By Tom Clark
This can be a taxing, technical, and very long ride requiring considerable skill and endurance. You will be riding for at least four and possibly as long as six hours. As described here, the total distance is around 33 miles. You really want to be in shape to attempt this ride. Be nice -- don't bring beginner friends on this one. Bring lots of water and several energy bars and/or other food. You will need it.
Start at the pipeline viewpoint on the Steese Highway. Follow the pipeline access road east, towards town. (That's away from Fox...) Go easy for now because your first climb is coming up. Crank up the steep hill and shortly after you top out you take your first or second trail to Gilmore Trail, a paved road. Turn left on Gilmore Trail, which is paved for the next two miles. You climb a couple of hills and just past the bottom of one, the pavement ends and there is a "State Maintainence Ends" sign. Continue on up the hill.
Follow the road for about two miles or so of rolling hills until you get to a double-track going off to the left, roughly northeast. This is one of those trails that just keeps getting wider, and it now accomodates 4x4 traffic. Watch out for ruts. The double track is level for about a quarter-mile or so and generally has several deep ruts and puddles. Then the fun begins as you descend down a hill, level off in a saddle, then begin climbing again. The trail forks at this point. If you take the left fork (the longer way) it skirts around this hill and is easier. If you take the right fork, it is shorter but considerably harder because it climbs straight up the hill. Either way, you come out on the other side of the hill where you drop down another saddle, do a short climb, and come out on a road.
Turn left on this road and go down a tenth of a mile or so to where another road goes up to the right. You can't go straight anyhow, as the road is blocked off with very bold NO TRESPASSING notices that you should NOT ignore. Take the right-hand turn and climb up to where you pass a radio antenna surrounded by a fence. Skirt around it to the left, drop down into another saddle, picking up a power line which drops down into a short saddle, climbs back up, descends quickly and then comes to a small clearing, about a mile and a half past the antenna. At this point you could go straight or right. Go right, to avoid more "No Trespassing" signs.
You will climb a hill for about a mile or so. Off to your right you will see the Fort Knox Gold Mine through the trees. The double track you are on comes out on a road. Tempting though it is, DO NOT ride on this road. This is a private road, owned by Fort Knox, and it is not open to the public. Watch for big ore trucks. Cross the road, and either take the "Cleary Summit Trail" that sort of parallels the road, or experiment with your own way there. If you follow the Cleary Summit Trail, it eventually intersects with the Fort Knox Mine Road. A short 1500 foot section is shared with the public, along which you ride. Turn right at the intersection, onto Fairbanks Creek Road. Zoom along up a short grade, then down the other side, all the way to Cleary Summit. (Yes, you actually descend down to Cleary Summit.)
If you are totally spent or have some other emergency, you can bail out now by turning left onto the Steese and bombing down the hill, and then pedaling 6 miles back to the cars.
If you are still good, cross the road, and follow the dirt road up a short grind, and then stay on that for a ways. It intersects (again) with Fort Knox Mine Road, and again you share a 2500 foot section of road with the big ore trucks. Give them LOTS of room, they cannot stop in a hurry. As soon as you can, take your next left, and you are back on Pedro Dome Road or whatever it's called. Continue along it for a mile or so, and then veer left at a fork. The right one pretty obviously goes up to the golf-ball looking radomes, which you don't want to do.
After three miles or so, you will be headed due west on this road. Be on the lookout for a sharp left. If you miss it, the road starts steeply dropping off towards the True North Mine, where you don't want to go. Come back and look for the turn. The gnarly descent used by both the Silverfox Mine Road ride and the other version of this ride can be found down this trail, which you'll find out about soon enough.
After jamming down this hill for a mile or so, you come to an overgrown clearing (isn't that what "woods" is?). If you veer left, then you do the following: it drops downhill for a little while, makes a sharp right, levels off, then drops down an incredible, heart-stopping descent that finally comes out behind Pedro Monument. If you are feeling up to it at this point, go ahead and take it but be warned. This descent is EXTREMELY dangerous and not for the faint of heart! You have to have good brakes. If your brakes die, kiss your butt goodbye. Assuming you don't tank into the woods on a sharp corner, never to be seen again, you will come out near the Steese, and with a winding mile long ride through subdivision roads, you'll come out at the Pedro Monument, near the bottom of the big descent (had you bombed down the Steese from Cleary Summit) and then it is about six miles of road riding back to your car.
As shown on map
Going back to our "overgrown clearing", if you instead go straight, the road drops down into a saddle, levels out, then does a short climb up to a knoll. You then take a fast, quarter-mile technical descent down a usually rutted double track which comes out on Silver Fox Mine Road. Follow this road (a smooth gravel road) for the next mile and a half, where it meets the Elliott Highway.
More decisions. At this point, you can turn left and take a fast three mile long descent down to where the Elliott intersects with the Steese. Take the Steese back to your car (about three miles or so).
This next part isn't mapped - easy to find though
Or, you can cross the road and ride for two miles on Old Murphy Dome Road. When you get to the wide swath (the pipeline is buried under the road) hang a left, and follow the pipeline service road all the way back to Fox. You don't add much distance, but you do get another 600 feet of elevation gain, plus some excellent descents. Since you are probably pretty tired now, use extra caution going down these hills. You need to be in control of your bike on these descents. Ride within your comfort level, and try not to scare yourself. At the bottom of the last nasty descent, you cross a creek, getting wet. Follow the only road out of there, out to the pavement. Go left, out to the Steese Expressway. Go right, and your car is just around the corner.
If you've done the entire loop and
you've done well. Welcome back to your car. It's good to be back, no?
time, 3-6 hours, distance, 30 to 35 miles.