Bicycling through southeast Arizona, 2007

Page 1: Green Valley to Bisbee
Page 2: Bisbee back to Green Valley

Friday, April 13

Kathy and I are about to begin another self-supported bicycle tour, and in some ways it could be our most challenging tour yet. We've finished four self-supported bicycle tours so far: the western U.S., the eastern U.S., southwest Colorado, and south Florida. In Florida we toured with our baby, Daniel - a challenging undertaking, but Florida's convenient campgrounds and perfectly flat roads helped us immensely. That was more than a year ago.

Next week we will tour southeast Arizona, a combination of mountains and desert. The roads are not flat like Florida's, nor as steep as the roads in Colorado's mountains. This part of Arizona is covered with "sky islands" - small, disconnected mountain ranges that rise up from the hot desert and provide habitat for many plants and animals with their cooler, wetter climates. The roads generally weave around the mountain ranges, keeping the roads from getting too steep. We will be carrying all our camping gear and towing Daniel in his trailer, and we plan to camp in the desert most nights. There will be a new moon next week, so the stargazing could be wonderful.

Pulling our heavily loaded bike over the hills will be a challenge, and keeping Daniel happy could be another challenge. He's almost 2 years old, and full of energy, so he won't want to spend all day in a trailer.

Today we're in Green Valley, Arizona, visiting our friends Abby and Lincoln and their children Charis and Sophie. Abby was Kathy's college roommate. We will visit with them through the weekend and then start bicycling east on Monday morning.


Daniel and Charis on a neighborhood playground.

Saturday-Sunday, April 14-15

On Saturday Kathy, Daniel and I hiked in Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area, a hilly desert area at the north end of Tucson. Abby wasn't feeling well today and Lincoln had some unexpected work to do, so they didn't come with us. We hiked up Bear Canyon to a series of waterfalls and let Daniel play in the water for a while. The canyon is covered with a saguaro cactus forest, and many other desert plants thrive here, like mesquite trees and prickly pear cactus. It seems like every plant has thorns. I was stabbed by a couple dozen cactus needles while trying to frame a picture with my camera, and Kathy struggled keep Daniel from touching anything dangerous. Fortunately, a large sandy area with no cacti surrounds the waterfalls. The density of vegetation along our hike surprised me - I expected the desert to be dirt and sand with an occasional cactus, but instead it was filled with green desert plants, and many of them had flowers in bloom.

Today we went to church with Abby and Lincoln and then prepared for our bike trip tomorrow. It's really challenging to pack all the supplies that we need onto our bicycle. I've figured out how to avoid using panniers by attaching items to our bike with bungee cords - that will save us about 9 pounds, and every pound matters.

We could have some big challenges this week. Winds may be more than 20 m.p.h. much of the time, and there's a chance of rain tomorrow. Camping may be tricky because the desert has more large animals than I had thought, including mountain lions and pig-like animals called javelina. We will need to hang our food in trees. Finally, we've heard about lots of bad people that roam the desert at night: drug smugglers bringing marijuana from Mexico, illegal immigrants sneaking across the border, and armed bandits who rob and murder the immigrants. I'm not sure how to weigh the risk that these people create, but we'll try to be careful near the border. Our route will bring us within 2 miles of Mexico.


Near the entrance of Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area.


Kathy tells Daniel not to touch cactus.


The top of a short cactus.


A group of saguaro cacti. The canyon is covered with these cacti, which can grow up to 50 feet tall. Saguaros do not begin to grow branches until they are at least 50 years old, and in very dry areas they may not branch until they are almost 100 years old.


A rattlesnake crossing Bear Creek.


Daniel slept through some of the scenery during our hike up to the waterfalls.


The Bear Canyon Trail ends at a small pool below a series of 5 waterfalls.


Daniel loved throwing rocks and sand into the water, as he always does.

Monday, April 16

Distance: 82.2 miles
Riding time: 6 hours, 39 minutes
Average speed: 12.3 mph
Maximum speed: unknown (computer error)

We traveled much farther than we expected today, and we generally had a great riding day. The southwest winds were predicted to reach 22 m.p.h., but I don't think they ever did. Wind was light when we got started at 8 a.m., and didn't pick up until we were climbing the Santa Rita Mountains near Sonoita. We stopped for lunch at a Sonoita restaurant called The Ranch House, and Daniel charmed every adult who walked by, especially the waitresses. They kept stopping at our table to talk to him. That's pretty good for a restaurant that has signs on the wall saying, "We're waitresses, not babysitters," and "If you can't control your child then leave it outside!"

Daniel did amazingly well during his very long ride. He looked at a little book about cars and trucks, ate snacks, and played with a couple of little toys that we brought along. One toy is a little London bus that my sister gave him - he calls it "school bus." At one point he lost it on the floor of his trailer, and called to it while searching for it. He was lifting up blankets, shoes and bags of food while calling, "School bus? School bus?"


Biking through the flat desert northeast of Green Valley.


Taking a snack break. The Santa Rita Mountains are beyond Kathy in the south.


This picture was taken from the same location as the previous picture, but looking north at the Santa Catalina Mountains instead of south at the Santa Rita's. On this clear morning, the air pollution from Tucson nearly blots out the view of the mountains. The Tucson metro area has a population of about 1 million.


Kathy changes into walking shoes so that we can walk up a long hill north of Sonoita.


The Ranch House Restaurant

We had planned to camp between Sonoita and Tombstone, but as we rode east from Sonoita a tailwind helped us make really good time. We rolled into Tombstone around 6 p.m. and chose to enjoy the conveniences of a private campground: picnic tables, a flat spot to pitch a tent, a bathroom with showers, and a convenient water supply. Tomorrow we'll have easy access to the town of Tombstone, which we've wanted to see. The old part of town is a National Historic Site because it's a good example of an Old West boomtown. Today we saw lots of cacti, mountains and grassland; tomorrow we'll try to see some history.




We entered the Tombstone Hills just west of Tombstone.


A storm moved in behind us after we left Sonoita.

Tuesday, April 17

Distance: 25.4 miles
Riding time: 2 hours, 37 minutes
Average speed: 9.6 mph
Maximum speed: 41.6 mph

We spent our morning walking around Tombstone's historic district, which didn't require much walking - our campground was right next to the historic district, which is only 2 short blocks across. The old courthouse has been converted into a reasonably good museum, but Daniel was being loud and fidgety so it was hard for us to read all the exhibits.

Tombstone was a mining town founded in 1879 after silver was discovered in the surrounding Tombstone Hills. Just 2 years later, in 1881, Tombstone had 5000 residents, 110 saloons and 14 24-hour gambling halls. Due to post-Civil War reconstruction in the South, there were few soldiers available to regulate southern Arizona (then part of the New Mexico Territory,) so the area became mostly lawless. This led to the famous shootout at the O.K. Corral, where city marshal Virgil Earp, his brothers Wyatt and Morgan and their friend Doc Holiday fought members of a cattle rustling group called the Cow-Boys. At the time of the shootout Wyatt Earp was 33, the same age as me. Doc Holiday was only 29. I'm glad that I live in a safer town than those guys did.

Daniel's favorite part of Tombstone was watching the stagecoach trot by once every 10 minutes or so. We ate lunch at "Big Nose Kate's Saloon," named after Doc Holiday's girlfriend, then packed up camp. While we were packing, the woman in the RV parked next to us entertained Daniel by talking with him and showing him her dog. She had no idea how much time she saved us by keeping Daniel busy. When Daniel doesn't want to sit still, chasing him becomes a full-time job and packing up camp takes twice as long.


A stagecoach wheels through historic Tombstone.


Daniel watches the stagecoach go by.


An early tandem bicycle in the Tombstone museum. In the 1880's bicycles became practical investments for ordinary people, since the new designs were easy to ride and cheaper than horses. This tandem is unique because (though you can't see it our photograph) the front and rear handlebars are interlocked, so that either rider can steer the bike. Of course, this could also let a husband and wife fight over which way to turn, and crash as a result. I can only think of one reason for this design - it let the man, who usually sat in back (and would have the rear seat adjusted to his height,) ride the bike around town even if his woman was not with him.


Eating lunch at Big Nose Kate's Saloon.


A stained-glass window at Big Nose Kate's. This window, with its alcohol and playing cards, is one of the more respectable windows. A different window depicted a naked prostitute holding a revolver.

After packing up we set out for Bisbee, 23 miles down the road, and arrived there around 5 p.m. Today's ride included the steepest climb of our whole tour (a few miles of 6% grade,) but it didn't hurt us - we just walked the bike up the hill. Before we even started this tour, Kathy and I had decided to walk the bike in certain places. We are towing a tremendous amount of weight, so walking up the steepest hills avoids a lot of stress on our legs and bottoms.

We found a private campground in Bisbee that is very close to the historic area. Like Tombstone, Bisbee was founded as a mining town, but it grew to be much larger and wealthier than Tombstone. It should be fun to tour in the morning.


A windmill pumps water for cattle at the base of the Mule Mountains.


Pushing our bicycle into the Mule Mountains.


Daniel finds a new toy at our campground. While we set up our tent, Daniel dropped gravel down into this traffic cone. Daniel found new things to play with at every campsite.


The southern end of Bisbee. This end of Bisbee, although hilly, is quite a bit flatter than the rest of Bisbee up in Tombstone Canyon.

Page 1: Green Valley to Bisbee
Page 2: Bisbee back to Green Valley