Mountain Biking In Tucson
After Borrego Springs we were really itching to get some mountain biking in. We still had about 2 weeks before we had to be in Jackson, WY so we decided to detour east over to Tucson, AZ to ride. While neither of us had ridden in Tucson, we heard it had pretty good trails.
We arrived at our boondocking location at Snyder Hill around sunset and were initially turned off by the look of the place. It wasn’t the typical BLM land that we were used to – large and scenic piece of public land with either few or far away neighbors. Snyder Hill was a small plot of land filled with RVs, van dwellers and tent campers. It kind of looked like a trailer park. But as it’s always the case when we judge a book by its cover – we quickly realized how wrong we were. Sure this wasn’t the most beautiful spot we’ve boondocked, but it was safe, close to town and mountain biking trails, and we ended up making some wonderful new friends and hanging out with “old” friends.
Peggy and Bernie of Places and Platypie were the first people we met while we were scouting out a site. They came by the next day with questions about the Toaster; we hit it off and spent some great time together. Peggy and Bernie are professional photographers and were able to help me out a lot with my Lightroom and photography related questions.
Then we met the Road It Up and Girouette Mobile crew. Although Road It Up technically consists of Cat, JF, and their three daughters (Aïsha, Mara, and Mathilde), they also travel with Jennifer, Karl, and their three kids (Sarah, Ellie, and David) who they met on the road. So I kind of consider all of them as Road It Up (Cat takes amazing photos and documents their life on the road beautifully through their website). Isabelle, Martin and their son Alex of Girouette Mobile meets up with them on the road. Their love for the outdoors was the first thing that drew us to them. Their vehicles are loaded with mountain bikes, they’re avid rock climbers, and pretty much love all things outdoors. As we spent time together in the sun, over bonfires and food, we realized how much we had in common and enjoyed one another’s company.
Rene and Jim of Live Work Dream came and stayed at Snyder Hill before heading to an RV park in downtown Tucson. We had connected with them initially via email and then briefly met them in person when we were at Slab City. I love how we actually met in person: Rene had written a story about the Toaster in Do It Yourself RV and recognized us when we drove by their boondocking site at Slab City. Without us realizing at the time, she ran out after us as we drove by towing the Toaster and then she messaged us. After we turned around and returned past their site again, we were stopped by a guy in a van who said to us, “Hey, there’s a lady chasing after you.” Curious and a little worried, we stopped and got out of the truck to see Rene running after us, and Jim on his bike riding towards us. They introduced themselves, told us this story and we shared a bunch of laughs. Luckily we were able to spend more time with them at Snyder Hill and they are tons of fun.
We were also able to meet up with Kyle and Olivia of Drivin’ and Vibin’ who we had connected with over Instagram and met for the first time at Borrego Springs. Time was spent together over bonfires with Road It Up and Places and Platypie. Olivia has the greatest Alabama accent and they have the coolest Etsy store, The Wooden Earth, that I highly encourage you to check out. Through The Wooden Earth, they are able to support their nomadic lifestyle.
After calling Snyder Hill home for two weeks, we recommend the place and would definitely stay there again. Being around great people helps.
To get mountain biking trail suggestions, we do what we always do – hit up friends who are familiar with the area and visit bike shops. We got more trail names than we had time to ride. Some trails were a bit longer of a drive away than we preferred or were too long for our 4 hour outdoor activity limit because Tybee has to go out and pee every 4 hours. But we rode what we could.
Tucson Mountain Park
As far as I could see, these tall tree-like saguaro cacti stood with their arms stretched out in dance-like positions.
There are so many interesting facts about saguaro cactus: they can be so slow growing that a 10 year old plant could be only 1.5 in. tall, but they eventually grow to be 40 – 60 ft. in height; they live to be 150 – 200 years old; when a saguaro cactus is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3,200- 4,800 pounds; they grow their first arm when they’re between 75 – 100 years old, or never grow one at all; the woody ribs that are left behind after they die can be used to build roofs, fences and even parts of furniture; and native birds live inside holes in saguaros – once the cactus dies the callus dries up as a “saguaro boot” and Native Americans used this as a water canteen.
It was difficult to keep my eyes off the scenery so that I didn’t bike into a saguaro or even worse, a cholla.
Some of the trails at Tucson Mountain Park were narrow and lined on both sides various types and sizes of cacti that we had to tuck our elbows and knees in to avoid brushing against. If you like technical trails, check out Cat Mountain trail. The best way to ride it is southbound (towards Robles Junction) but since we like technical climbs, we rode it the reverse way.
360 Vista trail is the most technical section of Robles Junction. There were a lot of loose rocks on that trail, but it was fun and totally rideable. The rest of the trails are smoother and pretty fast (as most trails seem to be in the area). Robles Junction and Tucson Mountain Park are both very close to Snyder Hill.
We did a short ride at Sweetwater Preserve with Isabelle, Martin and Alex. The trails here were smooth, fast, and mostly beginner friendly (the trails we did). The Spine trail was super fun but not as friendly to those who just started mountain biking.
Honeybee Canyon & Ridgeline Loop
This loop came highly recommended and we were set on riding it before leaving the area. At 26 miles total, it was also one of the longer loops in the area. Our ride ended up being 30 miles because we kept getting lost in the Honeybee Canyon section. There wasn’t any signage on those trails but there are many side trails created by cattle, other (lost?) cyclists, and hikers. But to people who don’t know the area, those trails just confused the heck out of us. MTB Project actually really helped us when we got lost here because using their app we were able to see where we were on the map using GPS and satellite.
Honeybee Canyon is fast and smooth, while the Ridgeline section has some good climbs, fun downhills, and a couple of technical sections. The Ridgeline loop (which includes Wild Burro trail) brings riders up to 4,000 ft. with expansive views of the Tortolita Mountains and Oro Valley.
Tucson Gem and Mineral Show
Jerud’s grandparents, Helen and Don, spend winters in Tucson. They took great care of us while we were in town and we enjoyed spending time with them. Helen is full of energy and Don has all these great stories to share. Helen brought us to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show (we had to go check out this well-known event) and she also gave us passes to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
The gem and mineral show was a wowzer! We only visited one location of the show and that alone was overwhelming. So many varieties of beads, gems, minerals, jewelry! I tried to take a jewelry class, but the one I really wanted was cancelled.
When we got to the Arizona-Sonora Museum, I was surprised to find out that it was also a zoo. I’m not a big fan of zoos because of the animal’s quality of life, where the animals come from, etc. When I asked one of the docents about the museum and the animals, her answer was less than satisfying. It wasn’t until I was chatting with Jennifer that I learned the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is rated one of the top zoos in the country and does conservation work. I recently researched the museum and found that it’s accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. My quick take away from what I read is that accredited zoos and aquariums implement sustainable practices and actively participate in conservation, reintroduction programs and education. But I’m not expert in this field so please don’t take my word. While we enjoyed our time at the museum, we’re glad we didn’t pay for our visit. My favorite part was the hummingbird aviary, but while the cacti garden did a wonderful job displaying a wide variety of plants, I would have liked more information about cactus in general.
Drive up to Gates Pass. The view there is a must-see! We may be in the desert in Tucson, but the city is surrounded by mountains. There are also some trails to hike on in the Gates Pass area and it’s a popular amongst road cyclists.
We really enjoyed our time in Tucson and hope to get back in the area to get to more outdoor stuff that we didn’t have time for on this trip. While dog restriction on trails is always an issue, in Tucson dogs were restricted from majority of the trails.