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The Hourglass Ride

by: Liam Wescott

This is a fun little winter ride that's not really very difficult and depending upon the condition of the trails, not one that takes very long to do.  It's called the "Hourglass" ride because of the shape of the ride track (which sort of looks like an hourglass) and because of the amount of time it should take you to complete it if you're in a hurry.  It's a little bit over 8 miles long and has around 600 feet of elevation gain.  A determined rider or group of riders should be able to complete this ride in under an hour but most people will take between an hour and an hour and a half to finish it.  Figure less than an hour if you're going fast and furious and around two hours if you're going slow and mellow and taking in the scenery.  If the trails are munged up and/or it has snowed recently, this ride takes a lot longer to finish and is not as much fun.  It's probably best to do this ride when the trails are in good condition, (i.e., the snowmachines and skiers have packed the trail down really well) otherwise you can count on gettting off your bike and slogging here and there.

There are several places you can begin this ride.  You could start at the turnout just past Ann's Greenhouses on Sheep Creek Road.  Or, you could start at the railroad crossing on Sheep Creek Road.  Or, you could start it on Goldhill Road (as is mapped) or somewhere on Saint Patrick's Road where the power line gets near it.  Let's start this on Goldhill Road then.  Start at the intersection of Cloudberry Lane (about three quarters of a mile up from the eastern end of Goldhill Road) and the Fairbanks-Healy Intertie.  There is usually a cleared area on the eastern side of Cloudberry Lane, right where the intertie crosses.  Park there and start riding up the hill, to the east, following the intertie.  After about a quarter-mile or so, the trail tops out at Gold Hill itself.  The actual summit of Gold Hill proper is a little bit south of where you are right now, but for our purposes, you're at the top of the hill.

Ride down the other side, following the intertie and about three-fourths of a mile into the ride, you come to the big power line trail.  The power line trail is a wide trail that gets a lot of use from skiers, snow machines, skijorers, hikers, runners, bikers, etc.  Turn left (north) here and folllow this power line cut all  the way across the valley to Ester Dome.  About a mile or so (maybe a bit less) you come to the intrersection with the Dredge Trail on the map.  The power line trail goes to the left and the Dredge Trail takes off to the right.  This intersection is just about exactly on the Fairbanks Baseline.

This trail drops down off the intertie, levels out for a bit, comes to the intersection mentioned above, and then you start coming to a few little hills before getting to the Grant Mine.  These hills are not very steep or very difficult, but if the trails are grungy and/or you're not in the best of shape, you might have to walk your bike on some of them. Right before you come alongside the Grant Mine, you'll see a major trail intersection that crosses the power line trail.  This trail is called the Boat Trail.  Turning right takes you over to the Dredge Trail and turning left takes you over to Saint Patrick's Road.  The intersection is marked "14" on the map.  Then you come alongside the Grant Mine workings for a bit.  You level off, then start a descent down to Ester Dome Road. 

Come out on Ester Dome Road and turn right.  The power line trail keeps going north alongside Schloesser Drive but you're heading to the east for a quarter-mile or so to Sheep Creek Road.  Ride on the shoulder of Sheep Creek for about another quarter-mile or so to the intersection with the railroad tracks.  Bear right (south) just before the tracks and head down on the trail that parallels the tracks.  This trail is the Dredge Trail.  Back in 1958 or 1959, the old F.E. Company moved one of their big gold dredges from Ester over to Sheep Creek, on the other side of Ester Dome.  They walked the dredge cross country and the trail they created to move the dredge has become the Dredge Trail.  This trail follows along the tracks for a bit before veering off to the right.  It is one of the best and most enjoyable winter trails I've ever ridden on because it's so flat and is generally packed down pretty well.  It's a narrow trail that gets a lot of use from snow machines, skijorers, etc. so be careful coming around some of the curves.  There are several longish straight sections you can cruise through at top speed, if the trail conditions are right.

Follow this trail back through the woods.  You'll come to a major trail going off to the right (west) which is the other end of the Boat Trail.  It is marked "18" on the map.  Note: the rough location of the Boat Trail is marked in blue on the 3D aerial photo map.  Keep going and after a while, you'll come to a major trail fork.  The Dredge Trail heads off to the right while the connector trail to the Goldhill Trail veers left.  Keep on the Dredge Trail and after a little while, you come to the intersection with the big power line trail you rode on earlier.  Cross the power line trail and head on down the continuation of the Dredge Trail.  You'll see a sign at the intersection informing you this is private property and that no snow machines or motor vehicles are allowed.  Head on throough the woods for another mile or so before you finally come out on the Fairbanks-Healy intertie.  Turn right and about a quarter-mile up the intertie, you come back to your car, if you've driven to the start of this ride.

Congratulations!  You've finished the Hourglass Ride!