South to the border
The Sky Islands Odyssey West Loop in the borderlands is more remote and rugged then the East Loop, and we decided to do it over five days from March 3-7. This time David, Kathy, Jeff and I were joined by Todd and we started by heading south along Highway 82 (David and I had already ridden the dirt section a few days before on the Adventure Cycling Patagonia Gravel Tour). This also allowed everyone an easier transition after 6 days of gravel touring and sightseeing.
Going to the lake
Day one was primarily pavement up to Pena Blanca Lake and the White Rock Campground where we camped. This was also the only pit toilet and facilities for the entire route and with the senior discount was affordable. We had gotten sufficient water at the Pilot gas station – only 30¢ for a gallon, so were good until we got to Arivaca the next day. Lots of Border Patrol trucks and ATVs roaring though day and night. Luckily, this was about the only spot we encountered so much traffic.
No fake patriots allowed
The second day we rode mainly through Coronado National Forest land through Ruby. While we still had winds, they weren’t quite as bad as the East Loop, but still challenging. In Arivaca we ate at the wonderful La Gitana Cantina (“The Gypsy”) and filled up water from the well-stocked Mercantile. Met Ebony who invited us to stay at Universal Ranch RV park if we decided the wind was too much. For dry camping we each had between 5-7 liters of water for drinking and cooking.
To avoid the wind, we opted to camp along the Corona Wash in the brush, which helped a bit, but the temps again went down below freezing at the 4000 foot elevation. Awoke to frozen bottles with frost on tents and bikes. Brrrr.
The third day was a long descent into the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge where we could get water at the Visitor Center. The facility was unfortunately closed, but a nice docent let us see their stuffed jaguar and told us about the refuge. It was a perfect lunch stop and should be open again in May. From there we headed north through the refuge and enjoyed some lovely tailwinds for a few hours. We opted to camp on the plains above a wash where we had fabulous views of Baboquivari Mountain on Tohono O’Odham land and the Santa Rita Mountains. Became a little less windy after sunset which was welcome.
Desert walleye magic
The next day was through ranch land and crossing I-19 to climb again on FS143. Along the way we stopped in Arivaca Junction and splurged on lunch with beer at the Longhorn Grill. They even had walleye! Instead of riding the whole stretch to Patagonia, this time we camped near the second creek crossing to split the hike-a-bike over two days. It was a wise choice as the FS road was torn up by ATVs, dual sports and side-by-sides who were out for the weekend. This section was considerably rough and less rideable than the week before.
We had a lovely campsite above the creek, but only one week ago there was far more water. Seems likely those creeks would be dry by April.
Our final day started with a cold sunrise that eventually warmed up as the light made it’s way over the hills. Immediately we were pushing our bikes and would off and on for the next three miles until we crested the pass leading down into Salero Canyon. With such a short day we didn’t really mind.
The final miles went quickly and by 11:30am I was at Gathering Grounds enjoying a celebratory beer. Everyone trickled in over the next hour and we each loaded bikes into vans and cars and said our goodbyes. We had completed the entire Sky Islands Odyssey!!