Gates Pass, revisited - Winterlude 2020 - CycleBlaze

February 9, 2021

Gates Pass, revisited

It’s been over a month since I rode alone over west of Tucson and back through Gates Pass.  I was charmed by the desert landscape on the other side of the pass and intended to return, hopefully with Rachael accompanying.  We almost put it off too long, but we’ve still got one day left before we pull up stakes.  Today’s the day.

First though, another day-late photo.  When we drove back to the neighborhood last night the back side of the long Lost Barrio warehouse caught my eye.  On the front side, on Park Avenue, the structure hosts a string of small businesses - a fitness club, a few galleries, I forget what else.  The back side is just a big vacant lot, but this wall of doors and windows is nice.  We drove home and parked the car to let Rachael out and then I biked back for the shot.

Found in the Lost Barrio. We’ve driven past this spot a dozen times now but it never caught my attention until seeing it lit up at the end of the day.
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My first ride was generally a loop.  I skirted the southern edge of the Tucson Mountains by riding west out the Ajo Highway, then north on Kinney Road to the west side of Gates Pass.  After an out and back to the national park visitor’s center, I crossed through the pass from the west on my return to town.  Today we’re following the same route, but in reverse.

Climbing Gates Pass from the west is pretty challenging - the final half mile or so spikes up at about 13%.  From the east though it’s much more gradual.  It’s a lot like climbing Mount Lemmon, really.  After about five essentially flat miles as a warmer upper, the climb itself is a steady, manageable 5%.  

One difference though - the Mount Lemmon climb persists for 20 miles, but this one is barely two.  You’re just starting to get into a climbing rhythm and suddenly the crest is before you.  It’s a thrill crossing through the narrow gap, and the views from the top are wonderful in both directions.

Westbound on Anklam Road, with the Twin Hills ahead. Gates Pass is behind them, with the approach through a gap off to the right.
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On the ascent again. Didn’t we do enough of this yesterday?
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Gregory Garceau
I could ride that road for hours with no rest,
It's such an awesome saguaro fo-rest,
I'd give one a hug,
Without a shrug,
And a cactus hug, my friend, is no jest.
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2 weeks ago
The shoulder all but disappears for the last two miles of the climb. It’s mostly as it appears here, with occasional blind curves. This is a good time for this climb, early on a weekday when there’s little traffic to be concerned about.
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The scenic view back east down Gates Pass toward Tucson. You can see pretty much the whole climb here - it’s really not bad at all from this direction.
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Over the top!
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The other side is a different story, dropping at about 13% for the next half mile. This is a make-up shot, by the way. The GBO is put out with me after I carried him all the way up Mount Lemmon yesterday without letting him out of my pocket. Sorry, little guy; I just spaced it at the top.
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Jen GrumbyI can see that GBO is enjoying the view here, but I think the right thing to do is to take him on another Mount Lemmon ride in the next 3-5 years.

Maybe we can join you?
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2 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyThat would be awesome! Maybe not for a few years though. We’ve been here two winters in a row now so we’ll be ready for some variety next year.
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2 weeks ago
Rachael AndersonTo Scott AndersonI agree that would be great!
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2 weeks ago

From the gap it’s a delightful, swooping glide down the west side and into the flattish, saguaro-spiked basin.   After a few miles we come to the turn-off for McCain Loop Road, a rough but gorgeous stretch that has my vote for one of the best cycling roads around.  Today, as before, it’s virtually deserted - all the traffic, as little as there is today, sticks with more efficient Kinney Road that roughly parallels it.

We arrive at the National Park visitor’s center about eight miles later, and look around for a bench to enjoy lunch.  They’re easy to find today, as the visitor’s center is closed and there is only one other couple here, staring at the cacti and just finishing with their own lunch.  A good thing, since I forgot my mask when we left the house.

The road west of the pass is a delight for the next few miles. It was apparently resurfaced recently up through the junction with Kinney Road.
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The view northeast from McCain Loop Road. The road surface is a bit rough, but it’s very quiet and beautiful. One of the nicest rides near Tucson, in my opinion.
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Kitt Peak, from McCain Loop Road.
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Back on Kinney Road for a short bit before branching off to the national park.
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Lunch stop, at the national park visitor’s center.
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Jen GrumbyWow is this a great shot!!

Makes me feel like I'm in a Fun House at an amusement park.
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2 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyIt’s a pretty striking space to step into alright, especially when it was so empty like it was here.
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2 weeks ago

There’s a bit more traffic on the way home.  We’re passed by four or five cars on McCain this time, and as we drop south it gradually picks up the closer we get to the Ajo Highway.  By the time you reach the first of the suburbs though we have a wide shoulder again; and once we’re on the busy highway it’s nearly 10 feet wide.  Perfectly safe the whole way.  

Riding the Ajo Highway into town, busy as it is, is a surprisingly good ride - much better this direction where you’re flying downhill into a great view of the city and mountains beyond.  Having ridden this loop both ways now, I think this way is better.  Gates Pass is of course much easier from the east, but it’s probably also better earlier in the day before traffic picks up.  It’s a great ride, and a fitting end to our lengthy stay here.

Back on McCain again, westbound this time. I think that’s Golden Gate Butte ahead, but I could be mistaken.
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We’re not the only fans of McCain Loop Road.
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Still on McCain, just before the junction with Kinney Road and the descent to the Ajo Highway. And I’m sure now - that’s definitely Golden Gate Butte ahead.
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Old Tucson, the now closed former western film set. And it’s private property, as a security guard hollers out to us as we step just barely inside the parking lot for a closer look.
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On the Ajo Highway, dropping back toward Tucson.
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One last surprise for the day: a pair of coyotes running down in the wash alongside the Santa Cruz River.
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One last ride through the rattlesnake.
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And one last Tucson sunset, viewed from our front yard. So many reasons to come back some winter.
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Video sound track: Saguaro, by Laurie Riley and Michael MacBean

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Ride stats today: 42 miles, 2,400’; for the tour: 2,680 miles, 101,300’; for the year:  32 riding days, 1,417 miles, 44,300’, and 2 flat tires

Today's ride: 42 miles (68 km)
Total: 2,681 miles (4,315 km)

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