Bikepacking the Sky Islands West Loop
The Sky Islands occupy parts of southeastern Arizona and are a unique and much-studied ecosystem. The Sky Islands West Loop is a 170-mile route that starts and ends in Patagonia, AZ and travels through fantastic and remote landscapes. Bikepacking the Sky Islands West Loop was our goal for our Christmas vacation since Covid was in full swing and we didn’t want to risk family gatherings.
Day 1 – 22.28 miles
We got a bit of a late start out of Patagonia, per usual, and headed up into the Patagonia Mountains. The route starts out through a beautiful canyon, where the grades aren’t too steep. The road up to Mount Washington is fairly gradual but definitely a long steady climb.
Coming down the other side of Mt. Washington, however, was crazy steep and loose. We slid out a couple times and then decided to just walk our bikes. Andrew had a full wipe out and broke his headlight mount, but luckily was able to work something out with zip ties.
We camped shortly after coming down the steepest section, as the days were short and it was already getting dark. We set up camp in a flat spot right off the corner of a curve in the road.
Day 2 – 38.12 miles
We descended from the mountains and crossed the highway, taking a short detour to stock up on food at the travel stop. After heading into the Coronado National Forest, we joined up with Ruby Road, which is a beautiful ride through cactus gardens and gorgeous rolling hills. This area is known to be a migrant crossing corridor, but we didn’t see anyone out there when we were passing through.
We found a peaceful cottonwood grove to camp in near the edge of the National Forest. There were several loud vehicles passing by in the middle of the night and we were kind of freaked out since we had illegal trafficking on our mind, but we were hidden from view of passing traffic.
Day 3 – 43.27 miles
We resupplied at the grocery store in Ariavaca around midday then headed toward the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge. Andrew saw a bobcat almost immediately after we crossed into the wildlife refuge, so, it’s working! We had a great sunset on our ride through the first part of the refuge, then we filled up our water at the headquarters and found a nice flat spot to camp shortly after.
Day 4 – 50 miles
The morning started out with us watching a hawk that had perched right near our campsite. It was very regal in the winter light. We had a flat, speedy ride through the refuge in the morning and enjoyed the grasslands and amazing views of Baboquivari Peak.
The grocery store in Amado was closed when we were there, but there was a filtered water machine outside that we filled up at. We biked a bit further toward the Santa Rita Mountains before calling it a day.
Day 5 – 29.29 miles
This was a challenging day due to the fact that it was Saturday and the Santa Rita Mountains are pretty popular with 4×4 enthusiasts. There was a train of Jeeps that we kept leap frogging to the point of ridiculousness. We’d let them pass us, then they’d stop somewhere to party and we’d pass them, and back and forth. The scenery was awesome but the Jeep song and dance definitely bummed us out.
About 5 miles from Patagonia, Jenny had a huge wipe-out in some loose gravel on the inside of a corner. Luckily it happened close to town, and Andrew sprayed the bits of gravel out with a Sawyer syringe. Quite a way to end the trip!