In Wickenburg: Vulture Mine Road - Winterlude 2020 - CycleBlaze

December 13, 2020

In Wickenburg: Vulture Mine Road

It’s quite cold this morning, near freezing.  The blacktop in the motel parking lot has that sheen that suggests that we’re just on the edge of a frosting.  There’s a significant breeze also, that goes right through me when I start loading our mountain of baggage into the car.

We’re off today for Wickenburg, a small place almost midway between here and Tucson.  It is allegedly about seven degrees warmer and less windy than here, but we’ll see when we get there.  If true, we have a bike ride mapped out; otherwise, we’ll take a walk somewhere.

We stop three times.  Once, at a scenic viewpoint with an overlook of the Colorado River and its canyon not far below the dam.  We admire the view briefly but then hustle back to the car because the wind is strong and bitingly cold.  A second time, in Kingman for gas and a loo stop.  Again, very cold.  I’m counting down the gallons as I fill the tank, my hand freezing on the cold nozzle, anxious to get back into the shelter of the car.  And a third time, we pull off onto an empty washboard road just south of Wickiup for a better look at the stunning yellow ribbon we’ve been following along the Big Sandy River.  When we pull off, we have thoughts of taking a walk along this road; but it’s too dusty and too far from the river to be attractive.  Instead, Rachael takes her chances on a wee break by the side of the road.  Not finding any shelter at all and having seen no one on this road the entire time we’ve been on it, she does the French thing and irrigates the dusty, parched shoulder of the road.  Back in the car, we pass another car less than a minute later.  Too close!

We arrive at our lodging in Wickenburg at 1:02, which is perfect - the earliest check-in time is 1.  I chat a bit with the manager, trying to place her accent.  She inquires about why we’re in the region and how long we’ll be down here.  One thing leads to another, and I end up telling her that we were biking in Europe this fall until Covid sent us packing.

Where in Europe, she asks.  Croatia, and a bit of Italy.  I’m Croatian!  A more detailed conversation of course ensues.  She’s from Zagreb, and wants to know every place we visited in the country, nodding knowingly and approvingly at each one.  She looks puzzled at first when I mention Rastoke and then realizes I’ve mispronounced it.  I mention Pag, and she said she was just in Pag this summer - it’s the place she would go to each summer for her vacation.  An appealing encounter, obviously.

The Colorado River.
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Along the Big Sandy River, outside Wickiup. We followed this brilliant yellow ribbon for about a mile before it diverged from the highway.
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The forecast was accurate, for a nice change.  It is significantly warmer here and the winds are minimal.  Of course we’re going for a ride.  We quickly unload our gear into our unit and drive three miles to Vulture Mine Road, the route we’d scoped out for the day.  It’s an out and back, of course - we’ll just time box ourselves and turn around in time to make it back to the car safely before sundown.

It’s a fine ride.  Quiet, scenic, a ride worth repeating.  It’s exciting to find ourselves back in this familiar southern Arizona landscape of saguaro, palo verde, cholla and ocotillo again.  Old friends.  Every so often I’ll hear the familiar slight whistle of a phainopepla, that small crested bird that makes me think of a miniature black cardinal.

The sun is getting low and our shadows grow long (the video shows this nicely) as we climb back up to the saddle beneath Vulture Peak.  By the time we make it back to the car it’s getting cold and it’s nearing sundown.  It’s a good thing we didn’t ride any further than we did.  Today’s ride was a good reminder of how fast it cools down and how much sooner darkness falls in the hills.  It wouldn’t do to get caught out after dark on roads like this.

Vulture Peak ahead is our landmark for today’s ride. We’ll skirt its western flank and continue south before doubling back.
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The first five miles are a modest, relaxed climb that gains about 400 feet. Here we’ve just created the high point and are looking back north.
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The rest of the route is a steady, slight downhill until we turn back. I remind Rachael to be mindful of the time before she sprints ahead, and to make sure we’re allowing enough time to get back before sundown.
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Saguaro and cholla. We’re back in Arizona!
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We biked into this interesting cloud pattern all the way south.
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Remains of the old Vulture Mine, at the ghost town of Vulture City. Discovered in 1863 by California gold rush prospector Henry Wickenburg, the Vulture Mine is the most productive gold mine in Arizona’s history.
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I think that range to the south must be the White Tank Mountains, just west of Phoenix. If so, the highest point is Barry Goldwater Peak.
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Do my eyes deceive me, or is that another Bike Friday approaching me out yonder?
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Yup! Time to head back to the car.
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Vulture City, now a ghost town and tourist attraction, at one point had a population of about 5,000. It died when the mine was close in 1942 in connection with the war effort. It would be worth repeating this ride and allowing time to visit the ghost town.
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The hills really start coming to light under the late day sun. It would be great to see them still later, but then we’d be riding back to the car in the dark.
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A last look at Vulture Peak.
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Video sound track: Shadow Dancing, by Andy Gibb

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Ride stats today: 37 miles, 1,700’; for the tour: 796 miles, 32,300’

Today's ride: 37 miles (60 km)
Total: 794 miles (1,278 km)

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Gregory GarceauOooooh, if I had known you were going to spend a night in Wickenburg, I would have tried to warn you about riding your bikes there. That's the town where I ripped my shoulder open on a bolt sticking out of a streetlight pole. Other than the injury and the trip to the emergency room though, I kind of liked the town.

Anyway, I assume you survived Wickenburg and I'll be reading about Tucson tomorrow.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Gregory GarceauThat ghastly injury? I still get shivers when I think about it. We didn’t bike in the town itself though - we just drove out to Old Vulture Road and started there. It’s a cute little place though, and surprisingly festive now. They even have a Ferris wheel going.
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1 month ago
Bill StoneIf you're looking for more riding (or hiking) during or after your visit to Tucson, I recommend Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument:

http://bike365.org/bike/20190225/
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Bill StoneThanks, Bill. I’m starting to put together a candidate list for the drive back north.
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1 month ago