Clark County has been aggressively expanding the number and reach of what they called "shared-use" paths; they're for walking, running, biking, dog-walking, horse-riding--basically anything non-motorized. (For an overview of the projects completed and underway, see here.) I've explored the ones that I can reach on my bike from home. Today I took a big step forward by throwing the bike in the back of the new car and heading out to what is probably the best urban trail the city has to offer.
It's the West Beltway Trail, which runs from across the street from Red Rock Casino to Tropicana Avenue. From there, you can ride on the sidewalks for a mile or so, then hop on to the Tropicana/Flamingo Wash Trail. Together these stretch about 12.3 miles end to end. There are also some branches off of them, which I did not explore. There's a nice review of the ride (plus directions on how to bridge the gaps in it--one big fault is that the county does not post good signs to guide people across the gaps) on Yelp, just posted a couple of weeks ago, with the route highlighted on a Google map.
Here's a sign from the trail that shows the whole system of which it is the backbone:
I started at the northwest end. I think that was a mistake, in retrospect, because it gave me the downhill half first, and the uphill half last. The grades aren't daunting, but you definitely feel them. I dropped, then rose, about 1100 feet over the course of about 9.4 miles each way. I stopped a couple miles short of the end because I was having a really great time and didn't want to spoil it by having the return half be so long and onerous that I'd be miserable by the time I got back to where I had parked the car. In retrospect, I could have made it and been only a little more sore than I am now, but I don't mind having erred on the conservative side. I rode 18.8 miles, which is a substantial increase over my previous longest ride of 14.8 miles. So I am stretching my legs, both literally and metaphorically. (Incidentally, if you're wondering why I'm sitting at home in front of my computer, writing about bike trails on a Friday night instead of out playing poker, it's because I'm stiff and sore enough not to want to take any more steps than necessary for basic life functions. I'll be fine in the morning, though, judging from past experience.)
One of the highlights of the journey is the recently completed bridge over Town Center Drive. I wish I had taken pictures of it. I assumed I would be able to find them online, but there isn't much. Too new, I guess. This one is from the county's web site linked above:
But it doesn't show you the best parts, which are the beautifully graded S-shaped ramps. They're gentle enough that you can climb them without killing yourself, but still steep enough that you can let loose and really get flying by the end on the way down. Great fun!
Here's an overhead shot from Google Maps, taken (it appears) when the north half was completed but not the south end:
You also pass what must be one of the largest holding basins for regional floodwaters, with an enormous concrete spillway controlling the gradual release of the water. Again from Google Maps (the spillway is that odd zigzag structure in the upper right, which looks tiny here, but is really impressive from the distance of the trail):
I had perfect weather for today's ride--about 80 degrees, clear, sunny. For the stretch that parallels 215, you get a mostly uninterrupted view of the bluffs to the west, and glimpses of Red Rock Canyon to the northwest.
This whole thing was far, far nicer than the mixed-use trails accessible from downtown. While it's nice to have those, their aesthetic qualities and utility are both severely marred by terrible maintenance. In particular, they are strewn with dirt, sand, and rocks washed over them by recent rains, and really uglified by all the junk that thoughtless people dump there. Worst of all, there is shattered glass everywhere. I don't know how often crews go through and clean them, but it's not often enough. By contrast, the trail system I rode today was almost entirely pristine, and I even saw a crew picking up debris between the trail and the wash. Does this have to do with the difference in wealth (and, hence, political influence) between people who live in the inner city versus those in Summerlin? The question is left as an exercise for the reader.
Here's my route mapped out on RideWithGPS.com, showing the gradual elevation changes in the graphic along the bottom:
It's really as lovely a path as you're likely to find in this city. I see on Yelp some gripes that there are no public restroom facilities, water fountains, trees, shade shelters, and other amenities. Which is true. But I guess my standards got set by those first city trails I rode, compared to which this West Beltway/Flamingo Wash trail is a luxurious upgrade, one I'm eager to experience again.
I wish I could say that my bicycle was as pleasing as the trails. The damn thing keeps needing trips to bike shops to fix problems. Remember that clunking sound from the cranks I mentioned? It turned out to be a bottom bracket (the thing that connects the pedals to the front chainring) in need of adjustment. I've ridden less than 25 miles since that was done, and that cursed clunking started up again today toward the end of this ride! I've also had it in twice for adjustment of the rear derailleur. Basically, I get to go for a nice ride, have a problem develop along the way, and take it in to the shop. I get it back, go for another ride, find another problem, take it back in. Four trips to the shop in less than two months of owning it, and a total of well under 100 miles of riding. That's just appallingly bad reliability for a brand-new bicycle, even if it is a cheap one. I don't know if I just got a lemon, or if all of Schwinn's mass-market retail bikes are this poorly built, but I have already decided that I will never, ever buy one from them again--especially given the unconscionable warranty policy they have (as I mentioned in that previous post).
But I'm trying not to let that deter me from having fun, enjoying exploring parts of the city I've never seen before, and getting my first taste of semi-regular exercise in decades. Today's ride was absolutely delightful in just about every way. If you live around here and have a bicycle, you really owe it to yourself to take it for a spin along these trails that a big chunk of our tax dollars have built.