Saguaro Christmas - Winterlude 2021 - CycleBlaze

December 25, 2021

Saguaro Christmas

We don’t have a tree here in the apartment and no stockings are hung above the fireplace because we don’t have one of these either, so we celebrate Christmas in our favorite way - biking through the Church of the Great Outdoors.  Today we’re re-experiencing one of our favorite rides in Tucson: a loop through the national park followed by a trip south to Colossal Cave.

It’s nearly twenty miles from our place to the visitor center in the Rincon Mountain District, the eastern of the two divisions of Saguaro National Park.  It’s too far to bike there, complete the ride we have in mind, and then bike back again; so for the first time since arriving in town we load the bikes into the Raven and drive over.  When arrive around 10, the parking lot is nearly empty.  We don’t quite have the national park to ourselves, but nearly so.  

The paved nine mile loop through the Rincon Mountain District is one of the premier riding experiences in Tucson.  A narrow one way loop, it is a delight to cycle as it rolls through spectacular desert scenery with stunning views of the mountains around every bend in the road.  This is our third or fourth time we’ve taken this ride, and probably the most enjoyable one - it’s so quiet this morning, and for about an hour the generally overcast sky opens up and the sun comes through.

Christmas morning In the Rincon Mountain District. There is almost no one here yet, and for an hour we have the national park nearly to ourselves.
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The paved nine mile loop through the park have some steep spots and arresting views.
Heart 2 Comment 2
Steve Miller/GrampiesDodie says she needed a sign like this and she hopes you followed the instructions.
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7 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Steve Miller/GrampiesDefinitely. Short, very steep, with a sharp bend at the bottom. The recommended posted speed is 5 mph.
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7 months ago
Looking back along the Catalina Mountains toward Tucson. For about an hour the sky cleared up, but then gradually grew cloudier for the rest of the day.
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In the Rincon Mountain District.
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In the Rincon Mountain District.
Heart 1 Comment 1
Bill ShaneyfeltBrittlebush! Often the only thing blooming.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encelia_farinosa
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7 months ago
In the Rincon Mountain District.
Heart 1 Comment 2
Bill ShaneyfeltThat painted lady has seen some hard times.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanessa_cardui
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7 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Bill ShaneyfeltYes she has. She’s missing some paint. Looks like some kid picked her up by her wing tips.
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7 months ago
Looking across south Tucson toward the Santa Rita Mountains.
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Zooming in on the perspective above. We’ve been out here a few times now but I’ve never noticed the wide white smear before.
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It’s the Boneyard! Tucson has the largest aircraft storage facility in the world, storing nearly 4,000 aircraft. From a distance it’s the most recognizable feature in the city.
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The view from Javalina Rocks.
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We’ve seen this crested saguaro before, here and in other journals. It’s OK to see it multiple times though, especially since the sky is somewhat different this time.
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It takes us roughly an hour to complete the short loop because there are so many reasons to stop.  When we get back to the visitor center we take turns using the facilities, and when I return from mine I’m surprised to hear Rachael’s voice in conversation with someone.  It’s Jacinto!  We recognize him on sight of course, but this is the first time we’ve met in person.  

We chat in the parking  lot for several minutes and compare ride plans.  His is quite similar to ours - he’s going down to Colossal Caves himself, but in a longer variation and in the reverse direction from us.  We bike out of the park together and then part as we go south and he goes north.  We speculate that we might cross paths later in the day but that doesn’t happen - perhaps because he’s unlucky today, has two flat tires, and has to hitchhike back to his car to make it home in time for Christmas dinner.  Poor Jacinto - coal in his stocking this year!

And, on the way out of the park Rachael has her GoPro working and clips him in at the end of today’s video.  Sometime Rocky should collect all of these short CycleBlaze meetup clips into a single longer video.

We haven’t seen this before though: Rachael and Jacinto together! It’s clever of them to have coordinated their outfits for their first meetup.
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Video sound track: Bright Moments, by Grover Washington, Jr.

It’s a fine twelve mile ride southeast to Colossal Cave, first on Old Spanish Trail and then Valencia.  It’s a scenic ride with a wide, smooth shoulder the entire way and is a very popular cycling route.  It’s gradually uphill most of the way in this direction, so it’s especially pleasant today as we have a modest tailwind helping us along.  We plan to bike up to the parking lot and lookout at the end and enjoy lunch there, so it’s quite a disappointment when we find that the park is closed for Christmas.  The road is actually barricaded in two spots.  There’s an open side gate at the first closure, which we interpret as meaning that it’s fine for bikes to continue; but the second closure is more complete, with a warning sign stating that surveillance cameras are in use.  Rebel Rocky is game to crawl through the fence and continue on, but spoilsport that I am I remind her that we’re not scofflaws and need to just turn back.

Heading south toward Colossal Caves on Old Spanish Trail.
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Major disappointment. Colossal Cave is closed for Christmas. Bah, humbug!
Heart 1 Comment 2
Jen GrumbyBut wait .. you really did end up going by, right?
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7 months ago
Rachael AndersonTo Jen GrumbyNo. We took the road described below which we enjoyed more. It was rough riding but thanks to my suspension seat post and new saddle I did fine.
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7 months ago

While I tend to my own affairs for a few minutes Rachael bikes a short ways down Colossal Cave Road to add some distance and explore a bit.  She returns and reports that she saw a large antlered deer and that it’s a beautiful road, so we bike back together with the idea we’ll go a short ways and then return and pick up our planned route.

Instead, we just keep going; and so does the road, although it isn’t clear on the maps that it does so because it’s unmaintained and barricaded to motor vehicles - in other words, it’s ideal for cycling.   The next several miles are an excellent ride with a wild, remote feeling, nearly as great a cycling experience as biking in the national park.  With no obvious spot to stop for lunch we finally just find a bare spot on the ground beside the road and take our break.  It’s so quiet that I decide to just sit on the crumbling road itself as the most comfortable surface around.

On Colossal Caves Road, skirting the south side of Pistol Hill.
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A view back to Rincon Peak.
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We’ve never ridden this unmaintained road before, thinking it wasn’t open to the public. It isn’t, unless you’re on foot or a bike.
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Some of the best cycling roads look like this.
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Bruce LellmanI love this road.
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7 months ago
Bruce LellmanI mean, I've never been on this road but I love roads like this one.
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7 months ago
Rachael AndersonTo Bruce LellmanI agree! I’m sure having fun checking out different quiet roads to see where they go! My suspension seat post and new saddle has made it possible to explore rough roads without being in a lot of pain.
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7 months ago
Lunch stop, on Colossal Mountain Road. Literally on - I’m sitting on the crumbled pavement; which is perfectly fine because only one car has come through, slowly because the surface is so rough.
Heart 2 Comment 0
A good day to have brought along a click stand.
Heart 2 Comment 3
Bruce LellmanDuring our last long bike tour I remember Andrea saying, "If anything happens to my Clickstand I'm going to cry and then we might as well fly home."
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7 months ago
Gregory GarceauThanks for that shout out to The Church of the Great Outdoors!
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7 months ago
Rachael AndersonTo Gregory GarceauI realize that being outside bicycling and hiking, especially where there is beautiful scenery, birds and wildlife, is essential to my physical and emotional well being. That is definitely my church!
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7 months ago
A wonderful cycling experience, with a feeling of discovery.
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After a few miles Colossal Cave Road ends at Pistol Hill Road, and we pick up with our original itinerary.  There’s been no change to the distance, as we’ve just skirted the south side of Pistol Hill rather than the north.

The rest of the ride back to the car is fine, uneventful and familiar.  We ride west to Houghton on the route I followed on my birthday ride a few days ago; and then connect up with the end of the loop at Julian Wash and follow the loop north until finally cutting through the neighborhoods for a few miles back to the park.  A perfect way to spend Christmas.

Not quite accurate. You can get through by bike.
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Some coyote gourds, Julian Wash.
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Back on Julian Wash, with the Tucson Mountains ahead.
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Ride stats today: 47 miles, 2,500’

Today's ride: 47 miles (76 km)
Total: 987 miles (1,588 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 8
Comment on this entry Comment 6
Eva WaltersWhat a gorgeous ride! A great way to spend the holiday. Happy Boxing Day from frigid and snowy British Columbia.
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7 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Eva WaltersIt was pretty much perfect. I’ve been thinking about you and the other British Columbians I keep in touch with. Sounds like you have a harsh winter lined up. Stay warm!
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7 months ago
Graham FinchI'm expecting Junior Walker's "(I'm a) Road Runner" on a video soon.
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7 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Graham FinchEmbarrassed to say I’ve never heard of Junior Walker, but this is great. Now if we can just see another of these birds.
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7 months ago
Graham FinchTo Scott Anderson"Money, who needs it,
Let me live my life free and easy,
Put my toothbrush in my hand,
and let me be a travelin' man

'Cause I'm a road runner, baby.
I'm a road runner, baby,
Can't stay in one place too long,
I'm a road runner baby,"
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7 months ago
Rachael AndersonTo Graham FinchThanks for telling us about this song. I love it! What great lyrics.
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7 months ago