statement that they refuse to change their driving habits even though they know they are endangering their neighbors.  A strange insistence on driving like bicyclists or other road users are not there.  It is our responsibility to hold one another to the common standard of behaving in a way that coexists with all human life.  There is nothing wrong with seeing from our self interests as motorists and wanting to get to our destination easily.  All it takes to be a considerate and safer driver is to think one step ahead and incorporate the interests of others into our driving outlook, and then we’ll get to our destination quickly enough without doing damage to other people in our communities.  Live and let live.  Include the well being of others in our world view.

Scenic Ride to the Grand Canyon

An amazing transformation has been underway on US Highway 180 from Flagstaff northwest toward the Grand Canyon.  Arizona Department of Transportation is working each night repaving the surface from Flagstaff toward Baderville and the redesign embraces bicycle users.  Each day as I ride from my home in Flagstaff to the base of Snowbowl Road on Hwy 180 there is new pavement to ride on.  It is like a dream while I sleep fresh pavement falls down from the starry heavens on my favorite cycling route.  After ten years of riding an inconsistent and extremely degraded surface with huge jolting gaps and the infamous dangerous corner just past the city limits at the bend in the road where the llamas are now grazing underneath the stupendous backdrop of the San Francisco Peaks finally the road surface is being healed and living up to the natural splendor this scenic route travels through while better accommodating the pedestrians and bicyclists who add to the great scenery by regularly using it.

In the May-June 2014 issue of American Bicyclist Steve Clark wrote that “a bike lane should be at least half the width of the widest travel lane” (p 13).  Past the city limits 180’s shoulder appears equal to the travel lane.  I am overjoyed to ride there.  The surface is beautiful dark black asphalt and completely smooth.  I feel like a rich man!  Inside the city limits the shoulder width varies from four feet to less in some places.  If we can keep the right edge of the roadway clean and free of debris while encouraging traffic to travel at reduced speeds, driving with caution and sensitivity, this important arterial and quick route out of town and gateway to the Grand Canyon and more high country grandeur is beyond doubt one of the best rides around in Northern Arizona and the entire American Southwest.

The next advocacy steps include creating a driving culture on 180 through town that is synchronized to the human rhythms on the street.  This includes driving slowly around people who are bicycling and being respectful of the neighborhood life adjacent to the street and the schools and the children and the parents riding with their happy children and all the other people spending time with the great attractions such as the Museum of Northern Arizona, the Coconino Center for the Arts, the historic black locomotive engine, the scenic aspens and rock outcroppings along the Rio de Flag and charismatic pinetop shapes along the lofty mesas and the occasional herd of elk that graze in the grassy meadows next to the road.  This is a stunning scenic corridor with a high quality of life and the traffic patterns should fit into this greater life.  There is much to see and do and connect to along this corridor.

The Grand Canyon is only 74 miles away from Flagstaff via Highway 180 so we can up the ante on advocating for a resurfacing of the road past the current project boundary that carries the generous shoulder all the way out to the Grand Canyon rather than doing a quick fix chip seal or an otherwise marginal job accommodating multi modal traffic.  “Ride your bike to the Grand Canyon”!  This could be a calling card for tourism in Flagstaff.  It is worth the investment in the road and would restore local pride for this beautiful roadway following the slumbering western shoulder of the iconic mountain and would boost the economy, especially the health based tourism that has a low impact on the natural quiet and dark skies and keeps the ecological integrity intact and brings lots of energized people into the coffee shops happy to spend money on a hearty meal in local restaurants and tell people they meet from across the globe how high a quality of life we keep in Flagstaff.  What a unique treasure they found in this place.  We can build resources and support to work with Arizona Snowbowl to steward the condition of the road leading up the mountain to the resort.   The heavy construction traffic and digging for the pipeline that carries reclaimed water for snowmaking to the resort was tough on the old road surface and right now the gaps in the surface are huge.  It is overdue for a repaving.  This is such an asset for local cycling and sight seeing and hiking and high mountain recreation that it would be hard to imagine we could not unite to bring a successful outcome for this very scenic route that peaks out with views into the Grand Canyon from the top at the Agassiz and Hart Prairie Lodges.

Let’s celebrate the current progress by enjoying the smoother and improved riding out 180 from now until the Aspen leaves begin turning and the first snowfalls ring the upper Peaks.  No better way to celebrate and to say thank you than with a nice ride!  I recently met with the Flagstaff Biking Organization and they have been a huge point of continual advocacy for lifting the engineering standards for multimodal planning and we owe them a huge thanks and our support to continue their powerful efforts.  Thanks to the engineers and planners who have demonstrated dedicated professional development by encompassing a fuller spectrum of users in the road design and implementations.  And to the hard core work the construction folks do getting the pavement down on the ground, bravo!  Many individuals including Justin P. and Joe S. have been strong and passionate and smart advocate voices that have made huge differences motivating their neighbors to be inspired to think how much there is to gain if we adapt our travel budgets to account for more than driving cars.  We have so many people to thank and the best way to show it is to come together inspired and united in our efforts going forward as we share the common ground of helping Flagstaff be as good as it can be with so many splendid natural and human resources in a place almost too good to be true.