Mingus Mountain: A 3500 foot climb in Arizona

A view of Mingus Mountain from the edge of Clarkdale, Arizona

My day did not start out well. It may have been poorly planned. To train for Ride The Rockies 2021, a very challenging organized bike ride in mid-June, I decided to travel to Arizona in April where the weather would be more hospitable for mountainous bike rides. I looked at lists of Arizona’s top bike rides and determined that Mingus Mountain should be on my itinerary. However, upon looking at the specifics of the Mingus Mountain loop, I decided to shy away from a ride that would involve cycling on the interstate.

Instead, I came up with a plan that turned out to be unrealistic. I would park in Prescott and bike from Prescott to Sedona (and then back). I figured I wanted to push myself, and this long ride would enable me to see all of Central Arizona’s top spots in one day! I would start the day at beautiful Watson Lake.

Almost immediately I encountered problems. Highway 89-A is busy, and in parts of Prescott it is a limited access road much like an interstate highway. The alternate road I planned to bike on turned out to be closed.

Determined to find a way to continue with my original plan, I spent about an hour pedaling through neighborhoods under construction only to continuously be re-routed by dead ends and roads that were either closed or still in the process of being built. I ended up in a spot where the only reasonable course of action would be to follow an unpaved trail back to my vehicle.

First, i figured I would just drive around 15 miles down the highway, find a place to park and continue on my path. However, the road continued to be heavily trafficked without a shoulder to accommodate bicycles.

Also, this parking spot that I had just imagined to exist never actually materialized. Before I knew it, I was driving over Mingus Mountain.

So, I figured I would drive to Sedona and pedal up the mountain from the East side. Then, I encountered Clarkdale and Cottonwood. Riding through these towns, would have involved five or six miles, both ways, of riding on suburban feeling sidewalks.

My “plan” was never a good one. It involved too many assumptions about things I failed to fully research, including parking, bicycle accommodations, etc. Doing this due diligence is a lesson I had learned but somehow forgotten during the pandemic. How frequently lessons have to be re-learned can be one of the most frustrating occurrences in life. A “re-lapse” is not just a drug addict that starts using again. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for people who had improved things like their habits and mindset to slip back into their old patterns that were not serving them well.

I was fortunate enough to find a tourist information center.

Where I was told I could park at the gas station on the far West end of town to ride my bike up Mingus Mountain.

The ride itself is beautiful right from the start, and, although I had a delay I was doing exactly what I had come to Arizona to do, ride my bike up big hills in nice weather.

Clarkdale sits at only 3545 feet (1080 m) in elevation. So, it is already a significant climb just to get to the ghost town of Jerome.

Jerome is a unique spot! Like many ghost towns of the West, it boomed in the late 19th Century due to mining (copper) and then went bust.

However, unlike other ghost towns, it is now a popular tourist destination with a lot of visitors.

Evidence of its past, as a lawless “old west” town can be seen everywhere.

Sitting on the side of a cliff, it also takes on the feel of a Mediterranean town.

Pedaling uphill through Jerome ended up being one of the hardest parts of the entire climb!

A scenic overlook a half a mile up the road from Jerome

Above Jerome the climb continued to be intense, but the amount of cars drops off significantly making for a quieter ride.

One thing I would grow to love about Arizona’s highway system throughout the week was their elevation signs. Their highways commonly have signs denoting the 1000 foot increments in elevation, providing a fantastic reference point!

The highest 1000 feet (300 m) of the climb was stunning. The panoramic views provided an almost instant reward for level of muscle exhaustion I was experiencing.

This is perhaps why I love cycling so much. When it comes to physical exercise, it is quite rare to be so immersed in the core motivating factor for the hard work, exhaustion and pain. Typically during workouts people remind themselves they are building endurance, improving their health, losing weight, etc. to keep their motivation. Here in the mountains on my bicycle, all I needed to do was continue to look all around me, feel and smell the fresh air and I knew exactly why I was willing to endure so much.

It is always exciting to reach the top of a climb. Seeing the signs and the road turn downwards for the first time in over an hour is a sweet feeling that one must experience to truly understand.

It is a great place to rest and enjoy the beauty of the place I had worked so hard to get to.

As is the case with all other components of our lives, it is crucial to savor moments like these, enjoy them while they are happening. It would have been a huge disservice to myself, as well as the natural environment around me to dwell on my prior setbacks. After all, the world is in a constant state of flux. We never know what experiences will no longer be available to return to.

Yes, that day I actually saw the forest rangers update the fire risk to high on the grounds that the humidity was 8%.

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