On weekends, the big dirt parking lot next to Pinnacle Peak Patio, a cowboy restaurant in distant North Scottsdale, is usually filled with the cars and trucks of climbers, who rope themselves up Pinnacle Peak, and the mountain bikers, who pedal the single-track trails through the neighboring hills.
Last Saturday, there were only two vehicles in the lot--trucks belonging to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. Without so much as budging from the front seat, one deputy sheriff shouted, "It's closed" to would-be fun seekers. By 5 in the afternoon, the officers had turned away more than 100 people, many of whom had never realized that this was private property.
Two hundred yards into the desert from the parking lot there was a new, seven-foot-high chain-link fence topped by three strands of barbed wire. Where the fence crossed the trails into the desert, it has been flattened by bikers who refused to be fenced out, "as many times as we put it back up," says John Lang, the general partner of the company that owns the land.
Like much of North Scottsdale, the 620-acre parcel is being turned into an exclusive golf community; this one will be called La Estancia, "the estate." And where now there are acres and acres of spectacular rock formations, paloverde and saguaro, brittlebush and creosote, there will soon be 18 holes and 350 houses.
The ten or so miles of trails that crisscrossed the property were the site of professional mountain bike races in 1993 and 1994.
Last year's race had 2,000 professional racers and 300 kids whooshing down roller-coaster flumes over hard pack and granite--not the loose rock that covers most area mountain bike trails.
"The course out there was totally unique and unsurpassed," says Tom Bradley, special events coordinator for Specialized Bicycles, the California company that sponsored the race.
In 1994, New Times chose the trails as "Best Ride on a Mountain Bike," but we may have been mistaken.
"There are no bike trails," says Lang, who bought the property from the state Land Department for $14.4 million in 1989. "There are areas that people have trespassed over the years and have scarred up the property to make trails, but there are no official bike trails on this property, and it's been posted since we've owned it."
Lang did allow the race promoters to use his property, however, and he never tried to keep anyone out of it until November, when he started construction on the development.
"While we are under construction, we've had people going through our property on various forms of transportation," he continues, "on bicycles, on horses and on foot, and tearing up our stakes for engineering."
Monkeywrenchers trying to stave off the inevitable have moved the surveyors' posts marking the golf greens, cut the ropes that delineate where the open spaces will be and stole nearly all of the 75 no-trespassing signs Lang had put up.
And so Lang had the chain-link fence put up. The bikers just knocked it down, then rode over it as if it were just another natural obstacle on the trail.
Lang called the sheriff. If they want to continue riding there, the bikers will have to do it in golf carts.
"There are 22 new golf courses going in here," says Fred Allen, a real estate agent whose office overlooks the Pinnacle Peak property. The Estancia course will be contiguous with four of them--one at Troon Village to the east, two at Troon North to the north, and one at Desert Highlands to the south.
"Five or six years ago, you needed a horse to get in there," Allen continues. "Now, I guess we'll have to move to Flagstaff and ruin that, too."
The German and Japanese tourists that flocked to the outdoor cookouts at Pinnacle Peak Patio for an Old West experience will have to savor the New West experience--as they look over fairways and backyard fences. The restaurant's lease on 20 acres of state land has expired and the state Land Department has refused to sell the property. Because of its commercial zoning, one supposes that it will eventually be sold to a supermarket chain catering to the families that are moving into the neighboring developments.
In his own entrepreneurial defense, Lang, the developer, points out that the zoning for his parcel would have allowed for a 525-room destination resort, plus 432 homes and an 18-hole golf course.
"We could have thrown the hotel out and taken the density off that and put it on the residential," Lang says, "which would have given us 799 homes."
Instead, he opted for 350 residences and the golf course. Furthermore, he is donating 150 acres--Pinnacle Peak itself--to the City of Scottsdale for a public park, and he is spending his company's money to build a mile-and-a-half trail up and around the peak. The trail will be finished at Thanksgiving and will be open to horsemen, bikers, hikers and probably climbers, as well.
"It has some very dramatic views," Lang says.
But they won't be desert vistas; they'll be views of a golf course and luxury homes.
"It's sad, but it's the sedentary public and the sedentary developers," one mountain biker says, his voice filling with nostalgia. "It's rotten, but it's what the people want.