Saturday, March 13, 2010

Three Bridges South

The Arizona Trail south of Three Bridges is probably what most riders have in mind when they think of "cross-country mountain biking:" swoopy, flowing singletrack with few serious obstacles beyond some mild climbs, and an occasional rock or trailside cactus. I took the geared 29er, but would have been just as comfortable on the 26" singlespeed.

Easy doesn't necessarily mean boring. About two miles from the trailhead the route crosses I-10. Underneath I-10, via a concrete culvert-tunnel. At the midpoint of the culvert, there's a skylight of sorts; a drain grate that must open out somewhere in the desert median of the highway.

South of the interstate, the trail wanders vaguely south and west through corrugated desert terrain before crossing highway 83. West of 83 and north of Sahuarita Road it staggers from barrel cactus to stunted tree to prickly pear along a drunken cow path. Soon enough, it pops across the pavement and heads into the foothills of the northern Santa Ritas.

I kept waiting for my luck to run out, for the trail to become rocky and difficult like some of the stuff further south. But smooth hardpack prevailed.

At a large cattle pond I stopped to watch some swifts dive and skim the surface of the water. Tried for a picture, but they aren't called "swift" for nothing. Ocotillos are more cooperative subjects, so I took a shot of one of those instead.

I covered 15 miles in 2-1/2 hours, reaching a gully crossing WNW of Blacktail Tank where it appeared that the trail was going to finally get down to business. Since it was lunchtime, I decided to make that my turn-back point. Sat on a large, flat rock and ate a banana, some cookies and a cheese stick.

The return trip was faster, owing to the generally downhill trend of the trail: My lunch rock was at 4400 feet elevation, while Three Bridges parking is a thousand feet lower. Stats for the day: 29.6 miles and about 2600 climbing-feet roundtrip.

Driving toward home on Marsh Station Road I passed through a low, well-watered bosque-y area where spring was starting to take hold. Emerald-green fuzz carpeted the mud in the shade of skeptical, bare mesquite trees. I stopped and took a picture for no reason other than to record that amazing green. When I got home, I found this playful shadow in one of the pics--looks to me like stick-man Tai-Chi.

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