B y K e v i n F r a n k l i n
ALWAYS SEEKING A new spin to a mountain bike ride, the Out There gang decides this morning to use a relatively new stretch of the Arizona Trail to connect an old jeep road for one of the best mountain bike loops in the Tucson area.
In the spirit of the Appalachian Trail, the Arizona Trail eventually will run the entire length of the state. Meanwhile, new sections of the trail are opening possibilities for loop hikes and rides. A case in point is the connection of two sections of the Bellota Ranch Road (U.S. Forest Service Road 36). This 4,000 foot elevation, nine-mile loop makes an excellent trip for riders of all skills.
Located in Redington Pass, about 15 miles northeast of the city limits, the ride makes an ideal morning getaway. Depending on your inclination toward pain, the route can start off in one of two places. After driving up Redington Road you can either drive the 2.3 miles down Bellota Ranch Road to the Arizona Trail trailhead or you can tack those extra miles onto the ride by parking right there at the main road. If you don't have a high clearance vehicle you should park close to Redington Road. Otherwise, your car may become another rusted hunk left for the local bovines to critique as modern art.
In any case, you should eventually come to a large wash with a sign--shot up by some jerk--noting the Arizona Trail. Here the fun begins. Head west from the sign until you see a trail climbing the bank on the south side of the wash about 50 yards away. This is the beginning of some of the finest single track around.
Climb this bank and follow the trail. The technical challenges on most of the ride are fairly simple. About a half-mile into the ride waits a sharp bend and steep slope and a quarter-mile after that there's another steep slope with a maze of rocks you will have to navigate.
Since these stretches are so short, novices can walk through them. If you are a glutton for punishment, like the members of the Out There crash dummy team, you can make multiple attempts at the difficult spots. Nothing shows how little you know about mountain biking more clearly than hitting the same damn rock time and time again. From our perspective it is uncertain if practice makes perfect or not, but it certainly keeps the spoke manufacturers in business.
After two miles you cross Caliente Canyon wash. When fellow rider and University of Arizona geophysics student Scott Balay was here last spring, considerable water was running through the wash. Today it is bone dry. Shortly after crossing the wash, we connect with an old jeep trail.
Here you are left with three choices. If you want to extend the day, go left and ride the two miles to West Spring. If you want to tackle those difficult sections again, turn around and do them in reverse. If you have had enough, turn right and follow the jeep trail toward Bellota Ranch Road. A mile after the ranch you will see the road to Chimney Rock on your left. Bear right and you will eventually come back to your vehicle in the wash, assuming there have not been any floods.
We head left toward West Spring. After zooming through the wash we continue riding on the old jeep trail. One section of the road dips into the wash again and crosses a jumbled section of rocks. Two narrow routes present themselves through the tiny tire-eating chaos. As one rider gets caught on the left I duck right and hurtle past with shouts of bravado.
Shortly after that we come across a lone hiker.
"I thought I heard ghosts following me," she says, apparently having heard our hoots and hollers.
"No, we're still pretty much alive--for the time being," I reply.
But shortly after that, with our corporeal bodies weighing us down nearly as much as our schedules, we decide to turn back at the next cattle gate. The truly hard-core could continue riding all the way up the Arizona Trail into Molino Basin Campground on the Catalina Highway. From there you could ride down the mountain and rendezvous with a vehicle to take you back to your original vehicle. Be warned, the trail gets incredibly steep after West Spring.
Not having half that much motivation or logistical planning at our command, we turn around.
Somewhere on the ride back, downhill champion and UA geology student Jason Crosswhite's rear tire starts fraying and bulging apart. If the tube pushes through the tire then we're sunk; we'll be forced to (egad!) walk. Using their wonder twin powers, Scott Balay and his brother Mike come up with a plan to use a couple of Power Bar wrappers to line the inside of the tire wall and make a temporary repair.
After some finagling we get it to work.
"It's amazing we actually got to use something we read about and it works," Scott says.
Crosswhite's machine is able to limp along. After a few miles a strip of the wrapper shows through the continually fraying tire.
"That's OK," Mike says. "It's when you can tell what flavor it is that you're in trouble."
The return trip on the road is much faster than the single track sections. Before long we are coasting down into the wash where we left our trucks, a fine morning behind us.
Getting There:Take Tanque Verde Road east to Redington Road. Drive seven and a half miles up Redington Road (going past the turn-off for Chiva Falls) and look for the white sign marking Bellota Ranch on your left. Your ride can begin here or, if you want to save yourself a painful uphill exertion at the end of a ride, you can drive the two miles to the wash and Arizona Trail trailhead.
Mapage: Since the Arizona Trail is so new, no maps show this section of it. The Santa Catalina Recreation Map shows Bellota Ranch and the jeep trails, so if you draw an imaginary line from "The Lake" halfway to West Spring that map could work for you. The Agua Caliente Hill and Piety Hill 7 1/2 minute topographical maps show the surrounding terrain and the direction in very well, so it is up to you.
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