Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another (J. Muir, Our National Parks, 1901)
The desert is a landscape shaped by the destructive forces of water, wind, and sun. Constantly in flux, never the same from one day to the next. Yet its stunningly beautiful: from its coarse sedimentary rocks shaped like meringues, to its massive pillars of red stone and box canyons. Contrast is everywhere: blue sky with red rock, green springs with sand, cacti with rock, grey moonlight with yellow sun. Arizona’s Superstition Mountains and the hills that surround the Phoenix area are no exception. I recently spent ten days exploring the Superstitions and riding local trails at Usery Mountain Regional Park, Brown’s Ranch and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Pack your mountain bike, sun screen and plenty of water and head south.
Located 65 kilometers east of Phoenix, the Superstition Mts. are a fantastic mountain biking, bike packing (touring), hiking and camping destination. If you’re riding a bike, stick to state land on the southern edge of the range. Hikers can enjoy the Wilderness area to the north.
This multi-use recreation area is just east of the historic community of Queen Valley and can be accessed via. Highway #60. Hewitt Canyon road winds its way north through gently rolling terrain and some great geo-features such as Hewitt and Roblas Canyon as well as Hewitt Canyon Arch. This roads eventually summits Montana Mountain (5, 528 ft.), where it crosses the Arizona Trail which can be ridden downslope to Hwy. #60.
Brown’s Ranch Single Track
Just thirty minutes north of Phoenix, this popular multi-use trail network is a favorite of local riders. With flowey single-track, interesting geologic features and fantastic views of the Sonoran desert, Brown’s Ranch is a must-ride area.
Usery Mountain Regional Park
Just north of Apache Junction, this regional park has flat valley-bottom riding , some flowey toe-slope single-track and some tough rock-garden ascents and descents. Like all of the Superstition Mountains, the landscapes are stunning.
Phoenix Mountain Preserve and the Phoenix Canal System
Just a few minutes from downtown Phoenix, this multi-use urban park has some great beginners single-track that provides awesome views of the desert, hills and city. If you connect this park with the Arizona Canal Trail, you can enjoy hours of leisurely urban trail riding. This 40 km canal system, runs northwest-southeast through the city. With flat, paved and unpaved trails, often going both directions, the canal is a fantastic ride especially for bikepackers who want an easy traffic-free ride out of the city. This trail system also provides access to many areas of the city including other parks, restaurants and even bike shops such as a the Trailhead Bike Cafe.
Hudson’s Hope, British Columbia is well-known for its massive hydroelectric dam and Williston lake, however, this area also has some fantastic geographic features such as the Portage Mountain Steam Vents. These naturally occurring vents are just outside of town and are accessible by mountain bike, foot or ATV. They also provide great views of the WAC Bennett dam and Williston and Dinosaur lakes. Add this adventure to your summer or winter bucket list: you won’t regret it!
Park at the trapper’s shack on Canyon drive, just west of Hudson’s Hope. Ride to the junction of the power lines and Canyon drive, then follow the lines until they head north. This upslope section is heavily eroded, so you make have to hike-a-bike for 500 meters or more. You will eventually emerge on the bottom slope of a small ski hill. Ride upslope to the lodge, then head east down the road.
Two hundred meters past the ski lodge is a junction, take the narrow road heading east and follow it downslope to the power lines right-of-way. Head north, until the trail switchbacks around and over a small creek, then upslope to a level area. The trail head to the steam vents is just on the east side of the road.
This ATV width trail winds its way downslope along a pine and spruce covered ridge and emerges on the rim of the Dinosaur lake canyon. A short trail runs downslope through an aspen stand then emerges on a grassy slope.
Interestingly, these vents don’t smell like rotten eggs (sulphur) and my guess is that they are more prominent in winter when there is a major temperature differential. There is room for a small camp on the south side of the vents, but you are fully exposed to the elements and there is no water in the area.
These steam vents are the only terrestrial geothermal feature–that I am aware of–in northeastern British Columbia. They are well worth a visit. Furthermore, there are some interesting sand dunes on the northwest side of Portage Mountain. Check out my post about the dunes and the massive earth work Art Project that is located there: Hidden in the Sands.
“8 trout-good fishing, also replaced stove pipe with larger ones 5”. No more smoke in cabin,” wrote Willie Kwiatkowski on December 28, 1977 in a tattered spiral-ring journal.”
This 39 year old journal can be found in the cobweb covered rafters of an old backcountry cabin south of the Tabor Mountain fire tower, near the headwaters of Bowes creek. Called the “Old Trapper’s Shack,” this cabin is just one of the fantastic cultural features found in the Tabor Mountain Recreation Area , just fifteen minutes east of Prince George. If your’e looking for some summer or winter adventure then this area is a must see!
You can access this historic cabin by mountain bike, walking, skis or ATV. Park at the junction of Giscome and Groveburn road, heading south to the junction of the Tower and VOR Forest Service Road. Its all uphill from here. Follow the VOR road east, until you reach the first switchback, where you can see the fire tower to the north. Take the narrow Frost Lake Multiuse Trail for about 1.8 kms, then head south down a narrow trail. This descent is heavily rutted and brushy. The trail eventually flattens out in treed wetland. The narrow trapper’s trail is covered with knee high grass, horsetail, balsam fir and spruce. Follow this trail, north along the edge of the wetland until you see the cabin.
You will have to cross a makeshift bridge over the creek that feeds the wetland. Proceed with caution.
This cabin is dry and drafty with a functioning wood stove. However, there is a a lot of mouse and squirrel waste, so I would not recommend sleeping in the cabin unless it is thoroughly swept out.
While trapping may seem distasteful to some, it was a source of revenue for First Nations and immigrants during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Indeed, there is a small handful of people that still trap this region today.
Cultural features such as this trapper’s cabin are an important source of data on Tabor Mountain’s environmental history. I find it interesting that there were trout–or perhaps there still are–in this wetland, begging the question: how did they get there?
Looking for some alpine adventure with killer views and mountaintop accommodations? Then check out Morfee Mountain. Only two hours north of Prince George, this 5800 foot peak is easily accessed by mountain bike, off-road vehicle or snow machine. With great views of the Rocky Mountains, Williston Lake and Mackenzie, British Columbia, you will definitely want to add this mountain to your bucket list.
Access to this area is via Morfee Mt. Forest Service Road, only a few kms north of the community of Mackenzie off of Highway 39. There is a large gravel lot just off the road near the old blue cabin. You can park and ride from here or drive 15 kms to the subalpine cabin, and start from there. You can also drive all the way to the summit, park and explore the ridge lines.
Adventure mountain bikers and bikepackers will love the 17 km ascent that gains 3400 feet in elevation. This sandy, maintained road winds gradually upslope and has both flat and steep sections, especially in the alpine.
There are ample places to set up camp in the subalpine (approx. 4000 ft.) However, there is a brand new public cabin nearby that may be a better choice on a cold/wet day. This cabin also has a descent pit toilet and fantastic views of the rocky ridges and pristine forests to the east. If your’e lucky you might see some Southern Mountain Woodland Caribou.
Once on top, you can ride or hike the shale ridges running north and southwest. The wind blows hard at the top so remember to pack some warm clothing. For more info about Morfee Mountain check out Dougz’s ClubTread Post.
The hot summer sun was relentless. Portage Mountain’s bold ridge-line loomed in the distance. My anticipation built as I pushed up the gravel access road into one of British Columbia’s unique geographic features: the Portage Mt. Sand Dunes, near Hudson’s Hope. As I crested the hill and emerged on an open bench the wind blew hard off of Williston Lake bending the cottonwood saplings into submission.
Riding towards the eastern rim, I found a large 4×8 ft. sign lying on the ground. Its white background and multi-colored letters seemed incongruous to this desolate dune. It was made of thin aluminum sheeting on plywood. Lifting the sign and gingerly balancing it against a couple of sticks I snapped some pictures. Suddenly, a burst of wind snatched it from my grasp.
What was this? Why was it here? I was curious and slightly unnerved. Someone put serious effort into this sign. I looked around the dunes, but I was alone. The printing was clear in some places and fuzzy in others. A dark black tire mark crossed the center of the sign like a redactor’s slash. Quickly reading the text, ““Peace Sanctuary” by Canadian artist Deryk Houston.” I also noticed Iraq, children and rock. As I rode around the dunes I saw nothing but sand, an infinite number of tracks and a few rock piles.
Unbeknownst to me, beneath the sand in a depression to the north, lay a massive landscape art project consisting of rings with paleolithic-like faces and symbols within the center. Called the “Peace Sanctuary,” this was the first major project of the artist Deryk Houston. While presently only visible from Google Earth, this massive design connects two different countries and cultures, raising awareness about the devastating effects of war in the hopes of creating lasting peace.
Portage Mountain Sand Dunes
Located 23 kilometers west of Hudson’s Hope and adjacent to the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, the Portage Mt. dunes are actually a massive Glacial Moraine. This geologic feature is a result of advancing ice sheets picking up and grinding rocks which are then exposed–on the edges, and at the end–as the ice retreats. Moraines are characterized by unsorted sands, gravels and stones. While this area is well-known to local ATV and dirt bike enthusiasts, I was hard pressed to find any who had actually been there. Fortunately, the local ATV club had posted a .gpx file of the trail network, on the internet, which I downloaded into Avenza Maps on my iPhone 6.
The gravel access road gradually ascends to to a bench which provides a great view of both the mountain and dunes. While easy climbing, the road can be tricky to negotiate due to the loose gravels and stones that cover the surface. It was perfect for a fatbike with four inch tires.
Deryk Houston is a Victoria based Canadian-Scottish artist who has exhibited his work internationally. His farming background, love of working with his hands and a fascination with ancient art forms such as earthworks, spirals and labyrinths has influenced his large public pieces. Houston also paints. His works are characterized by a vibrant mixture of orange, red, blue and black lines, stars, waves, clouds, text, animals and primitive stick figures. He also has created some interesting 2-D paintings. Perhaps more importantly, he is a dogged advocate for peace and those impacted by war, especially Iraqis affected by the first Gulf War, subsequent conflicts and international sanctions.
In 2000 he visited Iraq and installed his “Sanctions Painting” at the Baghdad Arts Center and the following year a “Bomb Shelter” piece in a bombed out building that is now a memorial to those who died in a US attack. In 2002, he exhibited at the “Art for Mankind” show in Baghdad and supervised the construction of a 24 foot bronze sculpture in Iraq’s Peace Sanctuary. The same year he constructed the massive “Peace Sanctuary” stating that his “intention was to help the Iraqi people and try to get the world to understand that bombing only causes other problems…At the same time, it helped to heal my own heart after witnessing some terrible things in Iraq.” The “Peace Sanctuary” garnered national attention: so much so that the National Film Board of Canada commissioned a film—“From Baghdad to Peace Country”—which premiered internationally in 2003. Houston feels that his work has made an impact on Canada’s geopolitical position towards Iraq and the Gulf War.
The Peace Sanctuary
Deryk’s trips to Iraq marked his soul. The crumbling buildings, open sewers, poverty and hospitals overflowing with the sick and dying were impossible for him to forget. Thus, he decided to create a landscape art project to raise awareness of the plight in Iraq. Wanting a remote location–so that people who have to put in effort and commitment to find it–he began researching a suitable location. He even called the famous Canadian author, Farley Mowat. Surprisingly, the provincial government was the most helpful suggesting the dunes near Hudson’s Hope. With support from the provincial and local government he began building in earnest.
With his nine year old son Samuel, a ball of twine, wooden stakes, a dirt bike and a D9 Cat operated by Phil Kirtzinger they laid out a design that was approximately 1000 feet across, containing 4 concentric rings with a mother (holding) child and dove motif at the center. While Deryk oversaw the operation from a high point, Phil roughed out the design by pushing and piling the sand–basically a massive sand sculpture. Deryk explained it to me this way:
“I love the ancient Nazca lines and their simplicity. I also love the mother and child image that we see so often throughout time. The central image is a simple circle of the mother’s head and the child’s head. The hand of the mother cradles the child’s head. There is also the shape of a dove. The outer circles are ripples. How we hope to effect change in our world.”
This costly project was funded out of Deryk’s pocket and took a few days to complete. Much later, he visited the site, but sadly ATV’s, dirt bikes and wind had pounded the earthwork into obscurity. However, like peace itself, this monument to the people of Iraq is not hidden: it can still be seen in Google Earth today!
Post Script: The “Peace Garden,” Woodwynn Farms
Houston continues to create thought-provoking and interactive landscape art. His latest piece is the “Woodwynn Farm Peace Garden,” near Victoria, BC. This stunning labyrinth is a collaborative effort of Houston, Elizabeth Wellburn (his wife) and Richard Leblanc, the farm director. Woodwynn Farm is a therapeutic community for the homeless and those struggling with mental health and addictions.
Personal correspondence and telephone conversation with Deryk Houston, July-August 2017.
“From Baghdad to Peace Country,” directed by Sherry LePage. http://www.nfb.ca/film/from_baghdad_to_peace_country/.
Deryk Houston’s Art Gallery website: http://www.derykhouston.com/.
Nestled between the Rocky and Monashee Mountains, Valemount, British Columbia, has great outdoor adventure opportunities minus the crowds. You can camp, ride and paddle the endless shoreline of Kinbasket Lake, relax in a rustic cabin with great mountain views or fatbike and hike the Canoe River sand roads. If you want to get away from the National and Provincial Park crowds, then grab your gear and head to Valemount this summer!
Kinbasket Lake is a massive reservoir on the Columbia river system that extends hundreds of kms south to Golden and Revelstoke.The northern tip is only 25 kms east of Valemount and can be accessed via Highway 5 South, Cedarside rd., and the Canoe River Forest Service rd. This latter road runs along the east side of the lake, providing access to numerous Forest Service Rec Sites such as Yellowjacket, Horse Creek and Canoe Reach Marina. The lake is flanked by the Monahee Mts. to the west and the Rockies to the east: needless to say the views are stunning. You can explore kms of shoreline on foot (where sturdy foot wear) or by mountain bike (fatbikes work best on the large gravels and stones that line the shore).
2. Rustic Cabins
Valemount is small community with numerous hotels and rental cabins. We stayed at Twin Peaks Twin Peaks Resort, which arguably has the best view of the mountains. With super comfortable cabins, great “chill-out” decks and low rates, Twin Peaks Resort is a must visit locale.
3. Sand and Sun
If you love sand and sun then you will love Valemount. This area lies within the rain shadow of the Monashee Mts. and is hot and dry. More than that, the community sits on sand that washed out of a massive lake during the post-glacial melt. Explore the unique sand dune ecosystem at Jackman Flat Provincial Park or if you have a Fatbike you can ride numerous pure sand forest service roads that criss-cross the valley. Park at the end of Cranberry Lake rd., riding south to the Upper Canoe Forest Service rd. Outside of Maui, this is the finest sand that I have ever seen.
Valemount’s endless shorelines, sandy roads and trails, rustic rental cabins and serious lack of crowds is a must-visit spot for those who like to explore off the beaten track. This community also has its own Three Ranges Brewing where you can get a pint or fill your growler for only $11 including tax. Wow! Downhill mountain bikers will love the up and coming Valemount Mountain Bike Park with its convenient shuttle service. Enjoy Valemount this summer.