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A group of Tucson cycling friends rode a loop from Patagonia to the U.S. Mexico border and back to Patagonia recently. The loop is 50 miles, about 40 of it on dirt roads. It takes in mining ghost towns nestled in oak covered hills, and a broad expanse of high grassland ranches.
Halfway through the ride, we visited the border and inspected the relatively new vehicle barrier fence. It is made up of cut and welded railroad ties and rolls across the undulating valley like a row of carefully placed pick-up jacks.
I like that it stops vehicles, capable of carrying large loads of drugs or illegals, without hindering the free flow of wildlife.
The route is on Forest Service roads, very well maintained, but a challenge for some with skinnier tires. A road bike would not survive the trip, but two cross bikes did fine. There was one tire casualty. We rode Zippy, our touring tandem without difficulty.
This ride gives the workout of a longer ride on paved roads, with the upper body workout of a non-technical mountain bike ride, the best of both worlds. There is almost no traffic and the silence is a welcome change from city riding. The San Rafael Valley is surrounded by mountain ranges: Patagonia Mountains on the west, Canelo Hills on the northwest, and the Santa Rita Mountains to the north.
This is the West of imagination, the Marlboro Man leaning on his saddle horn surveying his herd. The valley is a favorite movie location.
The graded dirt road passes through or near the ghost towns (not all are abandoned) of Hershaw, Washington Camp, Duquesne and descends to the valley at Lochiel, where much of the land is in large ranch holdings.
Ranches in this part of Arizona are commonly in the thousands of acres.
The valley is a wide expanse of treeless grass with a few cattle and ranch houses in the distance. The riding is sublime and in spring and fall, cold in winter, hot in summer. Plan accordingly. Note that there is no water along the route.