46.40 Miles; 2,692 Feet of Gain; Patagonia, AZ to Las Cienegas National Conservation Area
A cold night combined with condensation left us frost-born come morning. Javelina spent the night sniffing along our tent and digging around the area, so I was woken up several times. But at first light, I mustered the spirit to dawn some warm clothes and climb out of our the iced-interiored shelter into the day. The four of us had agreed to meet downtown early this morning for breakfast at Gatherin' Grounds before embarking out into the grasslands. I stashed the ice-crisp shelter quickly on the bike and we spun to the heart of Patagonia. The sun was now fully out, so I quickly unlashed the tent and draped it across wooden posts in the town center in an attempt to dry it while we waited for Sean and Kate.
It turned out that their night was even colder, delaying their arrival to after Janna and I had placed our breakfast orders. After a lingering morning, we all stocked up on some supplies for the next two days and pushed out to Harshaw Road. Autumn was in full-swing, and every cottonwood along the washes and creeks was in full splendid yellow arrangements brushed with orange. The miles passed easily and we popped out into the golden yellow grasslands Janna and I love so much. Kate was impressed with the beauty of the grass ocean while Sean told us stories of bikepackers he had explored the area with.
The four of us took our sweet times to soak up the sun and leisurely ride through the gramma-waves before climbing up and over Canelo Pass. Usually, Janna and I would head to the Audubon Society, but unfortunately, just a month before, the current director departed from the Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch, and the board/current acting director moved quickly to close the area to all bikepackers. It was a devasting loss, and I would argue, a terrible public-relations breakdown between diverse stakeholders groups commonly interested in the biodiversity of the area. Janna and I had stayed on that property for so many trips, it saddened us that one of the most gorgeous and iconic portions of the route was now off-limits.
Instead, we took the paved alternate that carried us around the Audubon Ranch along an unshouldered highway into the center of Elgin. From here, we stayed on pavement to loop around the private ranches of the area before embarking across doubletrack stretching across the outer fringes of Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. With the afternoon light fading to early evening, the four of us rode into golden hour as sun slant lit up the grasslands. I had researched a designated camping area within the NCA which would serve as our stop for the day. We found the area stunning for views of the distant Santa Ritas, especially enhanced by the dripping glow of sunset embers lighting the sky's clouds into bands of reds, yellows, and blue hatching. It turned out to be one of the most beautiful sunsets and evenings I had ever experienced on the route.