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postheadericon Arizona Highways – From Article to Actuality

I have subscribed to Arizona Highways magazine for years. The pictures are phenomenal. One of the parts I most enjoy is the “Scenic Drive” segment located near the back of the magazine. I get some great ideas for rides from it. This month (October, 2011) there is a full piece entitled “One for the Roads.” It details ten scenic drives located in various areas around the state. Number 5 is Mescal Road.

Any road deemed “scenic” by the staff of Arizona Highways is one I want to ride, especially if it is fairly close to home. So, I decided to give it a go. The Accessibility part states “A high-clearance vehicle is recommended” so, naturally, I knew I would be fine. (I know, Ron, these scooters weren’t made for this, but I can’t help myself.)

Mescal Road starts at Exit #297 off of Interstate 10, approximately 40 miles east of Tucson. Anyone who has read more than a couple of blog entries here, knows how I feel about travelling via interstate, so my first planning act was to plot a route to Mescal Rd that used little or no interstate. Doing this, also helped me find another great road.

I knew that I could take the access road near Vail to the Route 83/Sonoita Highway Exit. That would get me 15 miles from Exit 297. I looked closer and saw that the access road become Marsh Station Road continues all the way to the Marsh Station Exit (#291) of I-10. That got me just 6 miles from Mescal Rd, with the added bonus of riding a stretch of road I had never ridden before. Excellent!

I packed up my camera and the Go-Pro and headed out on a recent day off. I rode out to Vail, fueled up and bought an extra large gatorade. (I forgot my hydration pack at home and wanted to have SOMETHING in the scoot in case I broke down in the middle of nowhere again.

great Bridge on Marsh Station Rd

Marsh Station Road is a hidden treasure. Road quality is fair. There are lots of cracks and a few potholes, quite a few of which were recently repaired. Marsh Station is a winding road with a lot of rollers. It also takes you over a beautiful old bridge, where you get a view of the railroad. I was fortunate to catch a train going past, just as I got there.

Agua Verde Castle

A little further along Marsh Station, you get a pretty good view of Agua Verde (aka DuPont) Castle. I have seen the castle from I-10 and have wanted to get a closer view, so this was a treat.

The Marsh Station overpass is brand new, so about a half mile from the bridge, I was riding on brand new asphalt. I hopped on I-10 and cruised the 6 miles to Mescal Road. By the way, the road quality of I-10 in this segment is appalling. It has many potholes and it is generally rough riding.

This is the movie set “town” of Mescal

Closed to the public, bah!

The community of Mescal is located at Exit 297/ I think it is unincorporated. there is gas and food available here if you need it. The name, Mescal, can be misleading though, because it is also the name of the old west movie set three miles north of I-10 on Mescal Road. The set is owned by Old Tucson Studios and has been used in quite a few western movies including The Quick and the Dead, with Gene Hackman. This is another place that I have seen from I-10 and always wanted to get a closer look. Mescal Road gets you within about a half mile from the set. There was a big sign stating “Closed to the Public” the day I was there, so I took a few pics and continued my adventure.

That is sand piled up on the side of the road, and it’s still deep on the roadway.

The pavement on Mescal Road, ends at the road to Mescal, the movie set. For the first mile or so, the dirt road is wide, smooth and well maintained. That quickly changed. I crossed a couple of very large patches of deep sand. Road width fluctuates drastically and quickly. I started thinking that this ride would take a very long time since there were place where I was going less than 10mph and was dodging large rocks.

Some Riparian area for your enjoyment

About 8 miles along, I pulled off to the side of the road and attached the Go-Pro to the front of the bike. I figured dodging big rocks and “swimming” through deep sand would make for decent video. As luck would have it, road quality improved quite a bit as I rode along. I was still dirt road, but the large sandy areas were gone, as were big rocks in the road. The scenery was very nice, though. The road climbs about 2000 feet, to a max elevation of about 4500 feet.

Once I entered the Coronado National Forest boundary, I began seeing tents and campers. Most of the people I saw were dressed in camouflage, so I assume it was hunting season for some kind of critter or another.

Desert or Prairie?

The road follows a couple of stream beds (none of which were flowing) which create some nice riparian areas with unique flora and fauna. There were entrances to a couple of ranches as well along with some horse and cows.

I followed the road for about 20 miles and enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of this high desert area. The road began getting more and more narrow. Eventually I came to a gate and turned around. The gate had a sign that read “Please close the gate behind you” so I could have kept going, but the road beyond the gate looked more like trail than road.

I was more confident in my riding on the way out, so I pickedup my speed a bit and tried to get up “on top” of the washboards. I did smooth out the ride a bit, but slowing down to make the sharper corners was interesting. so I kept my speed around 25mph. I took the exact same route back home as I had used on the way out.\

I got a little too confident, however. I was zipping along around 30mph, hit the bottom of a little hill and the Go-Pro popped off the bike and into the dirt. I quickly turned around to survey the damage. The camera had come out of the protective case, the back cover came off and the battery flew out. It took me a couple of minutes, but I found everything. I was afraid the camera was damaged, but it worked fine when I got it home.

Here is the edited video and some pics that I shot during this ride. You may have seen this before. It’s the same video I posted about a week ago.

This was an enjoyable ride. I don’t know that I would “highly” recommend it though. I seen prettier scenery in quite a few places. If I’m going to punish myself and my bike, I can think of better dirt roads to ride as well. Marsh Station is a pretty cool little ride, but it goes nowhere and it’s not very long.

Here is the ride map of this little ride.

Info from My Tracks:

  • Total Distance: 75 miles
  • Avg Speed: 31 mph
  • Max Elev: 4,470 ft
  • Min Grade: 8.5%
  • Max grade: 19.8%
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