Starr Pass … Some Beautiful Riding in Tucson Mountain Park
Starr Pass? I had read about how terribly rocky the trails were. I didn’t find that to be the case … until the bottom of Cat Mountain.
I had posted on the Tucson MTB site that I was going to be visiting Tucson (to see my daughter Alissa) for the weekend and was looking for someone to ride with on a Sunday. As of the Thursday before the trip I had gotten no response. Then … I got a text from a guy named David saying he was going to be doing a 2 hour ride in the Starr Pass area at 2:00 on Sunday afternoon. I usually do all day rides from 20 to 45 miles so I hesitated to accept his offer … hoping to get a longer trip. As you might know, as soon as I accepted David’s offer I got another message from a guy named Shane saying he was going to do a trail called Bug Springs Sunday morning and I was welcome to join him.
Length: 11.8 miles
I was hoping I could do both rides but was not sure of the mileage and location of either trail. So I sent them both a message explaining my situation. Both guys said I should do both rides and made sure it worked out. Shane moved his ride up to 9:00 am and David moved his ride to 2:30 … which worked out perfect.
I arrived at the Starr Pass trailhead at 2:00. I took a stroll to inspect the trailhead kiosk and made some ride notes on my phone. I was hoping to find out why the trailhead was called the Richard Genser Starr Pass Trailhead. The kiosk told me all about him.
After reading this information I was curious … had Richard Genser ever ridden a mountain bike?
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I then looked at the posted map, and wondered which trails David would choose to take me on. This was to be my second ride of the day, the first being with Shane on the Bug Springs Trail.
Everything went well on the first ride so I had had time to go to Alissa, my middle daughter’s, apartment to eat lunch, off-load my video … then make the 30 minute drive from East Tanque Verde to the Starr Pass Trailhead.
I turned and took some photos of a huge resort to the north and the city of Tucson in the distance to the east … then walked back to the car and began to get all my riding gear organized. The last thing I wanted was for David to have to wait for me.
At 2:20 David zoomed right up beside my Highlander and jumped out, 10 minutes early. From the moment I saw David exit his car I knew this guy had a lot of energy. He immediately started prepping his bike, then told me he had 3 hours to ride. I don’t think his quick movements were due to being in a hurry … I had the feeling David was just that kind of person bordering on ADHD … but then, some people say I am also!
David said he had noticed my post in the Tucson MTB forum when he was skiing in Park City. He just got back into town a few hours previous, and had had just enough time to go to the bike shop and pick up his new ride. He later explained he had been reading great reviews about a bike called Turner 5 Spot and decided he could finally afford one. He had just bought the frame and had the bike shop transfer all the components over from his old bike (except the rear shock).
David led me on his favorite trails. He had the amazing ability to ride strong and talk fast. While I was huffing and puffing to keep up, he maintained a full scale monologue. He taught me a lot about the area and shared a lot about himself and his family.
One of the things I learned concerned his occupation. David said he was an Anesthesiologist at UMD. I asked him what UMD was, and he said that is what locals call the University Medical Center … the same place Alissa worked. I told him my daughter worked there as an RN in the Cardio Intensive Care Unit, and she often worked in other areas doing extra shifts. He said they most likely had not met, as he spent most his time at the south campus, and did all his work in the operating room.
I also learned that David had two sons, the oldest being 5 years old. He said this kid was pretty athletic … he could already ride a bike and ski. He felt his son’s abilities had nothing to do with him, but I disagreed. I said, at the least he had provided his son with opportunities to learn these skills (many kids are athletic and don’t get a chance to try skiing and can’t afford a bike).
From the parking lot we rode about a half mile on the Starr Pass Trail, and then turned right onto Rock Wren Trail. We stayed on Rock Wren for about 1 mile until it ran into the Yetman Trail … at a large trail junction. David said this junction was called the “Four Way Stop,” even though there were actually zero stop signs. We did run into a couple of hikers at the intersection. We did stop for a few moments while David and these two gentlemen talked “trail politics.”
We turned left onto the Yetman Trail and traveled south another mile and a half. At that point the Yetman Trail makes an abrupt right turn and heads northwest. We kept riding south and our trail changed names, back to … the Starr Pass Trail!
Until then, the riding had been quite easy, lots of small ups and downs. As we continued straight ahead the trail began to climb toward Starr Pass. Three fourths of a mile on this portion of the Starr Pass trail brought us to another junction. David said we would go straight (through Starr Pass) then pointed up to the trail to the left. “After we finish this loop, and if we have enough time, we can go up there. That is called Cat Mountain. I’ve just started riding that trail and it has become my favorite.”
We stopped right at Starr Pass (a couple of hundred feet later) … and looked across a vast stretch of flat desert to the southwest. I was pretty sure we were looking in the direction of the Sonoran Desert Museum (an incredible place I had visited several times before) but I did not see it. I think it must have been tucked into one of the ravines out there. (I later found out the Museum lay to the north, above Gates Pass Road.)
As soon as we started dropping down the pass we made a 45 degree turn, rode down to the flats, passed through a gate, and found ourselves on a dirt road (Starr Pass Road) running parallel to a housing tract.
We rode the road for only a quarter mile before getting back onto a trail … the Starr Pass Trail again!
The Starr Pass Trail runs parallel to (and at the base of) the mountains for the next half mile or so, occasionally dropping down into washes and then climbing out. Since the bottom of each wash was soft sand we had to pedal hard to keep moving and keep enough momentum to scale the other side.
Anyway, I am going to call it Sheep Canyon … even though I am not totally sure I am using the correct name. David said “Sheep Canyon” was one of the most attractive areas in Tucson … and then apologized, saying, “I am sorry, but we are going to have to ride in a sand wash for a mile or so.”
Sheep Canyon did prove to be gorgeous. Some of the areas reminded me of my ride on the upper 50 Year Trail, in the Catalina Mountains to the north of Tucson just off the Oracle Highway. The hillsides were covered with several different types of cacti, including Saguaro, Cholla, Barrel, Prickly Pear, while the bottom of the canyon was thick with Mesquite and Palo Verde trees. But it was the Saguaros that stood out … covering the hillsides, all standing vertical … parallel, like a thousand prairie dogs on alert. Cindy (the wife) would kill for a cactus garden that loosely resembled Sheep Canyon.
Riding up the sandy wash was not bad at all … nothing like the wash Steve, Mark, and I rode up the next week on our Palm Canyon Epic ride. Rain the previous week had made most of the sand somewhat firm. (As a matter of fact, Tucson had gotten so much rain the previous week that 50 adults and children were stranded along various sections of Bear Canyon (just north of Tucson) due to a flash flood. Their rescue had made the national news.)
The video below will give you an idea of my ride in the sand on the David Yetman trail. To watch the video on a full screen click the icon in the lower right corner just to the right of the YouTube emblem.
To view all videos my go to my YouTube channel at MountainBikeDiaries.
I found riding the wash easy as long as I kept the momentum up. David was ahead of me, also motoring right through it, yet he must have apologized 6 times for having to ride the wash. I figure sand is just a part of mountain desert biking.
After finishing the sandy wash we came to a large trail junction … but not the one that branched off to Cat Mountain. David said I should take a photo of the signs at this junction because this is where the David Yetman Trail met the Starr Pass Trail. He said Yetman, a U. of A. Professor and Politician, was largely responsible for protecting land on the outskirts of Tucson (including the part we were enjoying).
We then rode up to the other large junction and took the Cat Mountain trail. In a couple minutes I found why David liked this trail so much. The beginning of the Cat Mountain trail is somewhat steep, but not too bad.
To read learn more about our trek please click Cat Mountain.