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Success Story: Mapping the Black Canyon Trail

Download a printable version of the Black Canyon trail map (11x17 PDF)

View the map in Google Earth (.kmz)


Leslie Kehmeier traveled to Arizona to document an IMBA-built trail -- and help launch mapmaking guidance for clubs.

Many times, people in GIS and cartography work without direct knowledge of the areas they map. They are given data from different sources and asked to make a connection between information on a computer screen and the real world. When I was given the option to travel to Arizona to map the Black Canyon Trail (BCT), I was thrilled for the opportunity to experience the trail as more than a series of data points on a screen.

To prepare for the trip, I threw together my riding gear and then assembled my field data collection kit. Thankfully, I succeeded in cramming my notebook, GPS device, camera and extra batteries (plus my regular riding kit) into a bulging hydration pack. Next, I put in a call to Sonia Overholser, one of IMBA’s top advocates in Arizona. She graciously gave me the background and history of the project, and then described the trail itself. The words “rugged, with tight singletrack,” bounced around pleasantly in my ears, but when Sonia mentioned the possibility of chest-deep river crossings, I knew I was in for an adventurous ride.

My husband and I arrived in Arizona and met with Sonia and BCT board member Dale Wiggins to discuss the project. It was an important meeting. The BCT is not an after-work mountain bike circuit. It’s remote, with extended stretches of fairly technical riding and no trail-side amenities. It’s also a world-class trail that few people know about. With Sonia and Dale’s generous advice we were prepared to experience the BCT. Using the Black Canyon City KOA as a base, we spent the better part of four days mapping and photographing almost 40 miles of trail. It was nothing short of amazing. We rode on narrow singletrack, soaked in beautiful views and enjoyed teeth-rattling descents. The weather was perfect and provided for easy GPS data collection. The information we had received from Sonia and Dale was indispensable and helped us to complete a very successful field trip.

Finally, I returned home to compile the data and develop a map. It was much easier to make the connection to the real world as my experience on the BCT came to life on the computer screen. The ground truthing we accomplished in Arizona provided a dose of confidence that the guide would be useful for navigating in the field, and meeting with Sonia and Dale provided richer layers of information to weave into the publication. I hope this map of the BCT helps IMBA clubs grasp what is possible with a well-considered mapmaking effort.

You can read more about Leslie and her company Bluebird Mapping and GIS by visiting