Sky Islands Odyssey (East Loop) - Day 3 - Re-owning Bikepacking: Down Box Canyon back to Green Valley
After a perfect night’s sleep in the Audubon casita in great temperatures, Janna and I awoke early for a big-mile day. Once again, I felt great both physically and mentally, proving that my two mantras/mindsets/approaches to bikepacking were paying off. Compared to last year, the temperature was MUCH more mild and well above freezing as compared to before.
The morning held high cirrus clouds to mark our starts. Before we knew it, we were speeding down gravel towards the “button” mountain and swinging into Babacomari Ranch property. We spilled out onto the biggest paved section, passing through the heart of Elgin and cycling about 10 miles of road through vineyards and ranches. Beautiful high bunch prairie grass spilled like an ocean to the gentle curves of the Earth’s horizon.
We crossed the Sonoita-Patagonia Highway and crossed over into Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. One of my favorite areas to gravel ride, we rode through miles and miles of grasslands punctuated by yucca stalks and acacia stands. The Santa Ritas rose up as we swept down towards the road to Kentucky Camp. By now, the day had heated up so we sat under a large Arizona Oak with orange leaves, but providing good shade. We began the long climb up and up until we got to Kentucky camp. We stocked up on water and sat on Adirondack chairs under the wraparound awning porch of the historic mining building. The local caretaker invited me out back to see a rattlesnake curled up next to the back door on the wood floorboards. A few AZT southbound thru-hikers straggled in where we exchanged trail stories and conditions of our spring trip vs. their fall push. We snacked and drank water for a good solid hour and half before we pushed off into the Coronado National Forest. We biked up the flanks of Santa Ritas before spilling down sharp, steep, and curving switchbacks past mining claims before we reached the entrance descent of Box Canyon.
Janna and I were both surprised by how quickly we passed through this area as the year prior it had taken us all day with tremendous effort. This time we felt strong, confident, experienced, and playful. We started to head down Box Canyon where the wash overspilled with the golden spread of fall leaves. We flew. The descent was fast and fun providing the same expansive views out of the mountains into the basin zones below. Exiting the canyon, we caught a right onto rough doubletrack that became hewn singletrack and then dissolved into miles of deep-sanded wash. We remembered this sandy section from last year. We picked up speed, set our lines straight, and cranked it hard to float over the fishtailing sand. What had felt last year like punishing terrain this year felt like a hilarious game to win or laugh when you simply sank in the sand and fell over in it. Exiting the sand felt again surprising for the speed of finishing that section.
We skimmed along the pavement that upwards took drivers to Madera Canyon, but downwards led us to Green Valley. Houses began appearing along the periphery of the national forest boundary until we crossed under the I-10 and were back in the heart of the city. A few urban blocks of riding brought us to the hotel with our car parked safely in the back of the lot. We were there by 4 pm with PLENTY of time to spare. I felt strong, happy, and definitely like the joy of bikepacking has been re-won or re-birthed; it made me hungry to head back out on the Great Divide to explore some more wilderness. Bikes loaded up, we caught some food at the local Mexican restaurant before heading back north to Phoenix.