B y K e v i n F r a n k l i n
IN 1874 GREATERVILLE was a wild-and-woolly mining camp complete with claim disputes, renegades, Indian attacks and the all-important presence of gold. Today the tangle of roads and trails surrounding this frontier pocket will be our mountain-bike route.
Located on the northeastern flank of the Santa Rita Mountains, the Greaterville area is most easily accessed by driving down Highway 83 toward Sonoita. A sign marks Greaterville Road, about 19 miles south of Interstate 10, but the more obvious indicators are the semi-functional remains of a driving range and a covered-up "Waffle House" sign. Idiosyncratic things that emerge from the undergrowth, like driving ranges, confirm my faith that the frontier American spirit lives on, occasionally giving birth to odd business schemes...like shooting the latest Kevin Costner film. It stands to reason that something like a driving range out here seemed a good idea to the mastermind behind Waterworld. Now there's a movie set we could have used....
A little more than a mile in on the Greaterville Road, the road forks. The right fork heads toward Madera and Box canyons. The left fork heads toward Melendrez Pass and Greaterville. At the top of a large hill there's a pullout where we park the trucks. What remains of Greaterville is in the valley below. The town, named after one of its residents, is pretty much just a main ranch house and few outbuildings. Privately owned, it's not open to the curious. U.S. Forest Service Road 229 goes by it, however, and that's why we're here.
Assorted dirt roads crisscross this country, and a number of good loops present themselves. A half-mile past Greaterville we come to an intersection. To the right the main road continues to Melendrez Pass. To the left, well, we don't know what's to the left, because at this point we realize we left the map back in the truck. We could go back, but the general consensus is we don't need no stinking map.
"If this were a cartoon," says fellow rider Mari Wadsworth, "the right fork (on the smoother main road) would be the one with sunshine and birds singing, and the left fork (up a steep and rocky hill) would be dark and stormy."
Naturally we opt for dark and stormy. I'm sure it's apparent by now where this story is going.
We head up the hill and toward Sucker Gulch, in hindsight a remarkably appropriate name. We reach the top of the hill and come to another fork. Blooming goldenweed lines the roadside. This direction seems like it will quickly bring us back to Greaterville. What was that Dorothy said about following the yellow brick road...?
Not wanting the ride to be over so soon, we head right, which, as it turns out, would not take us back toward Greaterville for quite some time.
We follow Forest Service Road 163 down and around. This sounds much simpler than it is. There are a great many roads in this area, but only a few on the map. So, even if we'd had the map, the way would not have been crystal clear, though it might have helped considerably in weighing our options.
Wandering like Theseus and his crew, we randomly choose routes. In general we bear left at the major intersections in a futile attempt to work our way back. Ultimately the group separates, damn lotus eaters. Each in their own way, we continue heading almost due east, back toward the highway--when we really wanted to go northwest, back toward the cars.
Along the way we pass all sorts of outdoor enthusiasts. Everyone from equestrians to target shooters to sand rail drivers and car campers are out here. Fortunately, the area is extensive enough to offer nooks and crannies where you don't see any one group for more than a brief moment before they disappear over the hillside or around a bend. An expedition in solitude this area is not, but neither does it have the overpopulated feel of Mount Lemmon.
On my Nogales Ranger District Forest Service Map there's a road that shoots off Ophir Gulch back toward Greaterville, exactly the way we wanted to go. Unaware of this route at the time, in fact uncertain of our exact whereabouts or where the multitude of surrounding roads may lead, we end up staying on 163 and ultimately emerge onto Gardner Canyon Road, less than a mile from Highway 83.
Admitting defeat to the labyrinth of roads, we pedal out onto the highway and up to Greaterville Road, where we retrace our route back to where the trucks wait. With some exhaustion-induced delirium after the 20-mile loop, I can almost hear the Greaterville Mining District Minotaur on a distant hillside laughing and daring us to come back again. Just you wait, you cow-horned freak, the Out There pedal slaves will return. And next time, we're gonna bring a ball of string!
Bob's Bargain Barn, 2230 N. Country Club Road, offers a free mountain biking seminar covering trail locations and use, gear necessities and how to find people to ride with, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, October 25. Call 325-3409 for information.
Getting There:Take Interstate 10 east to Highway 83. Head south toward Sonoita. After about 19 miles, look for the sign indicating Greaterville Road. Take that in for a mile and look for the fork heading to Melendrez Pass. Follow that past a ranch on your right and up a big hill to a large pullout. Park there and go to it.
Mapage: The Nogales Ranger District Forest Service Map could be a big help in planning a shorter and more successful loop.
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