RZR Offroading in Bulldog Canyon

Just outside of Phoenix towards the Superstition Mountains is a little known OHV area that is part of the Great Western Trail called Bulldog Canyon. Horseback riders, hikers and bikers have been going there for years because it’s easy to get through the gates.  But if you have a vehicle, you have to get a permit and lock code from the Mesa District Rangers to get through the gates. There’s a couple of ways to get into the area, but we went to the North entrance on the Bush Highway because there is more room for parking if you’re towing a trailer. When we first read about this area and it said to allow 2 to 3 hours for the  8-mile drive, I was sure they meant you would be stopping a lot and admiring the scenery.  But we soon found out that was not the case. Leaving from our starting point, we headed out onto the open desert through blooming cactus and admired the spectacular view of the mountains and canyons. The mountains you pass through are the Goldfield Mountains, and the lower area is part of the Sonoran Desert that surrounds the Phoenix Valley and is one of the great deserts of the world. As you get further up the trail, there are side trials you can take, but they all come back to the main artery that goes up the canyon. One of the trails that goes out to the west entrance takes you down a sandy wash with steep canyon walls, blooming Palo Verde trees, and various wildlife trying to get out of your way. The first section of the trail brings you into the start of the canyon, and the aroma in the air from all the wildflowers was something I’ll never forget. In the forty years we have been in this area, I can’t remember a time when we saw such a concentration of wildflowers in one place. The rains of this past winter had given all the seeds that have been dormant a chance to show their beauty. Getting further into the canyon, you will find the road getting rockier, and four-wheel drive becomes the norm. There are several short, steep, rocky climbs that require low range and a little more driving skill to get around some of the rocks, but nothing the UTVs can’t handle. Outside of rocky trails there are some great sand washes that you can open up and get some speed. There are also some winding trails with high banks that have been carved out by ATV riders throughout the years.  This is a primitive area and has no services available. Even though you are close to a large city, bring water, food and emergency equipment. Also, this is a highly sensitive area and is closed to camping and target shooting, so if you pack it in, pack it out. We were still making pretty good time and stopped to enjoy the scenery with views of the Superstition Mountains in the distance. It was a good place to have lunch.  After we started out again, we soon found out why it took 2-3 hours to go the distance up and back. The road had turned into a boulder highway and slowed down any forward motion to a crawl, unless you wanted to bounce your teeth out of your mouth. As we went further up the trail, we spotted a pick-up truck ahead of us going really slow and couldn’t imagine coming in here with anything less than a UTV or a jeep. Getting closer to the truck, we realized it was one of the rangers making a pass through the canyon to check things out. We stopped and talked to him awhile, and he said he came in from the south entrance and had to turn around because his truck couldn’t make it up one of the hills going north. We told him they need a UTV to patrol in, and he said they had a Polaris Ranger, but it is only used for emergencies, so it sits in the shop. Go figure, if he came upon a problem, he would have to go back to the shop to get the Ranger instead of having it on the trail and wasting more gas and time in the pick-up. Continuing on, the road didn’t get any better. There are some fun climbs up the road, and the flowers and views just never seemed to quit. When we got to the last gate and could see the city of Mesa in the distance, we turned around and headed back. We passed the Ranger again still trying to get down the road, as well as a couple more people in trucks. Their first question was, “How far to the end?” They looked pretty exhausted from fighting the wheel, and they said they had never had their trucks in such a rough area. Going back seemed a little easier, and we took  one of the many side trails along the way to do some exploring and mix it up a little. This is a great short trip for anyone that has the urge to just get out.  In March, the cactus are blooming and the desert floor is covered in a wide variety of flowers besides it being perfect weather. Being out in the wilderness so close to home with few other people around made this trip worthwhile. To obtain a free permit, contact: Mesa Ranger Station 5140 E. Ingram Street Mesa, AZ 85205 Phone: 480-610-3300 When the temperatures reach 110 degrees in the summer in Phoenix, this is the perfect place for a quick ride if you are just wanting to get out without traveling far distances.  If you get out at 6 o’clock in the morning, the temperatures are decent.  Since this is not a long trail, you can easily get back by 9:30 am before it starts to reach 90+ degrees fairly quickly.

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