September 29, 2023

Tucson: Fantasy Island

 The Fantasy Island trails in Tucson have long been on my list to ride. For one reason or another I hadn't made it there. Not entirely sure why, I've always heard they were fun, but maybe not worth a 2 hour drive south as a destination. Perhaps. The locals often hold fun events there and the trails have a lot of bunny themes.

I finished up my Rincon Valley Loop, had lunch at the Rockin K market and figured I had a couple hours to check out what the Fantasy Island trails had to offer. I should add it was early afternoon and hovering around 100ยบ.

I parked at the southern end and I believe you need a State Trust Land Recreation Permit to ride here. I have one, so I was good.

Pay attention to where you park.

I immediately was greeted by a bunny...and a cholla ball to my ankle while taking this photo!! Ouch.

Good signage and one-way trails, a recipe for speed!!

Passing through the junkyard.

The area has seen recent urban development, nice to see some trail access remain. This cut through the Southeast Haughton Area Recharge Project.

Water fountains too, not chilled. I checked.

Cool!! My kind of trails!! I have a side hobby collecting license plates.

This would be the Christmas Tree Loop. Duh.

The trail goes over then loops around and can go under, if you're small enough. I am not.
I was getting warm and starting to feel the accumulation of doing two rides in the warm weather on the same day. There were more ups and downs than I expected too. Fun stuff. 

Since these trails are one-way there aren't a whole lot of short cuts available. These trails pack a lot of miles in a small area, like a bowl of spaghetti. Everything is well documented on the Trailforks app, so I tried to find a short way back, but I was in a bit of no-man's land. It was Friday and hot, so I figured there wouldn't be anyone else out on the trails. I made a short connection back to the Bunny trail going the 'wrong' way. Didn't see a soul, so it worked out just fine, not recommended on a popular ride day though.

Back near the start.

The signs are marked Wrong Way near the trailhead.
I was able to ride a good portion of the trails, but still need to check out the main loop in the NW corner. I'll definitely be back, it was much more fun than I thought it would be and it wasn't all boring flat trail with no character. You can tell a lot of love has been put into this trail system by the locals. They lost a section of the trails a few year ago when a housing development was put in. Hopefully the remaining trails are here to stay. It's a great system right in the east side of Tucson. Check 'em out.


Rincon Valley Loop

 Things were moving along this year as the AZTR Grand Depart approached. Then I received an email from Saguaro Nat'l Park asking if the route used the Hope Camp trail? Why yes, it does and has done so for 8 years or so. I went back and forth a couple of times via email to figure out why they were now requesting a Special Use Permit. Long story short, I wasn't getting one. So, barely three weeks before riders from all over the globe come to challenge themselves on the route, I have to make another last minute change. Ugh.

The thing is, the Hope Camp 'trail' in Saguaro Nat'l Park isn't much of a trail, it's a rocky jeep road. The good trail is outside the park leading to it. I was really bummed about the possibility of having to remove that section from the route in favor of using X-9 Ranch Rd as we had done in the past before Hope Camp was opened to bikes.

I began poking around on some maps and ride apps for the area. I turned on the heatmap layer and zoomed in. Wait, what is this?? I could see a faint line leaving the AZT right before the park boundary, zigzagging along the outside of the boundary out to a dirt road. I toggled over to satellite view. Sure enough, this trail was visible!! The running joke here is: it looks rideable via satellite!! To my surprise Google streetview had the entire area mapped out almost all the way to where this singletrack trail met the dirt road. I couldn't see any private property signs on Google streetview, only gated communities on all the side streets within the paved community. It was looking good. Time to drive to Tucson (again) to find out.

I staged off Pistol Hill Rd. aiming to ride a few miles of sweet AZT over to this unknown trail. I had carefully mapped out the mileage so I'd pay attention when I got close.

Buffed out AZT below the Rincon Mtns.

Crossing X-9 Ranch Rd.

There it is!!
The social trail was fairly obvious, but I figured it would be a wise decision to build up a larger cairn at the turnoff and trim back the leading bush. I had my handy bungee cord / lopper setup on my bike for quick access.

The trail immediately dumps into this sandy wash, but it was rideable and you only had to get around the far tree on the left.

The trail then ascended out of the wash and was easy to follow. Only needed minor trimming.

It doesn't get a lot of use, but enough to follow.

It rode quite well too, which was an added bonus.

The barbed wire fence marks the Saguaro Nat'l Park boundary. Staying on the correct side now.

Houses getting near, almost to the end of the trail.

The trail leads to a dirt road after 0.9 miles. Perfecto!!

Same view as above, looking west.

Still looking west from the top of the hill in the previous photo. The road was in great condition. I assume it gets regular maintenance since there are quite a few homes out here.

Looking back north towards the Rincon Mtns. No shortage of views here.

The dirt roads even have street names.

Another short climb...

...followed by a long fast straightaway.

Turning south, the dirt road gets more mainstream.
I encountered an SUV approaching from the opposite direction, or at least I thought it was. As I got closer, I realized it was backing up. Well, not exactly backing up, rather driving backwards about the same speed I was riding. Odd. The dirt turned to pavement and I pulled over to grab a quick snack. The SUV had backed onto the divided pavement and was now attempting to turn around, quite unsuccessfully I might add. Actually, I'm not entirely sure what they were trying to do as they drove over the median curb. Eventually, they gave in, drove straight and then turned into one of the side gated communities. Good grief. Perhaps if you're lacking sufficient driving skills, you shouldn't drive a Suburban. Dunno. Meanwhile, I sat on the side of the road watching the entertainment.

Now in the high end community.

Easy spinning out to Old Spanish Trail.
While poking around on satellite view earlier in the week, I noticed a dirt pathway running parallel to the Old Spanish Trail, but it was a deadend. I wondered if it in fact went through now since I had no idea how old the satellite imagery was. One way to find out.

The sculpted dirt path was a nice find instead of riding along the busy Old Spanish Trail.

The dirt pathway did punch through, then became paved.

The pathway brought me all the way to the old routing along Camino Loma Alta.
I love it when scouting rides turn out better than anticipated. In fact, this was such a success, it's a better route than the routing through Hope Camp. Plus, it gets riders to the Rocking K market quicker.

For the back half of my ride I wanted to link a few trails in the Vail Vortex system over to the AZT. The Vail Vortex is a series of social trails on State Trust Land on the opposite side of the Old Spanish Trail. I backtracked along the OST to where Trailforks showed an entrance, but it was aggressively signed 'Private Property, No Trespassing'. However, there was a note on the sign indicating where the new access point was located only a few hundred yards down the road. *Note: After the ride, I updated Trailforks to reflect this change

It was wide open, fast desert to begin with.

Lots of Prickly Pear out there.

Huge mountain views all around.

Narrow singletrack, twists, turns and heavy dose of vegetation keep you focused.

Trail junction, time to make a loop.

The Vail Vortex trails tie directly into the AZT just south of Pistol Hill Rd.

Post ride lunch at the Rockin K market.

It's a very popular resupply point during the AZTR.

This shows the change in the AZTR routing: Blue is old route, red is new. Vail Vortex trails are down in the empty space at the bottom, center of the map.
This was a really fun route and would be easy to add more looping options if you want more mileage. You can also connect to the AZT via La Posta Quemada Ranch where you can find water at the La Selvilla CG.