Gates Pass - Winterlude 2021 - CycleBlaze

December 23, 2021

Gates Pass

Yesterday was warm, and today is even more so.  It’s already 60 when we bike west through the Dunbar Springs neighborhood at nine, the earliest we’ve been out on our bikes so far.  I should make a point of getting out the door early more often, I think to myself as we coast past a doorway that catches my attention for the first time.  Better lighting conditions, and likely better for wildlife settings too.    

In Dunbar Springs.
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Jen GrumbyDefinitely a good time of day for this door. Very attractive!!
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4 weeks ago

We usually bike down Fifth Street on our way to the Loop access on Saint Mary’s Road.  Today though when we cross the Santa Cruz we continue straight on Saint Mary’s and gradually start climbing.  We’re bound for Gates Pass, the low gap in the center of the Tucson Mountains.   Looking ahead, I ‘m still confused by exactly what the route to the pass is.

Westbound on Anklam Road. Gates Pass is more or less straight ahead, hidden by the low hill in front of us.
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It’s roughly nine miles from home to the summit of Gates Pass.  The first six are easy cycling in every sense -  we have a generous shoulder as we climb a gradual 1-2% slope as Saint Mary’s skirts the north face of Tumamoc Hill, becomes Anklam Road, and then bends northwest before dropping to merge with Speedway Boulevard.

Just past Speedway the shoulder ends, we’re now on Gates Pass Road, and the real climb begins.  It’s really not much of a climb though - two and a half miles on this smooth, recently resurfaced road at about 6% brings us to the summit.  The larger concern on this narrow, shoulderless road is traffic and safety; but traffic is light this morning and most of the way the visibility on this side of the pass is good so it never feels unsafe.

Looking back east at the Catalina Range theough a gap along Gates Pass Road.
Heart 4 Comment 2
Andrea BrownDo you make prior arrangements with the clouds or are they just glad to be noticed?
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Andrea BrownIsn’t that pretty though? Just the right kind of day (sorry, I know it’s wet and cold back home): warm, dry, with just enough sky to make it interesting.
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1 month ago

At the summit we pull off at a vista point, look around for a few minutes, and then drop off the other side.  The west side of the pass is completely different - the climb/descent is concentrated into a short, steep, twisted stretch about a half mile long.  Dropping at about 10-12%, it’s fine going this direction because you can coast along at the same speed as the traffic; but I don’t really like climbing it the other direction.  Visibility’s bad and drivers are stressed by trying to keep their momentum up the steep twisting road.

At the summit of Gates Pass.
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The view east along Gates Pass Road from the summit.
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Looking off the west side of the summit, at Golden Gate Mountain.
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We’ve had our look, from the top anyway.  We hop back on the bikes and plunge down the west side of the pass for a half mile and then pull off for a look back at a second vista point at the base of Golden Gate Mountain. 

Looking back at the steepest part of the pass, angling upwards through the center of the frame.
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Looking back up at Gates Pass, modeling my favorite (and only, other than photos and memories) souvenir from The Road to Rome.
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We continue dropping as we head west, as smooth Gates Pass Road ends and becomes rougher Kinney Road; and then a mile later leave the traffic behind when we turn off onto virtually deserted West McCain Loop, one of my favorite desert roads in the region.  It’s only four miles long, but it’s really beautiful as it rolls through a lush cactus garden with stirring mountain views all around.  With scarcely another car on the road and only a sole other bicyclist, it feels like we’re in our own private national park for awhile. 

A question about the name though.  West McCain Loop is not a loop, and moreover there’s no eastern component to this short side road.  Is there a story behind this?

Video sound track: Cactus de Paraguaná, by Carlos Guedes

On McCain Loop.
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Looking back at the Tucson Mountains.
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Another look back along McCain Loop.
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And one more.
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The view south. Visibility is really fine this morning.
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Down Saguaro Alley.
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McCain Loop comes to an end when it merges back onto Kinney Road again.  A few miles later we come to the national park visitor’s center and stop to use the facilities and look around a bit.  We were just here ten months ago, but the look is much different now. Then, we were still under Covid lockdown and the place was absolutely deserted.  Today the parking lot is half full and the deck surrounding the visitor center is crowded with folks waiting for their number to come up to enter the building, which is still operating at limited capacity.

It’s not the most interesting place to hang out now, so we don’t.  Really, I liked it better last year when we had it to ourselves: 

Lunch stop, February 9th, 2021.
Heart 6 Comment 1
Jen GrumbyI remember this shot and I'm glad you've treated us all to Seconds!
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4 weeks ago

It’s too soon to eat still - it’s barely noon - so we turn back and retrace our route along McCain Loop, thinking we’ll find some place to stop in the shade later, maybe around Old Tucson, the former movie set for old westerns.  We don’t though - just so you know, there’s no place to sit off the road in the shade for the next nine miles until we finally leave the park reserve and come to Coyote Pause Cafe.  By now it’s actually feeling hot - the day will top out above 80 - and we’re more than happy to finally pull off the road and out of the sun.  We’re happy to find a bench in the shade where we eat our lunch, cool off with cans of flavored sparkling water, and watch the butterflies hover around the garden.

Coyote Pause Cafe appeals to us.  We check out the breakfast menu and decide we should repeat this loop someday, leaving early enough so that we’d stop in here for second breakfast before mostly coasting the last twelve miles back to the room.  We think again though after we come to busy Ajo Highway, which we don’t really enjoy.  Too much traffic, even with a decent shoulder much of the way.  Second breakfast is a nice idea, but maybe we’ll look around for a better placed candidate.

Looking down Mile Wide Road. Odd name for a two lane road, I think.
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Jen GrumbyYes. That would be a better name for most of the roads in Denver Metro!
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4 weeks ago
The view southwest toward Kitt Peak.
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On McCain Loop again.
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Coyote Pause Cafe. Cute name, nice mural, a good bench in the shade out back.
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Whatever this plant is, the butterflies sure like it.
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Bill ShaneyfeltHad to do some digging, but looks like maybe orange trumpet bush.

https://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/60979/#b

Its visitor is a queen butterfly... That took some work for me to find because I was looking in the wrong place!

https://www.inaturalist.org/guide_taxa/10950
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1 month ago
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Ride stats today: 44 miles, 2,100’ 

Today's ride: 40 miles (64 km)
Total: 919 miles (1,479 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 9
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Rachael AndersonTo Suzanne GibsonThanks.
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1 month ago
Jen GrumbyLove the saguaro shadow at about 12 seconds into the video!!
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4 weeks ago