Hot Diggity Dog!! That’s what we think of this route. It starts in one cool cat town: Patagonia. With miles and miles of just plain ole fun gravel through grasslands and woodlands. But really, who doesn’t like the idea of riding to the border and back?
You start in Patagonia which is an eclectic mix of arts and crafts, history, birding, and Border Control. Now before you get all freaked out about Border Control, we have two comments: first, Border Control offered us water when we were more than a few miles from camp out on the route. And, second, a few days after a major rain storm which left loads of washes impassable in other parts of AZ, “these boys” had it all grated and sorted out. Isn’t that grand!
The route starts with three miles of an easy warm up on pavement, then cuts into a canyon along Harshaw Creek that supports some pretty impressive trees. (The old twisty, grand ones that leave you just impressed.) After a short section of pavement, the route then evolves into oak-pine forest, climbing up and up, and through a series of washes that may run with water. At ~ mile 10 you will bump into some of the mining operation roads, along with a few short popper hills that get your heart going. The climb tops out at 5500 feet after 13.5 miles and 1500 feet of gain. The road surface varies from hard packed and fast to gravel cobblestone. // Read More
From here, it is a series of rollers for the next 4.5 miles with a gain and loss of 500 feet. At mile 18 you begin the long descent to the San Rafael valley and Lochiel (the southern most point of the day, just a few hundred yards from the Mexican border). In Lochiel, stop at the monument which is a tribute to Fray Marcos de Niza (1495 to 1558), the first European, a missionary, to enter Arizona.
The next 15 miles head north and then west through the grasslands of the San Rafael valley. With a little moisture the roads should be quite buzzy, but will offer up sandy bits if it’s been dry. We loved the openness … free ranging cows … and the occasional tree in the middle of the grasslands. The roads will twist and turn the further you go, but they also flatten out and then start an easy climb back out.
At mile 40 your climbing is done. It’s a yeehaw downhill back to town with more oak pine forests and rocky canyons. And just grand views of the whole area. The last three miles of pavement is a sweet celebration and a speedy way to get back to town. Now, go grab a cookie and cup of coffee at Gathering Grounds Espresso Bar or spend a bit more coin at one of the local restaurants.
For a great overview of the riding in the Patagonia area, give a read “Patagonia, A Gravel Utopia” by Caffeine and Watts.
If you’re looking for a shorter ride, check out Patagonia 30. It has most of the great elements of this ride with the exception of the San Rafael valley section.
If you’re looking for a longer ride, check out Patagonia 80. It loops further north into the Canelo Hills and further east into the San Rafael valley.
40 mm tires work really well on this route. Overall, the gravel is hard packed and fast. There are a few sections of gravel cobblestone where the going will be slower.
The route goes very near the Hermosa Project mine (~ mile 9). Yes, the project is controversial, but we encourage you as riders to be courteous and give way to mining trucks (i.e. stop and put a foot down). There are other and better forums for debating the merits of mining than on a gravel road.
This area is actively patrolled by Border Patrol. As a general rule, when we come across Border Patrol for the first time in the day, we stop and ask if “there’s anything we should be aware of” and we also give them our route.
Adventure / Gravel Route
– Lollipop: 50 miles / 3000 ft gain
– Surface: ~ 80% gravel, 20% paved
– eBike Friendly: Yes
– Location: ~ 1 hour, 5 min south of Tucson, Arizona
– Published: January 2020
Moderate. Due to the elevation gain / distance ratio. There are several sections of gravel cobblestone, but the technical demand is not significant.
When we like to ride this …
Fall to spring when the skies are clear and the temps are moderate. We would avoid this route in summer as it is very exposed to the sun. Wind could also make this route brutal. And … if it has recently rained, give it several days to let the roads dry, they are of a clay base and can turn into super sticky mud.
Food / Water
Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road