47.44 Miles; 2,684 Feet of Gain; Las Cienegas National Conservation Area to Green Valley, AZ
The night descended as cold as the night prior. In our shelter, Janna and I wrapped up and slept well. Kate and Sean cowboy camped and woke up to frost coating their bags and groundtarps. As soon as that sun hit the horizon, we all unzipped, climbed out, and got moving for warmth. A waning gibbous moon sat high in the sapphire blue sky as we pedaled across the golden grasslands. We sped along the dirt and pavement quickly, hitting pavement, passing through ranch-style homes, and then crossing the highway to head up Santa Rita Road.
Ever since the route changed to take Santa Rita Road, I've absolutely loved this visual approach to the namesake range. The road is gorgeous and cut along the ridge of a foothill. The grasses are expansive, the range dark and stark against it all. We soon reached the rocky ascent into the scrubland of oak and wash-sycamore. Sean raced and rode up every babyhead-filled portion while Kate, Janna, and I took on the hike-a-bike approach. Yet, the temperatures were perfect so I enjoyed the time taken to seize in every view.
We then began the roller coaster up-and-downs along a southern parallel with the Santa Ritas. Every wash was filled with water leaving me stunned compared to the dry conditions in the spring. At a particularly large creek crossing, sagging orange boughs of autumn sycamore leaves patterned the canopy while white bark starkly contrasted with striped shadow. Sean reported that he had never ridden all of this section, and he was stoked to see the beauty new-to-him. He gracefully sped down steep screen doubletrack and eroded dirt road that the rest of us three walked instead. By midday, we were pulling out into Box Canyon, which Sean said he had never ridden. As the gentle curves led to the penultimate downhill, Box Canyon opened up fully revealing the ecotome between the high desert grasslands and the lower Sonoran, complete with fall leaves colored and hanging from cottonwoods and sycamores along its wash. We sped down thrillingly into the canyon and back towards Green Valley.
Once out of the Box, we jumped on the dirt roads riding through Arizona State Trust Land. The route expectedly decayed into sand that we all pedaled downhill through as fast as possible. The sand was in the best of conditions - shallow and well-packed. It didn't mean I didn't tumble once or twice while fishtailing through it all. We got back to our cars in Green Valley by late afternoon. Sean and Kate decided to go pickup Icees in Tucson, while Janna and I began the long drive back north to the Grand Canyon.