This was Day Four of my Arizona in Winter 2007 trip.
So we all woke up pretty late this morning and realized that we had a few slight flaws in "Plan C" from the day before. We seemed to have forgotten to add "Eat some dinner" to the list and some how managed to sneak "You gotta try this", and "Disturbing Late Night Karaoke in Scottsdale" onto the list. Sometime around 12:30PM we bid Troy a farewell, and started testing the speed rating of my truck tires for most of the way to Tucson. On the drive out we discussed ride options as well as available daylight while flipping through our guide book. We decided on the 50 Year Trail that is just north of Tucson on the western base of the Catalina Mountains.
Directions: Located about 20 miles north or downtown Tucson, you will take Oracle Road to East Golder Ranch Road, hang a right and follow the road east 3.7 miles until it turns to dirt. Or just Mapquest It! The trailhead is a dirt lot just short of a cattle guard. Once on your bike, cross the cattle guard and pick up the singletrack of the other side of the road and head north.
We rode the 50 year trail from the Golder Ranch Area northward and did the Chutes and Deer Camp Loop. Most of the lower portion of the trail system is a fairly tame and down right fun with lots of various types of cactus, particularly the giant saguaros that provide both great scenery and a means to help keep the singletrack single as blowing the line can really be a pain.
The 50 year trail itself is well marked and from the parking lot it serendipitously winds back and forth along the hill contours. You never really spend to much time climbing at all. If you stick to following the signs in about five or so miles of traveling northward the singletrack will merge out onto the end of an old road and an area known as the chutes.
The chutes are bunch of roller coaster style single tracks that loop around and come back to the end of this dirt road. You can go around and around and back and front until you have done all the whoop de doing you want. When you are ready to move on, take any trail or split that heads uphill and north or northeast. At first the trail is quite steep but it soon mellows out a bit. While I'm not sure, I think this is the Deer Camp loop.
Whatever the name of this trail is I was really digging it. The trail sees a lot less use than the trails below the chutes and the trail features started moving away from the mostly buff stuff from below to a little more rugged and twisty trail. The trail still continued north and uphill for about a couple of miles. It then turned to the east and transitioned over to a higher ridgeline before turning to the south. From here there are some really fun technical bits. These bits are not the kind where you are going to split your head open and die if you blow it, more like the kind that can be quite tricky and you might end up with some minor flesh wounds and cactus punctures. It was not all downhill fun and games as there was one wipe-the-smile-off-your-face technical climb in middle to kept us honest. After that climb it was yippee time again as we enjoyed rollers and fast twisty technical bits that were most likely shorter than it seemed before we came off the ridge to the west and crossed a wash. From the wash we climbed to a junction with the signed 50 Year Trail.
From here we retraced our steps back to the trailhead, sorta. During the course of screaming along the trail we blew right by the little connector trail that goes off of the 50 Year Trail up to the trailhead where we parked. We continued south towards Catalina State Park. It is four miles from the Golder Ranch trailhead to the state park and we are pretty sure we covered at least half of that. Oh, well we had to ride more really nice singletrack back to the truck.
Once back at the truck and enjoying our last microbrews to have survived the trip we got to witness a truly awesome sunset. Luckily I had a tripod stashed in my truck and I put it to good use. There was a magical two or three minutes when the sun dipped below the clouds and painted the Catalina Mountains with the most incredible red and purple hues as we watched the sunlight walk up the mountain and light up the entire range. It was over far too quickly as no sooner than the light danced up the mountainside the dusky shadows followed behind it. It was a breath taking vertical light parade and the pictures here did little to capture the moment.
After sunset we went into Tucson to Mike's house where we would be staying for the night. Mike and Jerry have been friends for over 20 years. We all went out for dinner that night and had some great Mexican food and good conversation. Thankfully this was very calm night in comparison to the previous nights on the trip.