Tucson and Sonoran Desert – 2019

Day 4: Hotel to Tuscon Mercado to Gates Pass and Saguaro NP West

A tale of two different rides. Today we rode out from our hotel through some local roads to get access to a fantastic bike trail system that ran for 26 miles. This was the fast and flat section. We biked along large river washes and we say many road bikers on the trail. The second take was a lot of rolling climbs. The weather started cold and warmed up slowly, partly sunny with a great fluffy clouds as a backdrop for a beautiful climb to Gates Pass and on to the expansive Saguaro Cactus forest.

Every morning we get a route overview and this morning we had a very creative way to see our day.

Day 3: Colossal Cave to Saguaro NP East with a taste of Mt. Lemmon

Bright and early we shuttled from South of Tuscon to the East side to start our day at Colossal Cave. This is a pretty big cave, as our tour took almost 40 minutes. The cave was formed from sulfuric acid steaming up from an earlier phase of the valley. Once the cave was formed in the limestone from an ancient sea, the seepage of water from a wetter time created the cave. After that we descended to the Saguro National Park East Unit.

The East part had a 9 mile one way loop which was one of the most amazing rides I have had. This time of the year, most every cactus is in bloom or about to bloom. This was the Sonoran desert at its finest. The cacti were so packed in it was a sight to see. Very different from my Joshua Tree National Park tour. We had a fabulous picnic lunch and then continued our day.

We then biked downhill for quite a while and the started the ascent up to Mt. Lemmon, which is one of the top 5 sustained climbs in North America. I think the whole ascent is 26 miles and 6600 ft. Today we only had time for a taste of Mt. Lemmon, about 700 feet to the first turnout and viewpoint. The grade is very manageable (4.5% average) and my heart rate didn’t even approach my clamped limit of 150 I try to limit the heart rate. I might have gone further, but the temperature was about 90 and the winds late in the day were kicking up. Best to stop at this point. The views of Tuscon were expansive.

View from the cave
Haven (yes that’s his name) giving our morning route rap
We were laughing our arses off at this graphic
That’s Mt. Lemmon in the distance
View from a 500 ft steep climb
You can just imagine a movie being filmed here
View from early in the Climb
View from the first turnout

Day 2: Cowboy country and Tumacácori Mission

Today we started out at a normal time and had an out and back to a very scenic lake quite near the border. We rode out through a few neighborhoods and the classic Arizona architecture for home was very evident include bright colors. We crossed many cattle guards which are always a time to take care when you are biking. In the back country of the Pena Blanca Lake was the most beautiful as we started to see many unique natural formations.

On the way back I visited the Tumacácori mission, where San Jan Batista set out to claim territory in Alta California, all the way to discovering San Francisco. I learned at the mission that the reason Mexico was very concerned about California was that they did not want to loose land to the Russians.

Today we got a new collar for the seat post and I didn’t need to keep adjusting the seat height as the rough roads made my seat drop. A couple of us had a great laugh of reliefs when we finally hit a stretch of smooth road. What a difference that makes.

The hill country
Wildflowers were next to all the roads
The park service people would not let me take my bike into the main area
Pretty much a museum now
Yes there was wine tasting in Tubac

Day 1: Sonoita Wine Country, Elgin & Patagonia

It has been about 18 months since my last cycling tour which was Death Valley. For some reason the desert and wide open spaces attract me, hence this tour to the Tuscon area. Since my usual outfit, Cycling Escapes does not get this far, I decided to go with Backroads. After a noisy night in downtown Tuscon, the group assembled and got instructions. Since many of the areas around Tuscon are separated by basically freeway, this tour will have two home bases, one in Tubac, and other just north of Tuscon. Today’s ride was an hour south of Tuscon in the “wine country”. Needless to say I was excited to see see some vines and wineries, but this is definitely a galaxy away from California.

The ride was not that difficult with the exception of being around 4.5 to 5k of elevation, which on no acclimation means we felt the altitude even on small rollers. That being said, it was a very fast day for me (the adrenaline of new roads, or perhaps espresso with close family friends at the hotel before it all got started) even considering the small elevation climb.

Sonoita and Elgin are wide open rolling areas with some great views. There were two swarms of bees that I had to bike through.

The group is only 5 people
Notice the old wine country welcome sign
Pronghorn sheep
Did you know it’s illegal to brew beer and make wine in the same place in AZ?

We were quite close to the border with Mexico and we could see many border patrol vehicles which sparked many conversations. You see that we ended our tour today in Patagonia, and no this is not THAT Patagonia.