May 11, 2005
A century or so ago, a canal system was built throughout Arizona. While the canals were constructed to transport water, thanks to their service roads, the canals also provide fantastic recreational opportunities.
Nine canals run through the Valley. The Southern Canal may be the jewel of the bunch as far as recreational purposes.
Opened in 1908, the canal begins at the Granite Reef Dam, located just off the Bush Highway (Power Road) two miles north of Thomas Road. The service road along the canal is great for biking.
While the canal can be accessed at several places in Mesa such as the intersection of Horne and Brown roads, if you are looking for a quiet, scenic ride in the wilderness, it is best to start where the canal begins near the Granite Reef Recreation Site. Parking is available there, and there are restrooms and picnic tables.
Hop on your bike and head south out of the recreation site on Bush Highway. Make a steep climb for about a quarter-mile and turn right onto a dirt road and enjoy about a quarter-mile downhill ride on a road full of loose gravel. Don’t get too excited. Remember, you will pay for that joy ride when you have to climb the road on your way back.
As the hill ends, turn left to cross a secondary canal. After another half-mile, the road crosses the Southern Canal. You are now on the service road on the north side of the canal.
From here, the hard-packed dirt road is extremely flat. While it is an easy ride, rills and ruts constantly pop up, meaning you have to pay attention to the road lest you lose control of your bike.
The views are rewarding. First, you will get a great view of Red Mountain to your right. Off in the distance, you can see Camelback Mountain and the Papago Buttes.
Most of the land along the first five miles of the canal is undeveloped, meaning there is a good chance of seeing some wildlife. You may spot some coyotes, even during the day. Birds are plentiful. At this time of year, keep your eyes open for rattlesnakes that may be basking in the sun along the road.
If you are ambitious, a good workout is to ride all the way to where the canal intersects the Consolidated Canal (Horne and Brown roads), some 10 miles from your starting point. There is a park there with water and shade. Then you can turn around and enjoy the ride all over again as you head back to your car.
On the way back, you will get a good view of the Superstition Mountains and Four Peaks.
Southern Canal What: Canal with a service road perfect for bicycling
Where: Begins at the Granite Reef Dam off the Bush Highway (Power Road) two miles north of Thomas Road and runs southwest
Access: Best place to start is the Granite Reef Recreation Site by the dam
Admission: $4 per vehicle at the recreation site
Allowed: Bicycling, running, horseback riding, dogs on leashes