April 6, 2024

Sky Island Odyssey: West Loop

 A couple years ago I rode the Sky Island Odyssey East Loop over two days, solo. It was fun, but I decided I wanted to do the West Loop with friends. Last year didn't work out, so we tried again this year. I was able to wrangle Shannon, Beto, Jeff & Nancy into joining for a 3-day, 2-night clockwise loop based out of Patagonia.

The forecast wasn't looking too bad, temps were good, but on our first day, Friday, winds were going to be steady at 20-30mph out of the southwest, gusting to 40+. There was also a 20% chance of overnight showers in the area, so I opted to take a bivy instead of cowboy camping.

We parked our cars at TerraSol in Patagonia, only $5 per night to leave a vehicle. It's on route and really convenient.

The gang's all here!! Ready to roll from TerraSol. Sounds like a marketing slogan.
The route begins along paved Harshaw Rd. and it's mining traffic, thankfully, there wasn't much this morning. We hopped on dirt soon enough, gently riding up a side canyon along Harshaw Creek.

Much quieter over here.

Cool geology back here as well.

Jeff, Beto & I watching the ladies power ahead.

We topped out of the canyon into the open grasslands where the wind was a bit of a factor. Nowhere to hide here. The mountains ahead would help buffer the wind.

I assumed my position as group sweeper.

We passed by a couple of ranches deep in the Patagonia Mtns.

Pine trees as we approach 6000'.

There's a pond on the road!!

The climbing went on for almost 19 miles, but it was very rideable only gaining 2000' over that distance.

Highpoint attained!! Let's celebrate...with snacks.

Not far from Mexico here.

Shannon begins the long descent to the valley floor.

Has a drone footage feel.

Coming & going.

Tremendous views all the way down.

Red Hill takes center stage.

We are mere specks in this landscape.

Bird's eye view of the lower switchbacks.

A short climb out of Providencia Canyon.

Jeff cruising along a well graded Duquesne Rd.

Will stop for wildflower photos.
The fast dirt road riding continued for miles. It eventually turned to pavement and Beto warned us of the upcoming short steep hills. He was not wrong. I was dragging a bit, ready for lunch and Wendy's was the goal. Almost there...

I-19 and its metric system distances, not speed limits though.

Time for calories.

A pre-birthday Frosty!! My birthday was the following day.

Crossing over I-19 was by far the busiest piece of the entire route. It was very short lived though.
 We continued along paved AZ289, aka Ruby Rd, for the rest of the day. Our targeted camp location was at Sycamore Canyon another 20 miles ahead.
The wildflowers were on full display in Calabasas Canyon.

After this downhill, the road curved southwest and gently climbed into a stiff headwind. It was the only real tough section we had due to the wind.

We rode by the south side of Peña Blanca Lake and its high mercury levels. Do not filter water here.

The route turned back to dirt after passing through White Rock CG near the mouth of Alamo Canyon.

Transitioning out of the Pajarito Mtns.

Long steady climb into the Atascosa Mtns.
I was really starting to feel the effort on the day. Lots of pedaling on a loaded bike was taking a toll. I dropped out of sight from the others as I slowly made progress. The scenery was stunning so that helped ease the pain. I was already looking forward to camp.

I had zero complaints about the road surface.

I kept thinking/hoping the top was around the next bend. It was not.

Quick snack break to revive the energy levels.

Ahhh, there it is, the much anticipated long downhill!!

There was a beautiful tree lined valley at the bottom and I had hoped the others thought it would make a great camping location, but I guess I was alone in that thought.
Barely a mile later, we reached Sycamore Canyon. There was a small creek flowing, plenty of shade and just far enough off the main road. It was a great location.

My camp setup with bivy.

Shannon & Beto opted for less cover.

Jeff & Nancy went the tent route.

We arrived with about an hour of sunlight remaining which was about perfect.
While sitting around eating dinner, Beto mentioned that he was probably going to head back to Patagonia in the morning. His knees weren't playing nice and there was no need to dig a bigger hole in a more remote location the following day. Shannon decided to join him on the ride out. We were all pretty bummed, but at least they made it out for a full day & night.

My Achilles weren't exactly happy either, it was a lot of heavy pedaling. Something I'm not accustomed to. I figured a good nights rest and less climbing the next day would do me good.

Sometime around 2a I began to hear the pitter-patter of rain on my bivy. It never really downpoured, but it was steady for a while. I also don't tend to zip my bivy closed and I guess that was a mistake as a good portion of my sleeping bag was wet in the morning. It does dry quickly and the forecast was for sunny skies, so I wasn't too concerned about it.

Meanwhile, Shannon & Beto's stuff was soaked, further enforcing their decision to head back early.

We broke camp sometime around 8a going our separate ways. Jeff, Nancy and I were greeted with a few short punchy climbs to get the blood flowing and layers shed early.
Bundled up at the start.

Climbing out of Bear Valley.

It was shaping up to be an absolutely gorgeous day.

I love riding on roads like this.

Montaña Peak near the townsite of Ruby.
We had planned to do a quick tour of Ruby. It's on private property and a $15pp permit is required. It's one of the best preserved mining towns in Arizona. I didn't realized until afterwards that I had received the gate code via email, but we probably would have been short on time had we gone anyway. As a footnote, K and I returned a few weeks later and did tour the place. It's pretty cool and worth checking out. 

More downhill, please.

Ruby townsite from the route.

Camping is allowed here too, with the proper permit.

We arrived right at 9a, when you are allowed to enter. Montaña Peak in the background.

I always wonder what these places were like in their heyday.

Following Blanco Wash out of the mountains.

The riding was easy, then paved on our way to Arivaca.

Rolling grasslands of southern AZ.

...of things to come??
We arrived in Arivaca around 10:30a and were ready for lunch. The La Gitana Cantina looked promising, so we went in. We sat on the patio and enjoyed a great lunch. There was a sidewalk fair going on and some vendors had food options. I found a lady selling burritos, 3 for $8. Sold. Looks like I have dinner.
Inside the cantina.

Large group of cyclists from Green Valley out for a spin.

There are plans for these old adobe walls: Plaza de la Amistad

Arivaca is a small, colorful border town with charm.

That thing has style.

Big enough for its own post office.

Borderland homestead.
We were back on route before noon. We retraced our route into town briefly, then began climbing on dirt roads. The route quickly became more remote the farther west we went.
Double backing on pavement.

'A' for Arivaca.

Climbing towards Cobre Ridge.

White California Poppies?? Never seen white ones before.

We generally followed Fraguita Wash for a few miles and it was flowing!!

One of the few ranches in the area.

Baboquivari Peak makes an appearance from the San Luis Mtns.

More wash riding, probably not too fun on skinny tires, but my 2.6's were fine.

Baboquivari Peak would serve as a landmark the rest of the day.

A splash of gold appears...

Yowza!! It's a gold rush!!

Lots of purple mixed in too, beautiful!!

Smaller yellow flowers line the road here.

We reached the Buenos Aires NWR visitor center a bit before 2p.

Not sure I'd want to run across this fella on his turf.

Snake skeletons are cool.

Another patch for our coffee table.

The Nat'l Wildlife Refuge is a wide open plain, fast riding = good time being made.

I was glad we got off the main road, felt more 'out there' on the 2-track.

Brief Yucca sighting.

This went on for miles upon miles as we followed Puertocito Wash.

Thick patches of wildflowers popped up here & there.

Old ranch site of Secundino.

Riding east now. The Santa Rita Mtns. look so far away, our finish in Patagonia tomorrow is over the right flank of Mt. Wrightson.

Abandoned Pozo Nuevo Ranch.

Jeff feeling the effects of a long day.

We are now riding away from Baboquivari Peak. Kitt Peak is a notable observatory in southern AZ.
I was beginning to fade and could no longer match Jeff & Nancy's pace. The miles along Batamote Rd weren't difficult, it was just a slight grade. We knew we had camp 2 picked out near the top of a climb that skirted around private ranch land, but I wasn't exactly sure how far away it was. I was ready to eat those burritos I bought in Arivaca and then lie down. But first, I had to get to camp.
This was a bit too loose & steep out of Peñitas Wash for my tired legs.

Cerro Colorado Mtns. now to the south.

More Ocotillo!!
I rolled into camp as the sun was slipping below the horizon. Jeff & Nancy were setting up their tent and we all remarked how nice of a spot this was. It was a flat sandy alcove off San Juan Ranch Rd. on the flanks of Champurrado Wash. I got situated with my setup and we all began munching on dinner. Those homemade burritos from Arivaca really hit the spot.

While we were sitting there Nancy noticed a spotlight circling a nearby hill. It appeared to be a helicopter scouring the hillside. We immediately thought it could be a man-hunt. A minute went by and we never heard the helicopter and the light kept getting farther & farther away from the hillside. We then realized it was no helicopter, in fact, the light wasn't nearby at all. A quick Google search informed us it was a Space X launch from SoCal!! Hardly the same thing, huh? Sure was cool though.
NOT a helicopter!! Or a comet.
It was a long day, over 60 miles and my Achilles was making itself known again, but not hurting. Our last day would be right around 50 miles with a long downhill to start, but then some hike-a-bike as we got over the Santa Rita Mtns.
We woke to most of our gear covered in frost.

Even the weeds have pretty flowers.

Waiting for the sun.

A short climb from camp warmed things up nicely.

The ranch we had to divert around.

White cows.

Baboquivari Peak growing more distant.

The miles were ticking off rapidly this morning.

Back on the paved Arivaca Rd. we passed this roadside shrine.

Perhaps someone gone far too early??

No one home at the border patrol checkpoint.

Jeff & Nancy at the Longhorn Grill.

Horns up!! Too bad the sun was behind us.

The Cow Palace has been closed for a few years due to flooding.

A better shot of the Longhorn Grill.

We loaded up for the remainder of the ride at the general store in Arivaca Junction.

There's a Dollar General store here too.

Crossing under I-19 was much less stressful than the first day in Rio Rico.

More fast miles through ranch land.

I dropped off the back as the grade kicked up.

Cool looking Barrel Cactus.

The grade was steady, riding slow for me. Jeff & Nancy: Long gone!!

Flowing creek next to some hike-a-bike. I thought this area looked familiar, but still couldn't place it from the East Loop. I'm always amazed how different certain areas look/feel when riding in the opposite direction.

Getting close to those famed Santa Rita peaks.

Finally, some riding for me. I had been pushing for a while, dead legs.
Much to my surprise, Jeff & Nancy were waiting for me at the top. A good snack break did me well, not much climbing remained now. I also finally recognized where I was compared to the East Loop. Oddly enough, I had been overlapping the routes for the past 10+ miles!! Ha!

Cool, spooky looking tree on the descent.

You can see the saddle we came down from in the upper right.

Disappointing splashdown photo. I tried to encourage more speed here. Haha!!

This Oldsmobile has rapidly decayed since my last visit only two years ago.

Same car, two years prior. #pewpew

Adobe ruins in Alto.

Lots of fast downhill ensued.

The road surface here is a gravel grinders dream.

One last climb.

The riparian area on the approach to Patagonia.

We made it!! And it wasn't too late in the day, a mere 3:30p

The old west charm of Patagonia.

Might as well stop for a beer at the Patagonia Lumber Co. while we're here.


That's a wrap, back where we started.

Strava link.

By the end of the ride my Achilles was a bit tender, but nothing painful. A bit of R&R and stretching should do the trick.

We all really enjoyed the route, it was a nice mix of terrain and it got us to parts of Arizona we hadn't been yet. For us, the 3-day pace was perfect with two good camp locations and plenty of resupply options. Not sure I'd tackle this route on a true gravel bike, but to each their own.

It's always great to share these rides with good friends, glad it 'mostly' worked out. Too bad Shannon & Beto couldn't continue on with us, but that's how it goes sometimes. There will be other rides.

Between the East & West Loops you really get a comprehensive image of southern Arizona riding.