By Judy Hector
Some of the best photo opps are off the beaten path, and thanks to lightweight, pocket-sized phones loaded with high quality cameras, bicycling rough roads and long climbs with your DSLR can be a thing of the past.
Sierra Vista, Arizona, tucked into the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains in southeast Arizona, is nearly encircled with paved paths and designated bike lanes that connect to popular bike routes and mountain trails. With a nearly 360-degree mountain view, captivating sunsets, rolling terrain, and wildlife peeking from nooks and crannies, you’ll have plenty of things to point your lens at. Here are the top five camera-ready rides:
- Cherokee Avenue Multi-use Path. This easy-peasy ride along the paved multi-use path that parallels Cherokee Avenue skirts the Huachuca Mountain foothills. You’ll ride through some neighborhoods, but as you continue south, the houses are fewer and the views are bigger. For photos, this ride is best in the morning when the rising sun illuminates the slopes, sparking golden tones in the native vegetation and deepening the endless blue sky.
- Brown Canyon Ranch. If you’re riding the Cherokee route, keep heading south. The path connects into another on Ramsey Canyon Road and heads into the hills. The ride to the Brown Canyon Ranch turn-off is paved and gently rises. The route from the road to the ranch house is maintained dirt, so be prepared for dust for a quarter mile or so. (Alternatively, you can leave your bike in the upper parking lot and walk into the ranch.)Brown Canyon Ranch, once a working cattle ranch, is now part of the Coronado National Forest. Explore the adobe ranch house, corrals, and livestock pond under the windmill, or take the short nature trail that surrounds the property. Morning light will brighten the buildings, but if you’re there in the evening set up for deep shadows and a blazing sunset. The ranch also serves as the trailhead for Brown Canyon Trail, an excellent single track that is popular with mountain bikers.
- Ramsey Canyon Preserve. If you’re ready for a climb, keep riding up Ramsey Canyon Road until you reach Ramsey Canyon Preserve. It’s all paved but with narrow (or no) shoulder; vehicle traffic is slow and road cyclists are expected. Owned by The Nature Conservancy, Ramsey Canyon Preserve is teeming with wildlife. A fairly large flock of Gould’s turkeys hangs out near the top of the road, and the hills to the northwest are common habitat for the pint-sized Coues deer, so keep your camera at the ready. Bicycling isn’t in the preserve but you can leave your bike in the parking lot and walk into the cool canyon. It will cost you $6 ($3 if you’re a Nature Conservancy member) to go beyond the visitor center, but the views are well worth it. Popular with hummingbirds and exotic bird species like the Elegant Trogon, Ramsey Canyon makes for enticing photos. Ramsey Creek, old cabins, bridges, and seasonal foliage also make interesting subjects.
- Our Lady of the Sierras. Highway 92 cuts through rolling hills and ranchlands. With good shoulders, this popular ride leads you to Stone Ridge Road. Follow the signs into the Shrine. The roads are paved, but expect some short, steep climbs. With an 80-foot high Celtic cross, chapel, and statuary, this shrine affords ample opportunity to capture devotional images as well as the broad view of the San Pedro River Valley and Mexico to the south. The shrine is situated on a southwestern slope and valley views are to the east, north, and south, so plan for light that will accommodate your subjects.
- Montezuma Pass. At 6,575 feet, the uphill ride means a downhill reward! From Sierra Vista, ride south on Highway 92 to the Coronado National Memorial Road. Head up the road to the visitor center for an overview of the Memorial (be sure to try on the Conquistador helmet and chain maille for some fun photos) then keep heading up. The first mile is paved; be ready for a couple of miles of steep switchbacks over dirt and gravel for the last two. Once on top, views in all directions make the thigh-burning ride worth it. If you have some juice left, hike down to the U.S.-Mexico border marker, a hip-high concrete oblisk. The marker is also the start of the Arizona National Scenic Trail… a steep and short section often skipped by AZT hikers who don’t want to hike down a mile-long trail, then climb back up it (a 600’ elevation change).
Judy Hector is an avid explorer and casual cyclist engaged in an endless love affair with southeast Arizona. A transplant from Eastern Oregon (after testing out Montana, Idaho, and Southern California), Judy made Arizona her home; the rugged terrain and knock-out views are reminiscent of Oregon’s high desert—but with far better weather.