Author Topic: Description of Route 90, Eastbound from Tucson, AZ to Rodeo, NM  (Read 5646 times)

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Description of Route 90, Eastbound from Tucson, AZ to Rodeo, NM
« on: February 24, 2017, 11:49:25 pm »
US Bicycle Route System’s Route 90 through southeastern Arizona showcases the area’s long and varied history and the cultures that formed it.  Native Americans inhabited the region for thousands of years before Spanish explorers, beginning with Coronado’s expedition in 1540, entered the area.  Cattle introduced by Spanish friars expanded into vast Mexican, then American, ranches, introducing the cowboy culture still evident in ranches in expansive grasslands in the Sonoita area and San Simone Valley.

After the U.S. acquired the area from Mexico through the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, incursions by miners and cattlemen into the territory of the native Chiricahua Apaches resulted in years of bloody conflicts with settlers and Army forces in present Cochise County.  Fort Huachuca, in Sierra Vista, is the only remaining Army fort in Arizona dating from the Indian Wars period. 

The silver-mining boomtown of Tombstone attracted notorious outlaws and lawmen and has been memorialized in many movies.  When the mines played out, the town settled into a time warp, retaining many of its original buildings and character.  Copper was the basis of the city of Bisbee, a former mining city whose free spirits and artists now exemplify the picturesque town.

Area Overview:
The 180 miles of USBRS Route 90 between Tucson and New Mexico traverses “range and basin” topography, characterized by numerous isolated mountain ranges separated by broad high desert valleys.  Fortunately for bike riders, the highways usually wind between mountain ranges.  Grades are generally quite mild, with only two significant climbs – between Tucson and Sonoita and over Mule Pass just north of Bisbee.  Several of the roads have little to no shoulders, but traffic is generally light.

Weather conditions offer favorable year-round riding conditions.  With elevations between 4,000 and 5,000 feet, summer temperatures are 10° to 15° cooler than the lower portions of Route 90 to the west.  Summer temperatures often reach into the 90s, but seldom reach 100°.  The daytime heat is tempered by cool nights.  The July through mid-September monsoon brings scattered thunderstorms, usually of short duration, and cooler temperatures.  Winter nighttime temperatures may fall below freezing, but daytime temperatures are usually in the 50s and 60s.  Winds in March and April may be challenging. 

Maps depicting Route 90 prepared by the Arizona Department of Transportation are available at http: .  An interactive map is available on the Adventure Cycling website:

Route and Communities Descriptions
Route 90 leaves Tucson eastward on the Interstate 10 north frontage road.  At I-10 Exit 281, the route crosses the interstate and goes south on State Route (SR) 83, beginning a 15-mile climb of about 1,800 feet.  SR 83 has narrow to no shoulders.  Just south of I-10, Route 90 turns left (east) onto Old Sonoita Highway which parallels SR 83 for about 7 miles, avoiding the sometimes moderate traffic on SR 83.  (The Arizona Department of Transportation’s USBRS Route 90 Turn-by-Turn Directions and Google Maps identify the road as "Charloais Road," but the road signs read "Old Sonoita Highway.")  At the south end of Old Sonoita Highway, turn left (south) and continue on SR 83, which entails a long climb, a nice descent, and rolling terrain of grasslands and cattle ranches to the community of Sonoita, 26 miles from I-10.  The Santa Rita Mountains are to the west.  There are no services between I-10 and Sonoita.

Sonoita, at the intersection of SR 83 and SR 82, is a very small community of businesses serving area ranches and residents.  The community has several cafes and restaurants.  There is one inn in Sonoita (Sonoita Inn, rates $125-$150); the next closest motel is in the small town of Patagonia, a 12-mile, 700-foot downgrade ride southwest on SR 82 (off of Route 90).  Camping is available at the Sonoita Fairgrounds just south of the SR 83/SR 82 intersection.  There are restrooms and shelter but no showers; the fee for camping is $10.  Call the fairground (520-455-5553) at least the day prior to arriving to ensure the gate to the camping area and restrooms is opened.  The fairground website is  Limited grocery items are available at two businesses near the fairgrounds.

From Sonoita, Route 90 continues south on SR 83.  About 6 miles from Sonoita, turn left (east) at a school onto Elgin Road and ride it about 6 miles, past several wineries, to Upper Elgin Road in the miniscule community of Elgin.  Turn left onto Upper Elgin Road and ride it about 5 miles north to SR 82.  Turn right (east) on SR 82, which has little to no shoulders and gentle grades with long sight distances.  A few miles after getting on SR 82, the route passes between the Mustang Mountains to the south and Whetstone Mountains to the north.  [Route 90 avoids about 8 miles of SR 82 immediately east of Sonoita which have limited sight distances due to hills and curves, no shoulders, significant truck traffic, and guardrails which prevent "bailing off" the road if necessary.  Route 90 adds about 5 miles over riding SR 82 from Sonoita, but it's an easier and safer ride worth the added distance.]   

Eleven miles east of Upper Elgin Road, SR 82 intersects SR 90 in an area termed Whetstone.  Other than the wineries, there are no services between Sonoita and Whetstone.  A gas station/mini-mart is at the SR 82/SR 90 intersection.  Camping is available at the Quail Ridge RV Park, ½ mile west of the intersection.   USBRS Route 90 turns south on SR 90 (the two route 90s are a coincidence), which has wide shoulders, and in 13 miles, after passing through the small town of Huachuca City, which has restaurants, reaches Sierra Vista. 

Riders having no need for the services available in Sierra Vista may continue from Whetstone on SR 82 and SR 80 to Tombstone; that routing is about 11 miles shorter than following Route 90 through Sierra Vista to Tombstone. 

Sierra Vista, population 45,000, is the largest city in the 375 miles of Route 90 between Tucson and Las Cruces, NM.  The city has all services bicycle tourists may desire - many motels and restaurants, 2 full-service bike shops, shopping of all types, and medical facilities.  Other than a small bike shop in Bisbee, the next bike shops to the east are in Silver City, NM, (200 miles) and Las Cruces, NM (300 miles).  Fort Huachuca, an active Army installation in Sierra Vista, has a museum with exhibits portraying the fort’s roles from 1877 to the present. 
At the north edge of Sierra Vista, USBRS Route 90 turns left (east) following SR 90, remains on SR 90 for 2 ½ miles, then turns right (south) onto Coronado Drive.  (Visitors’ information and bike camp registration is available at the Oskar Yrun Center about ¼ miles left on Tacoma Street, the first street on Coronado Drive.)  After 0.85 miles, turn left (east) onto the shared-use path on the south side of Martin Luther King, Jr. Parkway.  After 1 mile, at the intersection with SR 90, Route 90 continues straight (east) on Charleston Road towards Tombstone.   

Camping is available at Sierra Vista’s newly-opened bike camp.  The camp provides a large room for sleeping and securing bikes and gear, two  bathrooms with showers, a kitchen stocked with coffee and other essentials, and a clothes washer and dryer.  There is no charge for the camp; donations are accepted.  The bike camp is located at 3030 E Tacoma Street, a couple of minutes ride off of USBRS Route 90.  When possible, campers are requested to call 520-458-7922 between 8 and 5 on weekdays prior to arriving, to ensure the bike camp is prepared for you. 

Campers may register at the following locations during the indicated times:
Oscar Yrun Community Center
3020 E Tacoma Street, next to the bike camp
Monday – Friday    8am to 5pm

"The Cove" Sierra Vista Aquatic Center
2900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Parkway, about 1-1/2 miles from the camp
August through May   June-July
Monday – Thursday    7:30am – 6:00pm     Tuesday - Thursday   7:30am – 6:00pm
Friday   7:30am – 4:30pm    Friday   7:30am – 5:30pm
Saturday    9:30am – 5:30pm   Saturday – Sunday   9:30am – 5:30pm

If arriving after these times, campers may telephone 520-678-0451 to register and obtain the combination for the bike camp.  Please do not call after 10 pm. The building is used by Leisure Services and not available to campers from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.  On Thursdays and Fridays, campers may relax in the Oscar Yrun Community Center until the bike camp is available.
Route 90 leaves Sierra Vista on Charleston Road, which has a slight downgrade 8 miles to the San Pedro River, then climbs 9 miles to Tombstone.  The San Pedro River does not look like much of a river, but it is the only flowing river between the Colorado River, 300 miles to the west, and the Rio Grande, 225 miles to the east.  The river serves a flyway for millions of birds migrating between the US and Mexico.  Charleston Road has narrow-to-no shoulders.  Traffic can be moderate during commuting hours, especially when school is in session.  No services are available along the route, except a vault toilet just east of the San Pedro River accessed by a short dirt road on the north side of the highway.

Tombstone, the legendary “Town too Tough to Die,” was founded after silver was discovered in 1879.  Home to figures such as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday, the town retains its Wild West flavor.  After entering the town on Charleston Road, which turns into Summer Street, turn right onto Allen Street.  Enactors in roles of gunfighters, lawmen, and shady ladies add atmosphere to historic Allen Street.  The visitors’ center is at Fourth and Allen streets.  Headboards at the graves in the Tombstone cemetery reflect the hazardous of life of the 1880s.  The town has several restaurants and motels and a small grocery store.  Tent camping is available at three RV parks/campgrounds.

Route 90 leaves Tombstone going south on SR 80 (one block east of Allen Street), which has good shoulders and long up and down grades for approximately 15 miles to the intersection with SR 90.  From that intersection, Route 90 continues on SR 80 into the Mule Mountains, climbing about 1,300 feet in 6 miles to Mule Pass, just north of Bisbee.  There are no services between Tombstone and Bisbee.  Route 90 intentionally avoids the tunnel at the top of Mule Pass.  The tunnel is hazardous for bicycles, having no shoulders and marginal lighting.   Route 90 turns left onto Old Divide Road just before the tunnel and goes over the pass.  It's not much more of a climb and is less steep than SR 80 getting to the road.  Views from the 6,000-foot high pass are spectacular.  After the pass, Route 90 returns to SR 80 into Bisbee.  Alternatively, riders can take West Blvd. from Old Divide Road to Tombstone Canyon Road, which winds down the canyon into the heart of downtown Old Bisbee.

Bisbee, once known as the “Queen of the Copper Camps,” was one of the richest mineral sites in the world.  In the late 1800s, it was the largest city between Denver and San Francisco.  Old Bisbee is located in a narrow, winding canyon, with its well-preserved early-twentieth century downtown at the bottom and houses climbing the steep slopes.  After the mines closed in the 1970s, much of the population left the town.  An influx of creative free spirits found Bisbee's historic district to be an attractive and inexpensive location to settle, founding the current thriving arts scene.  Services available include restaurants, hotels, motels, B&Bs, groceries, and a bike shop.  There is no camping available.

Riders on a fast track wishing to avoid the climb into Bisbee and lack of camping facilities may follow Alternate Route 90, which turns left (east) off of SR 80 about 5 miles south of Tombstone onto Davis Road.  After a 23-mile downgrade into the Sulphur Springs Valley, turn right (south) onto US 191 at McNeal and continue 22 miles to SR 80 and then to Douglas.  There are no services on the alternate route.

Departing Bisbee on SR 80, Route 90 passes a huge open pit copper mine which operated until 1974.  Just past the open pit, after crossing beneath a railroad bridge, a right turn onto Erie Street takes riders into the past in the downtown business district of Lowell, with mid-1900s store fronts and period cars parked on the street.  Route 90 follows SR 80 east from Bisbee mostly downgrade with good shoulders across the Sulphur Springs Valley for 24 miles to Douglas.  There are no services on the route.   

Douglas is a former copper-smelting town located at the Mexico border.  The Gadsden Hotel, a historic landmark opened in 1907, features a Tiffany stained-glass canopy and windows and a grand marble staircase.  Services include the hotel, motels, restaurants, and groceries.  Camping with restrooms and showers is available at the Cochise County Fairground.  If arriving after 3 p.m. on weekdays, call the fairground office, 520-364-3819, prior to 3 p.m. to have the facility open; on weekends, call 520-456-6244.

Route 90 follows SR 80 for 50 generally-level miles to Rodeo, New Mexico, a couple of miles past the Arizona-New Mexico border.  The Chiricahua Mountains to the west are named after the Chiricahua Apache band which lived in the region; Cochise and Geronimo were leaders of the band during conflicts with the U.S. Army and settlers.  There are no communities or services between Douglas and Rodeo; riders must carry sufficient water and food.  A monument at a location noted on maps as “Apache” commemorates the surrender of Geronimo in 1886, which ended the Indian wars in the U.S..  Rodeo has a café, cabin lodging, camping, and limited groceries.

Summary of distances between communities
   Interstate 10 Exit 281 to Sonoita:      26 miles
   Sonoita to Sierra Vista:          41
   Sierra Vista to Tombstone         17
   Tombstone to Bisbee            24
   Bisbee to Douglas            24
   Tombstone to Douglas – Alternate Rt. 90   50
   Douglas to Rodeo, NM          50
« Last Edit: February 28, 2017, 02:13:46 pm by jsieberMT »