64.75 Miles; 3,471 Feet of Gain; Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch of the National Audubon Society to Green Valley, AZ
Morning arrived hard and frosty. The inside of the shelter was absolutely caked in layers of solid condensation. Janna and I knew the day would be the coldest of the three, with highs in the mid-50s only. Thus, we stumbled out of the shelter, sat in the casita making breakfast, and then rolled out as the Sun's weak rays spread across the grasslands.
It was utterly cold as we pedaled towards the Whetstone Mountains and the town of Elgin. We reached Elgin and still found it too cold to shed much of any layer. Ahead, a pack of javelinas with their babies tarried along the roadside edge before leaping a small fence into adjoining golden grass fields. We reached the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area by mid0morning and took in the washed-out views of the distant Santa Ritas rising up the grassy plains. But this time, the route had changed. Sarah Swallow (route creator) had shifted the traverse of the area away from some private property and onto type-B paved backroads. We spun casually through the large ranches with expansive porches looking out over the landscape until we reached the highway.
Here, the route took us up Santa Rita Road and along a beeline-direct path towards the mountains proper. The view was simply stunning with the snow-streaked peaks tumbling outstretched across grassy flanks. I kept stopping to take pictures; this new route direction was far more scenic then simply heading up towards Kentucky Camp as it used to. As we entered scrub-oak hills, the track began to get chunky and eroded. We did a few hike-a-bikes up to a scenic swath of doubletrack that nicely paralleled the distant peaks with red dirt under wheel and blue sky reaching above. From here, the 4WD road moved west to east along the feet of the mountain, dropping down quick and steep descents before crawling up adjoining hills on repeat. I absolutely loved this roller coast approach - it kept me attentive and looking everywhere at the new crevices of landscape that were new to me. We passed along several dry washes crowded with sycamore canopies before reaching the original route that wrapped towards Box Canyon.
Box Canyon seemed dual-toned in yellow and tan. Spring had yet to provide any significant plant growth leaving the road dusty and beigy in appearance. We sped down Box Canyon and the sandy backroads through State Land. The roads were dramatically improved and the sand either packed or removed entirely. It was our fastest time down this section before we tumbled down into Green Valley back to our car. It was only mid-afternoon so we shouldered up the gear and drove to Tucson for an awesome meal at El Charro before driving back to the Grand Canyon.