Madera Canyon - Winterlude 2020 - CycleBlaze

February 4, 2021

Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon is a wide slot into the northwest face of the Santa Rita range, at the base of Mount Wrightson.  The road into it is a dead-ender that terminates at a picnic area in the Coronado National Forest.  Rising to 5,400’ exactly, it’s a bit of a climb from the outskirts of Green Valley where I park the car.  Most of the ascent is reasonably gradual, but the final few miles stiffen significantly; and the last half mile hovers around 13%, enough to discourage Rachael from joining me today.

It’s due to be another warm one today, so I get an early start to avoid climbing in the midday heat.  I park the car in a shopping mall lot and start biking south through the Green Valley suburbs on Abrego Drive.  I haven’t ridden this road before, but it’s the nicest cycling route through Green Valley I’ve seen so far.  Following the course of the upper Santa Cruz River through an upscale residential neighborhood flanked by golf courses, it has a park-like feeling.

Albergo Drive has a parklike feeling, with a broad, smooth cycling lane and a center divider lined with impressive, wildly brachiated saguaros. I wonder about the cacti, and whether there’s a way you can cultivate them to grow this way. Cactus growth hormones?
Heart 2 Comment 2
Andrea Brown“Brachiated” is such a wonderful word. It makes me think of monkeys, brachiating between trees (but not between saguaros).
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3 weeks ago
Kelly IniguezThese look like the saguaros on the way to Globe.
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3 weeks ago
The homes along Abrego Drive are impressive, and well tended. Think hacienda rather than casita.
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After six or seven miles I reach the turnoff to Madera Canyon.  It’s all uphill to the end of the road, 13 miles away and 2,700’ higher.   It’s nearly a pure climb, with only a few spots where you drop through a shallow wash that together add up to about 100’ of elevation loss.

Rachael and I biked up here back in 2016, and in my memory it’s a rough ride.  Memories are incorrect though - it’s reasonably surfaced pavement, not chipseal; and the roughness I was recalling comes from the seams of the broken pavement that split the surface every twenty feet or so.  Not bad, but they do get a bit tedious on the 13 mile descent that will come later.

Early on, I’m pleased to find a seamless bike path beside the road; but it terminates at the end of the last suburb.
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Looking east toward the Rincon range. Here at the lower elevations we pass through different vegetation zones of the Sonoran Desert; by the end of the climb we’ll be riding in through an alpine forest.
Heart 2 Comment 1
Andrea BrownThis photo reminds me of ‘Roxaboxen’, an ethereal children’s book about the little play town some neighborhood kids make out in the desert. Look it up if you ever ride by a library.
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3 weeks ago
Four or five miles into the climb I pause for a look back at Green Valley. I’ll hold the vision of this descent to come in my mind as I continue climbing for the next eight miles.
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A somber reminder of the real hazard for open road cyclists, and a caution to not let myself get too euphoric on the descent.
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Elephant Rock, the prominent headland at the wide mouth of Madera Canyon. How many Elephant Rocks are there in the world, do you suppose? We’ve seen our share by now.
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Here’s one of those shallow dips I mentioned earlier. A brief respite, and then the climb resumes.
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Nearing the entrance of the national forest, we start zeroing in on Mount Wrightson. It looks like there’s noticeably less snow than when we viewed it from Mission Road two days back.
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Near the top. As expected, the last half mile is painful but manageable. That’s what those low gears are here for though - why carry their extra weight if you’re never going to put them to use?
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At the top, I find my picnic table in the shade and enjoy the turkey and cheddar sandwich Rachael packed away for me.  As I sit, a small flock of Mexican Jays swoops in to check out the scene.  It feels wonderful up here, cool and refreshing, and would be great to take a walk.  I should have brought my lock with me.

As I sit here anticipating the descent, an unpleasant thought comes to mind.  I couldn’t find my outer layer jersey this morning, so I just didn’t pack anything for warmth.  It didn’t occur to me that I’ll be descending for 13 miles, starting at nearly 5,500’.  I wonder if I’m about to freeze on the descent?  Starting off, I anticipate a ride broken up by frequent stops to thaw out and restore my hands to working order again.

It’s just fine though.  There’s a bit of a headwind, and it’s cool under the trees; but as soon as I break into the sun I warm up quickly and enjoy a long, relaxed ride back to the valley again.  This is really a fine climb - not particularly difficult except for that last half mile, and the views going both directions are inspirational.   Halfway down mountain, I pass the only other cyclist of the day, going the other way: a young woman on a fully loaded bike, panniers front and back.  Humbling.

Have I seen a Mexican Jay before? I don’t recall for sure.
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‘Gator skin.
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Not fake news.
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Looking across Green Valley to the mining district above it. We’re high enough up here that we can look down on the colorful but toxic mine tailing ponds.
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Another, more open view across Green Valley.
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There are long views from up here. Far out is Baboquivari Peak on the left, and perhaps Kitt Peak to its right.
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Yes!
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Lyle McLeodOut and back rides have a lovely symmetry!

Looks like a beautiful day.
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3 weeks ago

Ride stats today: 38 miles, 3,000’; for the tour: 2,544 miles, 92,400’; for the year:  29 riding days, 1,281 miles, 38,400’, and 2 flat tires

Today's ride: 38 miles (61 km)
Total: 2,545 miles (4,096 km)

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marilyn swettLove the saguaro and jay pictures Scott!
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo marilyn swettThose saguaros were pretty remarkable, alright. They must have gone on like that for the better part of a mile.
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3 weeks ago