Ajo Mtn Drive (Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument)
Note: This is a 5 Star Route, meaning that it is a highly curated, premier riding route.
Don’t be a Gumby and see this national gem of a park in a car. It’s well worth the effort to drag your bike with you for this twenty-mile ride. It’s a fun loop with jaw-dropping mountain views, a natural arch, loads of wildlife, and more than a few organ pipe cactus.
And … what humored us was the mix of gravel and pavement: short stretches are paved to help you through popper climbs and over washes! Now, how friggen cool is that! And bring your phone because you will need at least 100 pictures to remind you of the beauty of this place.
Adventure / Gravel Route
Technical Difficulty & Risk[what this means]
Easier+. There are a couple of short, steep pitches over 10%, but they are paved. We had about 5 vehicles pass by, and at the trailheads there were a couple of cars. Cell phone coverage is available on most of the route.
When we like to ride this …
Spring through fall. The ride is at lower elevations, making it a good winter ride. Spring is beautiful when the cactus and trees are in bloom.
The route leads out across the desolate Sonoyta Valley floor on a two-way double-wide gravel road. It is hard pack with a little washboard.(Micro-video) This is where you find plants that thrive in the hottest driest parts of the Sonoran Desert like Brittlebush and bursage / creosote bush [from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Brochure].
At ~ mile 2, the road continues straight but is now one-way and single lane with a bit more chunk and gnar. As you climb higher on gentle grades of 1 to 3%, big Saguaro cactus appear along with a smattering of Palo Verde and Mesquite trees.
In the wetter parts of the Sonoran Desert, usually at a slightly higher altitude than the base of the desert floor, you find plants of the Arizona Upland Community: Agave, Palo Verde trees, and organ pipe, saguaro, prickly pear, and cholla cactus. [Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Brochure]
In the distance is Tillotson Peak to the left with the flat top and a band of color, to the right is Mt Ajo and the Ajo Mountain range.
At ~ mile 5, the first Organ Pipe cactus appear. The route follows up along Diablo creek for a bit and then climbs on pavement(Micro-video) on the steepest sections [8 to 10%], looping clockwise around the Diablo mountains. Near the high point of the day, you head directly west to the base of the Ajo Mountains, where there is a look through arch high up.(Micro-video) Just beyond this is the arch canyon trailhead with a picnic table. We took a break here— a moment to take in the views and the warmth of the winter sun.
The rest of the route is all downhill (well, almost all downhill(Micro-video) ) with just one short pavement section. You cruise through forests of saguaros with distant views to the west of the Puerto Blanco Mountains.(Micro-video) As we like to say, “Ride dirty and smile!”.
40 mm tires are sufficient for this ride, but you won’t go wrong with 50 mm tires either. Most of the gravel / dirt roads are hard-pack or loose over hard-pack.
We recommend a red blinky light as there is some traffic on the loop and drivers can be a bit distracted by the views.
An interesting option for this ride would be to do it at dusk or maybe even as a night ride. The possibilities of animal sightings, stargazing, and everything else the desert offers are exciting to us. But … go prepared!
Another route in the area to consider is Puerto Blanco Drive.
Food / Water