September 17, 2023

Mt. Lemmon: Red Ridge Loop

 When the Coronado Nat'l Forest released the final edition of the Santa Catalina Trail Plan back in June, I noticed the AZT had been moved off of Oracle Ridge in favor of Red Ridge. I reached out to the ATA about it and they confirmed as much. They also indicated it would be happening soon.

The reason for the move off the upper 2 miles of Oracle Ridge is because the trail crosses private property owned by a mining company. They were cool with folks using the trail, but mining activity has since resumed and part of the trail uses the dirt roads in the area which now have mining traffic. The local terrain isn't suited well for a re-route, so the shift to Red Ridge was made.

While Oracle Ridge can still be accessed, it was best to also re-align the AZTR to the new alignment. The new route would drop down Red Ridge and then use the Catalina Camp trail to link back to Oracle Ridge at Dan Saddle. Mike, Justin and I would go ride it to see how it looks, making a loop by going up Oracle Ridge to finish it out.

Mike and I carpooled south from Phoenix and met Justin at Le Buzz for coffee and breakfast burritos.

We staged our ride from the Oracle Ridge trailhead. A short ride up the Control Rd, then a paved climb towards the ski resort led us to the Red Ridge trailhead.

It's pretty hard to miss.

It looks steep from the road, but it's actually quite rideable.

3.1 miles down to Catalina Camp.

Ooooohhh!!! This is nice.

The downhill begins quick. A short section of loose rubble on the trail made things fun.

One of only two down trees we encountered.

It seemed like after every steep downhill pitch, the trail leveled out briefly. That's Oracle Ridge straight ahead with Dan Saddle on the right of the peak.

Mike drops back in.

At first, we thought these logs were blocking the trail. Instead, they were directing us to go left!!

Justin staring down the trail in front of the Reef of Rock.

So far, so good. Rideable trail and minimal trimming needed.

Flat spot!!!

Dan Saddle to the upper right. You can see the Catalina Camp trail cutting down to the left.

Old burn area.

This could make a nice camp location.

Justin shows off his switchback skillz.

The farther we rode, the more difficult it was to wipe the grin off our faces.

Mike cruising by.

Justin blasts off through a clearing in the trail. We'd be able to see this exact spot as we climbed Catalina Camp.

We reached the bottom and found flowing water in the East Fork of CaƱada del Oro!!

Lots of shade here, great camping option.
I think we were so enamored with seeing water down here and the copious amounts of shade, that we didn't notice the wrong turn we made. We ended up continuing down Red Ridge another half mile or so. The next three pics are from the wrong turn, but it was a cool area in spite of getting slashed by catclaw.

Justin making his way down a tech section.

Mike's turn.

Looks like the good trail continues, just needs trimming.

Back at our wrong turn, we propped up the down sign which would have helped us navigate correctly.

Catclaw carnage.

We had our folding saws for just this thing.

All clear!!
We soon began pushing our bikes up the steep trail. We rounded a corner and found an old cabin next to the trail. Catalina Camp!!

Fixer upper with a view.

Justin found refreshments!!

Chandelier?? High class joint.

It had the feeling of still being used on occasion.

All kinds of stuff strewn about.

It's always interesting to wonder what it was like in its prime.

Nice pad on the side of the mountain too.

Justin taking it for a spin.


She's a beaut!!

Back to the task at hand.

We rapidly rose high above Catalina Camp.

The trail gave way to an abandoned roadbed, not quite as steep, but not really rideable.

Navigating over a small rockslide.

The Reef of Rock.

Proof that there was a little bit of riding!!

Snack break at Dan Saddle.

We are now on Oracle Ridge, roadway is definitely seeing mining traffic.

Passing by the mining complex.

The hike-a-bike resumes.

Some rideable trail!!

How soon until it grows completely closed??

Biosphere 2 on the left.

Same shot as above, zoomed out. Oracle Ridge on the right.

This trail is relentless!!

Hooray!! Moar riding!!

The trailhead is in sight!! Downhill for the final 0.1 mi.

Up or down, Oracle Ridge is a punishing ride.
We packed up and made our way over to Summerhaven for some grub at Sawmill Run. It sure hit the spot after all the calories we burned. I was telling the guys about the new bike shop in town, it was across the way and we walked over to check it out. The owner, Craig, was there getting ready to program his vending machine of bike parts. How cool is that? His shop is small, but he has good stock of the essentials. His wife owns the shop to the right and he has a bike stand mounted to that building. The vending machine is on the right side of her building, not the bike shop.
Fill out the guest register for a chance to win a jersey.

Great idea if you happen to need something after hours.

If you arrive after hours, but not at a ridiculous time, give Craig a call, he may be in town and could swing by.
We all agreed the Red Ridge trail was a much better riding experience than Oracle Ridge. It's still a bit sad that we won't be riding Oracle Ridge during the AZTR, but it'll be ok. Future work is planned for Catalina Camp to clean up the tread and add grade reversals for drainage. When that happens, it should be a bit more rideable. The great news about the new route was the running water in the creek. It's spring fed and seems fairly reliable. Unfortunately, there's really no easy way to check out Red Ridge without a full commitment to either hike-a-bike or a very long shuttle.


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