Scottsdale cycling made new again

Do you remember that uncle you thought was so fun when you were a kid? When you go back and visit and he has a beer belly and a bad comb-over and you are like, what the hell was I thinking? Then you hang out with him a bit and realize that he is still funny and in every picture you can find he has a pouch and bad hair. In the end, he is who he always was. He is still fun despite your world growing. That is how I felt cycling Scottsdale for the first time since we moved out of Arizona.

Favorite restaurants to visit and a ride on the Indian Bend Wash Bikeway

We were on a road trip to Colorado and Jenn has employee benefits at Hilton so it was very easy for us to get a cheap room in late May in the Valley of the Sun. That was the impetus for our Scottsdale trip this time. When you live in Tucson there are all kinds of reasons to visit Phoenix. It was the big city with sports, clubs, culture, restaurants, resorts and shopping. We used to take weekend trips there all the time with the Ritz employee rates. This trip was very much a homecoming only we weren’t staying at the Marriott anymore but we still had our favorite restaurants to visit and a ride on the Indian Bend Wash Bikeway aka Greenbelt.

Arizona’s Premier Disc Golf

Shelly Sharpe Disc GolfMy first visit to the Greenbelt was for disc golf. I used to love disc golf. I actually started a disc golf club at work and I built a 9 hole course on the campus. During school, when physics was kicking my ass, I would fantasize about dropping out and joining the PDGA. The premier course in Arizona is Shelly Sharpe on Greenbelt right where McDowell crosses. The grass is green. The trees are big and there are some serious water hazards that will eat your disc for breakfast. I still have a commemorative disc hung on my office wall I like it so much. The bike trail runs right through the course too. When the kids were little they would play at the sprinkler park and I would put in a quick 18. Then we would pack them into the bike carrier and pedal them around for a couple of miles. When I was single, I had an Albanian girlfriend who was trying to learn to ride a bike. We would rent a tandem bike from Spinners on the Green, the disc golf store and cruise a little further down the trail. I never rode the trail in its entirety until I went with Jenn. One of the many ways that she has completed me and helped me grow to my full potential.

The trail starts at Tempe Town Lake

Tempe Town Lake
Bike at Tempe Town Lake

We always consider the trail starting at Tempe Town Lake (the extra “e” makes it fancy). Our target Marriott was just across the lake at Mill Avenue which is a hip, cool business district right next to ASU. In fact, Tempe does a lot to make the lake a cultural center for the town. There are often festival and events happening here, especially in the cool months from October through April. Since we drove in from our new Hilton digs we were able to park in the shade under the 202 roadway. (pro tip – always park in the shade in the desert). The lakefront has been steadily improved with luxury condos and flash offices. I don’t know if I would actually go in the water but there is a lot to look at as you ride along lakeside before turning onto the trail itself.

Next up: mesquite trees and a fun, winding trail

Indian Bend Wash Mesquite TreesWe always ride the trail from south to north, not just so we can access Mill Ave afterward but also because there is a small but steady climb northward. It’s hard to notice going up but you’re definitely faster on the return which always helps as you are racing the heat of the day back. The start of the trail is unassuming. There is a wildlife viewing area in a riparian zone as the wash empties into the lake right under the 202 roadway. I think some city planning genius sold this idea as an “improvement” for an area they didn’t really want to develop. Next, there is the first of many golf courses and we were struck by how brown it was. I’ll tip my hat again to the unnamed city planner who had also pushed through an ecological initiative to conserve water. It didn’t take us long to the first of many lakes and then the disc golf course. After the course, there is a nice picnic area with mesquite trees and a fun, winding side trail that is more fun on weekdays when the park in practically empty. There are a lot of side trails around the lakes and bisecting the disc golf course but don’t worry, navigation is super easy. It’s just like The Wizard of Oz. You follow the yellow brick road, or in this case, you dashed line to direct trail traffic.

Then plowing through the Great Swampy Middle

Scottsdale TrailNovelist Jim Butcher created the construct of the Great Swampy Middle. It is the dreaded place in the story (or blog post) after the introduction and before the resolution. The place where storylines die and authors quit. The trail has a GSM too. A couple of miles north of the mesquite picnic area by Chaparral Lake the trail diverts out of the wash and runs along the roadway. It feels noticeably hotter here and certainly less scenic. The infrastructure is still amazing. There are bike underpasses to get across every major roadway here. (Which is true for the entire trail with one notable exception where you follow Hayden from Indian Bend to McCormick). Many times in the past the GSM has defeated me. I would make a lap around Chaparral Lake and return. The lake route doesn’t actually connect to the trail northward. You have to make the commitment to leave the wash and the lakes via the underpasses.

Finally you’re rewarded by lush greenness

Green Scottsdale BikepathYou have to push through the deserts of suburbia to be rewarded by the lush greenness of the Silverado Golf Course. This far north into Scottsdale the stingy city planner has lost his powers and they are watering like crazy. There is an impressive fountain flowing too and a sign beckoning trail users to come to the clubhouse and relax. Shortly thereafter you are faced with a conundrum. A really nice trail continues in the wash but the double yellow line directs you to the road. This is the start of the Indian Bend to McCormick section where you are basically riding on city sidewalks for a mile. Trust me, it worth it to follow the yellow brick road out of the wash and keep going because soon you’re in the promised land of North Scottsdale.

The end is the nicest section

Greenbelt Trail ScottsdaleThe trail heading north from McCormick is the nicest section yet. It’s a little narrow, especially on weekends but you would want to slow down and enjoy the view anyway. It undulates slightly as you roll along some beautiful city lakes. Even though the map doesn’t show it, it is green all the way to Shea from here. The trail follows the drainage north under some cool tunnels and through my favorite section where you pass under some pedestrian walkways associated with a medical center. The walls of the wash are steeper and narrower. You really feel like you are biking in a green valley all the way to Paradise Memorial Gardens on Shea.

The anti climatic north end

Yeah, the trail continues for about a mile or so more from but I wouldn’t ride it. It’s seriously anti-climactic. We were so excited a few years back when we learned that they extend the trail northward we made a special trip up to ride it. We ended up alongside the channelized wash in an average suburban housing development. If you want more riding there is a fun side branch through Mountain View Park which is a lot nicer than the commuter connection alongside the Pima Freeway. You could also pop out for a treat at the upscale Sprouts market on Shea. We choose to bike back and enjoy our favorite eats from Phoenix and finish the ride with about 30 miles under our belts.

We visited our favorite restaurants

We got to try three of our top food picks on this trip. Wild Thaiger downtown has the best hot pot of Tom Kha soup. It comes in an authentic flaming hot pot and has complex flavors from the ginger root and lemongrass with just the right spice. Caffe Boa on Mill Ave has a Voodoo Chicken pasta we have been trying (unsuccessfully) to copy for years. The combination of wine sauce and smoky undertones is superb. Right around the corner from Caffe Boa is Ncounter which is a hopping deli with quality food. We came for the steak sandwich but were blown away by the Waldorf salad. All in all, this was a great trip down memory lane and we still like the Indian Bend Wash Bikeway. We wouldn’t make the drive from San Diego just for this trail but we would ride it again when we are in town.

Tunnel on Indian Bend Wash Trail

 

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