postheadericon Riding SoAZ Part III (NW Tucson)

As you look at the west side of Tucson on a map, you’ll see that a large section of that area is shaded differently than the rest of the map.

View Tucson Mtn Park in a larger map
This is a combination of  Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park-West. It you like hiking, it is a wonderful area, representing many miles of trails.

Tucson Mountain Park only has three paved roads that cut through it; Gates Pass Blvd, Kinney Rd and Picture Rocks Rd. These are all great riding roads, if a bit short. The way these roads cross the park does make for excellent loop possibilities through and around it. Since we’re already in the south part of Tucson, we’ll start with Kinney Road. Kinney crosses the park diagonally and connects Ajo and Sandario for a ride that is 12 miles of fun. It twists and turns its way past Old Tucson Studios and the world famous AZ-Sonoran Desert Museum. If you are visiting Tucson, both are great destinations, although I prefer the Desert Museum.
About halfway along Kinney, you’ll intersect Gates Pass Blvd, which is the most challenging of the roads through the park, particularly on the west side of the pass itself. I think most people get to Gates Pass  from Speedway Blvd. Speedway actually becomes Gates Pass when you cross Camino de Oeste Road. (Here’s where it happens.)
There is a great park at the top of the pass where you can hike and take some awesome pics. The descent down the west side of the pass can be quite dangerous if you don’t watch your speed. It’s a fairly steep grade with a couple of tight corners. It is further complicated by large numbers of bicyclists, particularly on the weekends. Please watch for bikes.

The final road road through the park is Picture Rocks. It is short but is another important part in shorter, scenic loops around the west side. Advisory – if you are riding east on Picture Rocks, there is a downhill, decreasing radius, left hand sweeper which we like to call “Scooter Killer Curve.” It’s 3-4 curves after you crest the hill and is responsible for at least two scooter crashes of which I am aware.

Just north of Picture Rocks, we reach the northwest corner of our “Tucson Square.” As previously mentioned, it is here that you will find the Marana Regional Airport. There is another nice little diner here as well. I thinks it’s called Rick’s and they don’t have a webpage. Feel free to add a comment if I’m wrong on either count. There are two nice little roads to turn back to the east from here; Avra Valley Road, which is in front of the airport and is the most direct route to I-10 and Twin Peaks Road which is about 2 miles south on Sandario.

Twin Peaks becomes Silverbell and is a good way to return to Tucson proper. In the near future, Twin Peaks will cross I-10 and will connect to Camino de Marana, but construction is still underway.

I-10 is a major feature on the west side of town. This far north, there aren’t a lot of options to get over or under it. There is, however, a nice frontage road that runs along its length. Be advised, though, that there is a lot of construction around Marana to widen I-10 and make more overpasses so the frontage road stops and starts in different sections, depending on where they are working at the time. To cross I-10 from this far north, your options are Tangerine, which is about 2 miles north of Avra Valley via I-10 or the frontage road which is 2-way and runs on the west side of the interstate. Your other option is to take Silverbell south to Cortaro Farms or a bit further to Ina Rd.

All three of these roads will eventually take you to Oracle Road (our eastern border of the west side if you remember all the way back to the 5th paragraph of the previous post.) Riding around this entire area is fun. There aren’t a lot of destinations or particularly hilly or remarkably twisty roads but it is picturesque. You cannot ride into the Santa Catalina mountains from this part of town either. There is a lot of fun to be had here with smaller displacement bikes, particularly 50cc’s. I encourage you to ride out here and just wander around the various roads.  The northwest area is still sparsely populated, so, like the southwest section, there isn’t a lot of traffic here either.

Advisory – When riding on the smaller roads, particularly in hilly areas, be aware of washes. DO NOT attempt to cross them if they are running with water. Also, if it has rained recently there may be sand and rocks in the road. Like this:

Oracle Road is also Route 77 when you’re going north and is the non-interstate gateway to Phoenix as well as Globe and Northern AZ. Stay tuned for a future segment about Route 77 and its potential. Oracle southbound returns you to the downtown area.

No discussion of this part of town is complete without a mention of Roller Coaster Road. Roller Coaster starts on the west side of Oracle about a half-mile south of Orange Grove. I have included Roller Coaster on a couple of group rides. As the name implies, it has a series of short, sharp twists, turns, drops and climbs. It’s worth the time it takes to ride it but alas and alack only the first mile has the great twisties.

Ride Maps in the west side:

  1. Gates Pass Loop, around through Picture Rocks, past “Scooter Killer Curve.” If you’re a novice rider, do this loop counter clockwise. Both Scooter Killer Curse and Gates Pass are easier this way. Go clockwise when you want a bot more of a challenge. It includes the McCain Loop behind the Desert Museum.
  2. Mission Loop – 44 miles and takes you past San Xavier and over Gates Pass. It includes Camino de Oeste where you get to see this:
  3. Starr Pass, “A” Mountain Loop – 20 miles, Good for novices and 50cc bikes. There are great views from both Starr Pass and Sentinel Peak. This route also takes you by Pat’s Drive-in where you’ll find great chili-dogs.
  4. Double Airfield Loop – 90 mile loop, great for novice riders interested in a longish ride. This map includes Roller Coaster Road as a finale.

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One Response to “Riding SoAZ Part III (NW Tucson)”

  • Jenni:

    Yes, that Scooter Killer Curve almost got me the first time we went that way — scared me half to death. It’s not nearly so bad going east to west.

    Incidentally, just to the east of the Scooter Killer Curve is the Redemptorist Renewal Center and Our Lady of the Desert Church, a place you might care to visit — or attend Mass or stay in the hermitage for a bit. There are some petroglyphs on the property worth checking out, and a hiking trail/stations of the cross that you can visit while there. I’ve attended a couple retreats there, and I’d LOVE to spend some time in the hermitage writing sometime.

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