This is a route that we have researched extensively (30+ hours: 2 exploratory bike rides, 1 exploratory drive in the truck, and a lot of time with maps and databases). Unfortunately, we never had time to go back and ride the route in full; our time in the Tucson area (winter of 2020 – 2021) ran out.
We think it has great potential as an adventure bike route! The first miles wander through the north hills of the Empire Mountains; then, the way turns south, crossing over the Empire Mountains past several historic mining sites.
The Empire Mountains include several mining properties, including the Total Wreck mine, the Hilton mine, and the Montana mine. The Total Wreck Mine was discovered in 1879 by John T. Dillion — an employee of Vail namesake Walter L. Vail — who pronounced the bolder-strewn landscape surrounding the future mining property a “total wreck.” [Tucson.com]
After the mines, the route drops down into the Las Cienegas National Conservation, paralleling Cienegas creek for a bit. And … finally returns to the start vie “powerline” road.
Today more than 45,000 acres of rolling grasslands and woodlands in southeastern Arizona are protected under the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area (NCA). The region’s oak-studded hills connect several “sky island” mountain ranges and lush riparian corridors. With its perennial flow, Cienega Creek forms the lifeblood of the NCA and supports a diverse plant and animal community. It is also rich in historic and cultural resources. [Bureau of Land Management]
In the Ride Details section below we list all the route beta we have.
If you do this route (or attempt it), please leave a comment below with what you’re found / experienced. To make this a 5 Star route, we need the following. If you can help us with one or several elements, we would appreciate it.
- Verification that the route goes as mapped
- Verification that the route meets our 5 Star standards.
- Verification of the mileage and elevation gain.
- An actual ride GPX file.
- Route details and description. (Things like road surfaces, terrain, scenic payback, hazards, etc.)
- Pictures / Videos along the route.
Adventure / Gravel Route
Technical Difficulty & Risk[what this means]
- Technical Riding Difficulty: Advanced
Expect some steep up and downs and some rugged road.
- Navigation Challenge & Risk: Advanced
There are a number of turns along the way, and many of the roads are un-named and do not show up on many maps. A wrong turn could make for a very long day. We recommend carrying at least two independent mapping devices.
- Remote Risk: Advanced
Expect to see no one on most of the route. Expect very limited cell phone access.
When we like to ride this …
Fall through spring. Summer could be hot and exposed. Note, in spring the creeks may hold water.
Dirt pull out at the intersection of Old Sonoita Highway and Bar V Ranch Road.
Lat / Long: 31.967401, -110.657983
For help with GPS files, the RideWithGPs mapping app and to learn how to download our routes for free, see the “Using Our Rides” page.
Here is what we know based on riding the first 8 miles of the route and extensive research.
Miles 0 to 3.5 are on a hard-packed, maintained gravel road. Miles 3.5 to 5.2 are on a dirt road that is a bit more rugged, but completely rideable.
Miles 5.2 to 11 follow the powerline. The riding is up and down with short demanding pitches.
Miles 8 to 34 are the unknown.
- Satellite photography shows roads in place. Pima county records [select Streets – All] indicate that Hilton Ranch Road and Jerome Mine Road (~ miles 16 to 20) are public access, although they cross through sections of private property. There exist routing options to the east that avoid the private lands if re-routing is required.
- Just before mile 8, there is an option to take the pipeline road (to the right) or stay with the powerline road (to the left). Stay on the powerline road! We investigated the pipeline road, and it gets steep and burly. We were unable to ride long sections on our Salsa Cutthroats (a drop bar mountain bike) with 2.2″ tires.
- Miles 23.2 to 23.7 may be difficult to navigate. And … may require a bit of hike-a-bike.
The majority of the route is on public lands: BLM, Arizona State Lands, Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, and Pima County property.
Food / Water
We recommend an adventure bike with at least 50 mm tires.
The elevation gain shown by RideWithGPS will most likely understate the actual elevation gain of the route. Please take a close look at the elevation profile; it is jagged throughout!
- Total Wreck Mine, Pima Co Arizona (Mindat.org)
- Total Wreck, Arizona (Wikipedia)
- Total Wreck Mine: The Little Graveyard, Pump Site on Cienega Creek and Tank Hill (Desert Rambler)
- Total Wreck Arizona (Western Mining History)