Day 1: Tucson to Madera Canyon - Southeast Arizona 2016 - CycleBlaze

March 27, 2016

Day 1: Tucson to Madera Canyon

Finally got away from Quality Inn Tucson Airport at 8:50. Much later than planned. The weather was a beautiful cloud-free 70F (21C).

Vivid flowers at the motel entrance.
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West on Valencia, a 6-lane divided boulevard. Past the airport entrance, past Nogales Highway. Then a couple more turns on residential back roads to the San Xavier Indian Reservation and the famous San Xavier del Bac Mission. Most of the houses had stucco walled yards like in Mexico.

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The mission was crowded. Vendors in the parking lot cooking food. A crowd of people spilling out the doors of the church. I forgot it was Easter Sunday. I'm at the mission during Easter Mass!

Mission San Xavier del Bac.
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There was no chance to see inside the church because I couldn't get within 15 feet of the door. Visitors are allowed in the church during Mass but photography is prohibited then. The museum and gift shop are also closed during Mass.

Interior of the church that I was unable to see.By Grombo - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
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I walked the trail up the little hill to the east of the mission compound. It has a good view from the top, and a cave shrine on the shady north side.

Shrine in a man-made cave in the hill. I wonder what is the significance of the 8-pointed stars on the floor.
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The mission was founded in 1692 by Jesuit priest Father Kino. The king of Spain banned Jesuits from New Spain in 1767, so the present structure was built by their replacements, Franciscans. It remained an active parish over the centuries despite changes of government from Spain to Mexico, the Confederate States, and the United States. It has been in the Diocese of Tucson since 1866.

Wikipedia: Today's Mission was built between 1783-1797 and is the oldest European structure in Arizona. Widely considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States, it hosts some 200,000 visitors each year.

Shrine inside the mission compound.
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The mission is worth a short detour. After leaving the mission I backtracked 2 miles east to turn south on Nogales Highway. Once the main highway but now a local road parallel to I-19.

The only casino I saw during the tour, in the San Xavier reservation.
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The first several miles is mostly light industrial. Not much traffic on a Sunday. The 2-lane road has a wide paved shoulder but the shoulder has extremely bad expansion cracks. I pedaled on the smooth traffic lane when no traffic was coming. The dead cyclist probably did the same thing.

Memorial for a cyclist killed on Nogales Highway. Copper mine in the distance.
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After a few miles the industrial development fades away and desert begins. Mostly freshly leafed mesquite trees, with occasional cholla and ocotillo. Also a few pecan groves which require a tremendous amount of irrigation water. The water must be pumped from an underground aquifer. There's almost no surface water in the form of rivers and lakes. The pecan groves are steadily being replaced by real estate development.

Pecan trees watered by wasteful flood irrigation.
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Eventually I came into the developer town of Sahuarita. It has many big streets with no houses. I think much of it was built just before the 2008 economic crash. I stopped for lunch, then at a Fry's supermarket to stock up on food. There is no restaurant or store in Madera Canyon.

Beautiful aquatic theme on the bridge over the dry Santa Cruz river in Sahuarita.
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Entrance to a golf resort in Sahuarita. Not much traffic.
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Soon I was in the larger town of Green Valley which has many subdivisions and a few shopping centers. But hardly any traffic on the wide boulevards. The population is mostly retired people who don't drive often. The master-planned development started in the 1960's. Subdivisions have dull names such as "Desert View 6" and "Mountain View 4". Mostly low budget townhouses, duplexes, and manufactured homes. But very attractive. A Sonoran desert version of Florida with a special bonus: forested mountains only 10 miles away.

Typical wide empty boulevard in the developer-planned city of Green Valley. Santa Rita mountains coming into view.
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Many schools have photovoltaic shade structures.
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At the south end of Green Valley I turned left onto Continental road, then right onto Madera Canyon road. The route has been imperceptibly uphill all day, but now real climbing begins.

Ahead are the Santa Rita mountains, a forested "sky island" surrounded by desert. My destination is Madera canyon, the gateway to the Santa Rita mountains. Madera is Spanish for wood.

Starting the climb to Madera canyon. Santa Rita mountains ahead. Still in the mesquite and bunch grass zone.
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Bunch grass appears among the mesquites at about 4000 feet elevation. Junipers appear at 4500 feet elevation. Then oaks appear at 4700 feet elevation.

The grade is a gentle 1-2 percent at first. But the final 2 miles are 8-10% grade as the road enters the canyon.

Climbing past the juniper zone into the oak zone.
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Tonight I stay at Santa Rita Lodge, built in the 1930's. My room has a small kitchen and a huge window that overlooks Madera creek below. $114, cheapest of the 3 lodges in the canyon. The lodge has a shaded bird observation area. Most guests are here to watch birds.

My room at Santa Rita Lodge. Built in the 1930's.
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Madera creek below my cabin. It flows most of the year.
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My lodge is very near the Box Spring USFS campground. The only campground in the canyon.

Today had a high of 86F (30C) in Green Valley, but the temperature dropped to 71F (22C) by the time I got to Santa Rita Lodge at 5:50 PM. It was dark at 7 PM, an hour earlier than at home.

Today I climbed from 2600 to 4900 feet elevation (788 to 1485 m). Pretty much uphill all day. But it was very easy until the last 2 miles. It was fun to pedal from a desert valley to a forested canyon.

I'm happy that my sore foot is much better today. Hopefully tomorrow's hike won't be too painful.

Distance: 45.9 mi. (73.4 km)
Climbing: 2626 ft. (795 m)
Average Speed: 7.2 mph (11.5 km/h)
Hiking: 1 mi. (1.6 km)

Today's ride: 46 miles (74 km)
Total: 46 miles (74 km)

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