Yesterday I rode the Ajo Mountain Loop, the only road in the park that is fully open. That’s not really saying much though, since there are really only four roads in the park, not including Hwy 85 which cuts through the middle. This was one of my planned rides regardless. It’s a 21 mile scenic gravel loop road taking you up into Diablo Canyon. Because it’s an “improved” gravel road, really meaning it’s maintained as a gravel road, I chose my gravel bike. Been a while since I’ve been on that one. Some sections of the road were fine and smooth, others bumpy and rocky. As you get up into the Diablo Canyon area some of the climbs are pretty steep and those sections have “paved” road to avoid getting washed out. Good thing because a few of those sections would be really tough on loose dirt and gravel. One of the great things about being here in the midst of winter, AND a government shutdown is that there’s is almost nobody here. I think I may have said in my last post, the campground has nearly 200 sites and I don’t think there are 30 of them occupied. I’m not so sure this is one of the more popular NPS units anyway, but if you’re planning to visit, I’d recommend this time of year.
Despite being Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, there are far more Saguaro. The
Saguaro are not nearly as majestic as they were in the Tucson area. Many of them there are well over 50 ft in height while here I’m not sure I’ve seen one even reach that. I suppose, since they already have their own NP in Tucson, it was only fair to give this one to the Organ Pipes. Scenery just builds in spectacularity as you journey further in towards Ajo Mountain. It’s a very gentle uphill trend for the first several miles as you make your way across “flat” desert towards the looming peaks.
After climbing through Diablo and reaching the northern most part of the road you find a small parking area and trailhead which you can hike up to the Double Arches. It’s hard to see, but if you zoom in real close you can just spot the tiny arch directly over the larger one.
Shorty after this you’ve reached the high point on the ride and it’s mostly down hill from here.
Yep, another spectacular day, and then I get to come “home” for some dinner and view like this from my campsite, near sunset……
Life is Good!
After 7 weeks I’ve moved on from Tucson having only gotten to about half the things I wanted to. That’s ok though, I’ve got no problem scheduling a return visit. I really enjoyed it there.
I’ve come 150 miles west and a tiny bit south, nearly back on the Mexican border,
to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. My trip here took me across on Route 86, right through the middle of the Tohon O’odham Nation reservation. This highway isn’t in my Scenic Byways book, but it ought to be. It’s a scenic ride through the southern Sonoran Desert. If you’re traveling through here I’d recommend it. Just make sure you have gas in the tank as there are very few places to fill up.
It’s a pretty simple trip. Head West for 130 miles and turn left at Why. Not at the “Y” but at Why. Why, Arizona, where I did stop for gas, at…….wait for it……Why Not. There are a couple RV parks in Why, but I decided to Boondock and stay in the Monument itself. Despite President Temper Tantrum shutting down the Gov’t, some parts of the NPS are still open. The visitor center and some of the roads and backcountry campgrounds are closed in this park, but the main campground is
open. Nobody here to check you in or anything, just kind of on the honor system. And imagine this, there are people here, it’s not chaos or bedlam, no rules are being broken. Sort of like we don’t need a government at all. certainly not THIS government. Just sayin’.
This is a huge and very nice campground. Large sites with a lot of space and growth between. Fairly level concrete pads in most and fantastic views all around. As with most NPS campgrounds, no hook-ups. No water, no power, no sewer. No problem, I’m only here for 4 nights. I came in with my freshwater tank full and holding tanks empty. However, I think I may have some electrical system issues. I’m pretty sure I should be able to make it through the night on my batteries with just the inverter running the refrigerator, but I woke up this morning to the inverter off and a low battery warning. I didn’t run the heat so it was a chilly 48 degrees in the coach. Warm and snuggly in bed, but gettin’ up to pee was an ordeal. Then, my circuit breakers tripped while I was running the generator with two electric heaters going this morning. That generator should supply plenty of power to run EVERYTHING, or so I think. I’ll have to get this looked at when I get back to civilization.
I stayed west of Hwy 85 today for a little hikeage, more in to the heart of the monument.
It was a lollipop route, from the trailhead down to Sentia Basin, around the basin loop trail and back. A nice, easy, walk in the park, if you will. Very little elevation change and other than a mile where you hike down a wash, it was all along the remnants of small “roads” (fire roads really, or more accurately, double-track) which used to connect local mining claims prior to this becoming a national monument. Don’t be fooled by the clouds, still a lovely low 60’s day without even a breeze.
Coming out of the wash you arrive shortly at the north point of the Sentia Basin Loop trail, which is really a triangle. There’s a convenient little hill from which I took this 360 pano of the basin.
Nice hike. Afterwards I drove the few miles south to Lukeville on the border. Not really anything to see there unless you are really turned on by border crossing inspection stations. Tomorrow I had been planning to ride Puerto Blanco Drive which really jaunts out in to the desert and heart of the park, looping west, then south, then runs right along the border before running in to Hwy 85 which would return me to the campground. That road however, thanks to our oh-so infantile President, is currently closed.
Guess I’ll have to come up with an alternate activity.
My last day in Tucson I spent in Phoenix. Nope, not a typo. Amongst my Bucket List activities is attending a NY Rangers road game (that’s NHL Hockey for any of you overseas readers) in every opponent’s arena. I made the 150 mile drive from Tucson to Glendale, the suburb where the Gila River Arena, home of the Arizona Coyotes, is located. But most people would think of it as Phoenix. Growing up in NJ I have of course been to a Rangers-Devils game back when they played in the Meadowlands. While living in Washington, D.C. I went to several games when the Rangers came to town. I snuck in a game in Tampa against the Lightning while visiting Florida a few years back, and now this is road arena #4. Only 26 more to go.
I only grabbed my tickets on-line about week ago. I hadn’t realized the Rangers would be here. Thanks to the Seat Geek app, which really then just put me through to Ticket Master, I got AMAZING seats…..or seat, singular…at a most reasonable price. Row E, five rows off the ice. A seat like this would be AT LEAST $400 in DC and probably $500 or more in Madison Square Garden (Rangers home ice), if you could get them at all. I paid $129.
I’ve never been anything like this close to the ice.
It is a completely different experience. First, you just don’t realize how big these guys are, either on TV or from the upper deck. Yes, yes, I know, they’re on skates, but ALL of them are on skates so the comparison equals out. Except, Mats Zucarello. He’s still tiny. Second, television makes the ice look quite a bit larger, or perhaps being at ice level just makes it look quite a bit smaller, but I was struck at how crowded and little ice room there was from this perspective. It was really amazing.
Unfortunately most of the play was down the other end of the ice as the Coyotes dominated the game and CRUSCHED my beloved Blue Shirts (even though they are in their road white uniforms) 5-0. It’s been ugly lately with the Rangers having been outscored 18-3 over the last 3 games. I’ve been a Rangers fan for 40 years; this may be the worst 3-game stretch I’ve EVER seen.
I still had fun though, mostly because of these seats. Moving back upstairs will be a big letdown. And without exaggeration, if the crowd was not more than 50% Rangers fans, including nearly everyone around me, then it was extremely close to that.
Hey, it’s a rebuilding year. The team got us excited and raised expectations with some unexpectedly fine play at times over the last several weeks.
My time in Tucson is dwindling quickly. After several rainy and then frigid days, including quite the snow storm to ring in 2019, the sun and warmth have made a return. BEAUTIFUL day for a 7 mile hike back in to Saguaro East.
Up the Douglas Springs Trail from the parking area, which was packed. Seems everyone is happy for the return of sun and warmth. Lovely 65 degrees. Into the wilderness I head. Desert Springs is clearly one of the most popular trails in this part of the park. It’s wide, hard-packed and as it heads uphill its mostly “stepped.” At one time I’d contemplated trekking up to Tanque Verde Peak, or Mica Mountain, which you see in the distance. However, both those are well in to the wilderness and the shortest routes I could come up with were near or over 20 miles. Even if I was in shape to make that hike, there’s not near enough daylight this time of year and let me tell you, it is COLD once the sun goes down.
Everyone likes a nice hike. Even the horses… though I’m sure they’d much rather be doing it without having to lug the women up this trail. These were not the only two I encountered.
After about 2 miles the terrain eases up, though still rises steadily in the direction of the peaks, into what would most certainly be a mountain meadow if, you know, this wasn’t the desert. Here I made the right turn, leaving the Douglas Springs Trail for the Three Tanks Trail. Suddenly you find yourself now on a much less traveled path. It’s wide enough only for one at a time, desert grasses overgrowing, with no more man-made steps on the uphill and you feel like you could be hundreds of miles from anywhere.
That is until you come up over the rise and the entire valley is laid out before you.
Another mile or so and you come to Steel Tank, one of the three denizens for which the trail is named. Somehow I missed the Mica Tank, and the third is up the trail beyond where I joined it.
This is also the intersection with the Carillo Trail onto which I now transitioned. It was a bit tricky to find as it actually heads off behind the tank where you cross through a wash. Luckily there were hoof prints to lead me.
Carrillo Trail takes you down, far more gently than Douglas Springs brought you up, along a pretty spectacular wash that I just couldn’t capture well in photos, to Wild Horse Canyon. Shortly past Garwood Dam, the reason for which I’m not quite sure, but it’s there nonetheless, I made a hard right on to Garwood Trail for the final 1.75 miles back to the trailhead. Along this trail exists one of the most spectacular sights you are likely to see anywhere in this part of the country. I was a bit surprised it was not cordoned off for protection but there it was not 10 feet off the Garwood Trail. The extremely rare and oft sought after…
Broccoli Saguaro (Carnegiea Gigantea Broccolinis). Sometimes also called the Afro Saguaro.
This was a great hike. Nothing too strenuous, with just enough elevation to be a rigorous few hours and not a second of which is not absolutely stunning scenery.
Here’s the Relive vid…..
It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything but I’ve just been enjoying “living” in Tucson. It’s really a recreation paradise. So, I’m about to expound on yet another ride and I’m starting to wonder if those of you who read along here are starting to think, “Oh great (with rolling eyes) he’s done another bike ride.” Too much??? I realize it’s my passion and not yours.
This ride, however, was one of epic proportion. It’s been on my bucket list since I saw an article several years ago about some of the great bike climbs in America. Mt Lemmon is, in itself, a more than sufficient reason to visit Tucson if you’ve never been. Whether you go up via motorized vehicle or on a bicycle, it is a spectacular journey. I’ve now done it both ways.
From Agua Caliente Park, where I started, to Ski Valley is 28.5 miles. I ended up turning around at exactly 28 miles, which I’ll explain in a bit. It is one mile slightly downhill out of the park. From there, with the exception of two short slight downhill sections totaling less than 1/4 mile combined, it is uphill for more than 22 miles. By far the longest sustained climb I’ve done. The grades are not very steep, but it is just relentless climbing. Agua Caliente Park sits at 2750 ft elevation. I topped out in the Whitetail area at just over 8100 feet, experiencing temperatures from as high as 68 degrees to as low as 37 degrees. Even colder when you consider I hit well over 30 mph on those descents at the top so the windchill had to be at least 5-10 degrees colder. It was certainly chilly.
Needless to say, it was a beautiful day for a bike ride. Sunny and almost no wind. I got started, well, a lot later than I’d wanted to. Cold mornings have made me lazy and I
lounged through breakfast waiting for the day to warm up. I wasn’t really sure how long it would take me to make the climb and with sunset a little after 5 pm I wasn’t assured at all of making it to the top, starting at 11:45 am. I didn’t mind the idea of finishing in the dark but the gates of Agua Caliente Park lock at sunset, so I set a time limit and decided no matter where I was I would stop going uphill at 3:30 pm.
I had on my ultra thin base layer shirt, but other than that was in short-sleeve jersey, bibs and fingerless gloves. In my pack I had arm warmers, knee warmers a mid weight jacket and full finger cold weather gloves along with my food and 100 oz bladder of water.
Nothing like dragging an extra 15 lbs up a mountain. The air, as always here in the desert in winter, was cool but the sun quite warm and I was perfectly comfortable for most of the way up. Miles 14.5 to 16.5, heading southwest up to Windy Point were far cooler as I climbed in to a headwind coming through the mountain gap but still not uncomfortable.
It really wasn’t until topping out at 8105 ft and hitting the 2 mile descent that changed. And boy did it change, as I went from comfortable cool to not being able to feel my fingers, feet or arms and freezing in about half a mile. There was still snow left over up here from when it poured in Tucson and snowed at elevation the week prior. Then a short climb with numb quads, another short, bone chilling descent to Summerhaven, the town near the top, and then turning off the main road to climb up to Ski Valley.
The road actually continues past Ski Valley and climbs another 1.5 mile up to an observatory. This had been my original goal when I planned this ride. This road, though, is a good bit steeper once you turn off at Summerhaven. With my late start, the cold up at this elevation, my legs beginning to really fatigue on the steeper grade and knowing I had to get back up those last two descents before my LONG descent back to the valley I decided to stop at mile 28. I didn’t realize I was just a half mile from Ski Valley at the time, but no regrets. It was getting very near my cutoff time and need to leave myself a few minutes to eat a bit and put on some of
my warmer clothing for the trip down. I put on my arm warmers, my jacket and my warmer gloves and I’ll tell you now I was completely warm and toasty for the rest of the ride.
Climbing back up the 2+ miles at the top of the mountain turned out far easier than I expected. Going down hills I know I have to climb back up always makes them seem steeper to me than they actually are. Sooner than I thought I was rocketing down the long descent, temperatures getting warmer by the minute. Far sooner than I thought, I was back at the park with plenty of time to spare before sunset. 3:27:22 up; 01:13:56 down. I certainly could have made that half mile to Ski Valley, but again, no regret at turning around when I did. I climbed Mt Lemmon and it was fantastic.
Not to mention, there is a dirt forest service road that comes up the other side of the mountain which I plan to climb one day as well, though not this time in Tucson. That’s one where I’ll definitely want a full day of sunlight available.