Sky Islands Odyssey East Loop

Wind, wind & more wind…

Five of us met in Patagonia, AZ at the TerraSol camp and started our Sky Islands Odyssey East Loop tour on Feb 21st. David, Kathy, Roger, Jeff and myself were unsure of how we’d handle this first route, but were anxious to get started. Of course, from the moment we began, the wind would keep increasing for the next three days, making for a challenging effort.

East Loop crew

Despite the 20-30mph winds and gusts to 50mph we were able to make the first night at the Audubon Society’s Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch. Permits in hand, we had the whole cozy casita to cook out of the wind and put tents in the lee of the Bunkhouse for some respite. The 8000 acre grassland area is spectacular, with sightings of antelope, mule deer and raptors soaring overhead. Sarah Swallow came by to chat and we had wonderful evening. Met Cristina the Research Ranch director the next morning as well. The whole place is full of good people and energy!

Santa Rita Mountains

And then here were four

On day two we rode from the ranch toward Elgin, but it was too early for wine tasting. The wind was relentless as we made our crossing of AZ83 north of Sonita. David decided he’d had enough and rode back to Patagonia. The four of us continued in a stiff headwind through exposed ranchland along Santa Rita Road. After taking a left we navigated the rough ORV trails toward Kentucky Camp. Crossing a creek, we filled bottles and choose the first reasonable campsite in the trees. We managed to cook in the gusty winds, but with dust flying, cold air and darkness approaching we all were in our tents shortly after 6pm.


I awoke early and walked over to a less windy spot for coffee to watch the sunrise. Today we would continue northwest to Green Valley. The descent from Box Canyon TH was wonderful, dropping from sub-alpine elevations down into the sandy, cactus-filled basin. Was appreciative of my 3″ wide tires and managed to ride all of the soft surfaces.


Cold comfort

As we approached Green Valley, the skies got dark and we could feel raindrops. It did not bode well for continuing on, especially with the dropping temps and reports of snowfall that night. After gorging ourselves at the local Mac & D’s, we agreed to get a motel and not battle the elements. It was a good decision, with rain pouring down while walking to a Mexican restaurant. By the next morning it was dry but still windy, though hearing that Putin the dictator had invaded Ukraine was a reminder that our efforts were merely entertainment. A very sobering and sad thought.

Green Valley basin

Long ride home

Day four began well, with nearly 20 miles of fairly flat riding down the Juan Batista de Anza trail, where we met a couple plein air painters. After that we started the long climb to FS143 which was the dirt road all the way to Patagonia. The road was a combination of rough, rocky sections, climbs and descents as it snaked it’s way up and over the Santa Rita Mountains. We could see the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory above us. As the day wore on we had numerous hike-a-bike steep sections, but we continued till we reached the pass above the Alto Ruins.


Knowing we only had twenty miles to go we continued the rolling descent and finally made it to town by 5pm after over nine hours of riding. It felt good to complete the route. We all met up at the Lumber Co for beers and pizza, then everyone headed off until we’d meet again for the West Loop on March 3rd.

Research Ranch
Crossing the AZT
Patagonia Lumber Co

About Jon Muellner

Jon's Random Adventures. Cycling, Travel, Life and Other Stuff
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