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Great Road Rides

San Diego to Cortez, CO
Another touring question emailed to the club followed by my response

Hi folks, hope you can help me with some route info from a bicyclist's perspective. My wife and I live in San Diego and are planning a cross country, self contained trip next year (starting in April). We plan on using Adventure Cycling maps as much as possible, but would like to find a more direct route through Arizona and into Colorado than what they suggest. From Wickenburg to Cortez we were thinking about the 160 hwy. Do you have any info on riding in that area; services, terrain, road conditions, etc.? Any information would be greatly appreciated.


I think you would consider following the Adventure Cycling Grand Canyon Connector from the metro Phoenix area at least as far as Cameron, AZ (about 50 miles north of Flagstaff and about 50 miles east of Grand Canyon Village (the South Rim of the Grand Canyon). So, the area of concern is about 200 miles less than from Wickenburg. Highway 160 traverses a VERY desolate part of Arizona. Most of the route will be through the Navajo Reservation. Services will be few and far between. My estimate is that this segment across the top of the Colorado Plateau would be about 225 miles. Cameron is at about 4000 feet. The route rises to about 6700 feet over the first 75 miles and then descends back into the 4-5000 foot range for the next 100 miles. The final 50 miles climbs persistently back into the mid 6000 foot range approaching Cortez. In April, this high desert could be distinctly chilly at night. If it takes you several weeks to get here, it should be warming up but as you continue to gain elevation into the Rockies, cold weather could continue to be an issue.


Hi Neill, thanks for the great response! You've pretty much confirmed what we thought about the route on 160. Do you have any thoughts on a more southerly route into New Mexico? Possibly along 60? We got some good info from a friend in Colorado about some roads in northern New Mexico. Any info you could pass along would be greatly appreciated!


I think what you are discovering is why Adventure Cycling doesn't have a route that goes that way. As they say in Maine, "Ya kent git thar from heeah. Even the Adventure Cycling routes through AZ are a bit sketchy in places. The way I see it, you have three or four viable options. I wouldn't discount any of them as un-ridable. I think all of them are likely to include some unpleasant or unridable shoulders on twisty mountain roads, but on a cross country ride, you're going to have to expect some of that. So, I'm not suggesting that your original thought about Rt 160 isn't valid. I am suggesting that you understand your limits and plan accordingly, as you seem to be doing. In order to provide any guidance, I would have to understand the parameters of your trip. Are you bound by time constraints? What are your load limits? How much water can you carry for how many miles? How many miles do you think you can do in a day? Is it more important to get the ride done, or is it more important to see as much beautiful country as possible?

If time permitted, I believe the southern third of Utah is just about the most striking scenery anywhere in the USA. From Cedar Breaks National Monument in the southwestern corner of the state to Bryce and Zion, Escalante, Natural Bridges, Arches, and other parks as you head east, I find that the scenery changes dramatically and beautifully around every bend. Again, because of the altitude, some of these places might still be inhospitably cool early in the season. So, again, is your departure time fixed or flexible? So many questions! But that's balanced against the opportunity to live vicariously.

The park service provides shuttle service from the South Rim to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. While the lodges are visible to each other on clear days, over 200 road miles separates them. I believe the shuttles can haul bikes. Would that be considered cheating? (I'm not sure what times of the year they provide this service, so it may not be an option for your trip but it could provide a welcome break and buy you several days.

I've toured both with panniers and with a trailer and I believe I have an understanding of the pro's and cons of each. If you were committed to the dash through the high desert of the Four Corners portion of AZ, I think a trailer might be the best way to comfortably carry relatively substantial amounts of water and other supplies. The Rt 60 option goes through the Salt River Canyon, and I think the climb out of that canyon up the Mogollon Rim would be a real slog dragging a trailer. . For that route, I'd want to travel very lightly. I wouldn't consider the route, through Wickenburg and north, to be quite as demanding climbing.

I am a big fan of for mapping. Using their site, you can plot a route fairly quickly and it automatically generates an elevation profile. What kind of experience do you have doing multi-thousand foot climbs on a fully loading touring bike? What is the lowest night-time temperatures you plan to be equipped to tolerate? How many nights per week would you figure you would spend indoors? Zero? Every other? Five nights in a tent in a row is about my limit.

I've done trips where I knew in advance where practically every meal for 3 full weeks was coming from, be it supermarket diner or forwarded USPS package. I've also headed out with almost no plan at all. Both approaches have their pros and cons. I think the Adventure Cycle routes and maps provide enough detail that you can plan ahead a few days at a time. Going off-map can cost time as you try to gather information on the fly. If time is not an issue, well then, it's a different game.

I appreciate the opportunity to be part of one of the most fun parts of any bicycle tour: The dreaming!

The attached image is taken from Google Maps and is of Hwy 160 a few miles east of Tuba City.

Whether deserved or not, the Rez has a reputation for inebriated drivers.